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The smart leaders, as the saying goes, surround themselves with competent smart people and stay out of their way.

The great organizations are those populated with confident executives who are not afraid to hire people who are smarter than they are.

Great theory but in the field of talent acquisition it is rarely practiced.

Recruiters see the pushback at some level in many of the searches they undertake.

Here are the reasons.  At their core, they are understandably all tied to basic human No Asshole Rulenature.

  • Insecurity — Some executives are reluctant to take actions that could threaten their own level of comfort, or hire someone who might be seen as a more qualified/competent replacement.  Current market conditions — consolidation, layoffs and economic uncertainty — reinforces the insecurity.  That there are smart competent candidates who will undermine their bosses for personal gain, is a fact of life and fuels the pushback.
  • Culture — Far too many US companies are mired in a culture of concrete reinforced silos that is risk averse.  Throw in an acute tendency for many executives to view the future through the lens of the here and now, and the chances that smart and creative candidates will have a real chance are dismal.  We use the same the phrase to deny employment because they candidate may unsettle the waters that we use to eliminate those employees whose style and desire for change churns the pool:  “They are not/were not a good fit.”  The only way this gets changed is from the CEO’s office, but at the end of the day executives who surround the CEO who want to preserve the comfortable status quo trot out another expression:  If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
  • Discernment — There are smart people who will be great for the organization and then there are smart, or apparently smart, people who are, in the words of  Stanford Professor and author Robert I Sutton, Sutton colorCertifiable Assholes.  Many organizations struggle with trying to discern the difference during the interview process.  Candidates are trying to put their best foot forward, shielding their true self (again, human nature) while typically the employer’s various interviewers are inexperienced in digging out this kind of nuance in a candidate’s character.   Most interviewers react to the superficial stuff.  In the end, if interviewers are not sure, or they are unsettled and unsure as to the “why”, the idea that it is better to be safe than sorry wins the day.

For years, this concept of hiring smarter people to ensure improved performance in increasingly competitive and challenging times was not that important.  Moreover, many companies underspend on organizational development — investing in their people.

In healthcare, structural reform as well as additional reductions in reimbursement from Medicare and commercial payers, is scrambling the business model paradigm and, to borrow a line from executive Goldsmith. Marshallcoach and author  Marshall Goldsmith, “What got you here, won’t get you there.”

To overcome these employment pitfalls is not an easy task because this process has its roots buried deep in the corporate culture.  Changing culture, encouraging executives and managers to take risks and pursue the smartest, best-equipped candidates, requires training, planning and an enterprise-wide commitment to change and excellence.

Improve Performance:  It Is All About the People

JohnGSelf + Partners provides an integrated suite of talent management services – talent acquisition, talent planning, leadership development, executive coaching, and team building. Together, we’ll help you identify, develop, and engage and retain the business and clinical leadership needed to take your organization into the future.  

We have the depth of experience to help you elevate your talent acquisition game, with solutions in executive search, with best-in-industry accountability; physician recruiting, talent planning and executive coaching.

For more information, call me, or my colleague in New York, Laura Merker, Dr. PH, RN. 214.761.5472, Or email