Eric Swenson’s Philosophies of Great Leadership

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  1. Think about why and how most people get promoted:
    a. They sell the most widgets; or
    b. They’re the hardest worker; or
    c. They kiss the most ass; or
    d. They’ve been there the longest; or
    e. In government, you even have to pass a written examination to get promoted.

But none of those qualities translates into the ability to effectively lead people.  

2. Leadership can be learned, but that learning must be desired, and it must be ongoing.

3. Before anything else, an effective leader must be able to articulate his/her core values and expectations of themselves, the people they work for and with, and the people who work for them.

4. Understanding and living your values makes every decision you make easier.

[Therefore, who you are is how you lead.]

5. The ability to effectively communicate supersedes any other important leadership tenet.  You can great in every other facet of leadership, but unless you can communicate well, you’re never going to succeed.

6. Hire for what you cannot teach: attitude, aptitude, alignment, and agility.  Emphasize your strengths and hire for your weaknesses.

7. Give credit freely to others.  After 30 years in leadership, I can say without hesitation what goes around comes around.  Maybe not immediately, but ultimately.

8. Treat every person as though you’ll be working for them one day.  It’s happened to me.

9. Always be learning.  In leadership development, there is no end zone.  The workforce is moving too fast for any leader to stay stagnant.  Lack of learning and curiosity will make you irrelevant faster than any other mistake you can make.

10. You can learn just as much from bad bosses as good bosses.  Remember the qualities of the best boss you’ve ever had and make sure you exemplify those qualities every day.

11. A great measure of good leadership is how things run when you’re not there.

12. I find the most effective leaders are crystal clear about their weaknesses.  They have no illusions and are totally transparent about what their weaknesses are.  They then hire to support those weaknesses.

What I’m Thinking When I Interview You

Picture for BlogWHAT AM I THINKING

Years ago, I lost track of how many people I’ve interviewed.  There was a four year period where it was easily over 100 candidates a month (we were a sales division with lots of turnover).

A few years after that, part of my job was to be involved in a 3-manager interviewing panel, where we interviewed about 15-20 people every Thursday. It became mind-numbing for someone like me who resists routines (“If it’s Thursday, it must be…”)

But when I started my own company and interviewed my first candidate for my own, I changed. I was no longer interviewing for my business; I was interviewing for my life  – both present and future. Even though I had a huge experience conducting interviews, it didn’t matter. Interviewing as if your future depends on it changes someone. It certainly changed me.

I now interview hundreds of people each year, mainly for my clients but also for my own business. I’ve interviewed candidates for CEO positions and waiters and bartenders.  I may have seen it all.

But I digress.

My fundamental point is that I know what I’m looking for by the time I’m interviewing you.  While you’re giving me some answers to questions, here’s what I’m thinking about:

  1. I don’t care about your experience or education.  I’ve seen your resume, and it’s likely I, or someone who works for me, did a video or phone screen with you already. So don’t spend time on that. Your resume got you to this point.  Now it’s time for you to make an impression.  After 10,000 interviews, I want you to be memorable.  I have a really low tolerance for boring people.
  2. If I hire you, what gaps will there be? Sorry to be the one to tell you – you’re not going to be perfect at everything I need, so if you join the team, what will the rest of us need to do more of?  And of course, what gaps are you filling? What differences are there between you and the person you’re replacing?
  3. Are you trainable? Experience is overrated. What I’m looking for is someone who I can develop to be the person I need them to be. I want to know if I can develop you, and that you’re willing and able to learn.
  4. Do you have an open mind? If I think you have one way of viewing things, and one way only, you can’t be on a team that demands innovation and adaption to change.
  5. What new ideas/innovations can you bring to my team? “Culture Fit” is,  fortunately, a dying concept.  I want people who can add to my team, not conform to it.
  6. Can you fit on my team without pissing everyone else off? On the other hand, you can’t be so far away from the rest of my team’s values and norms that you’re going to piss everyone off. Are you a team player? Are you answering my questions about your past work/education with “We’s” or “I’s”?
  7. What intangibles do you have that I don’t have? I recently hired a project and innovation manager. Her attributes are technology-driven. She’s a gamer, she has her own 3-D printer, and she knows things that I’ll never know. She’s a perfect fit for what I need in terms of knowledge but also in ways she looks at things.  She has the potential to greatly help me change my view of work.
  8. Are you capable of growing enough to be the person I’ll need 5 years from now? I’m absolutely not hiring for today. I’m hiring for two years from now, or beyond.  I’m in it for the long run (it’s my company, after all). I want people who will comfortably fit in the vision I have for the future.
  9. Do you have a sense of humor? Can you laugh at your mistakes, or take a joke? Working with people who don’t have a sense of humor makes for very long days. And people who take themselves too seriously are never good to be around.
  10. Do you want a job, or do you want a job working at my company? I’m going to ask you a lot of questions about what you know – or don’t – about my business. If you don’t know, it tells me you want a job more than you want to work for me. Bad mistake.

And finally, don’t worry about being nervous.  That’s something I generally overlook; people who are nervous often want the job enough that they don’t want to make a mistake.  If you’re paralyzed with fright, that concerns me.  But if you’re simply nervous, that’s normal.

Good luck, and I can’t wait to interview you someday!

Rabbi David Woznica on Empathy

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In almost every conversation, at least that I have these days, somewhere along the way I hear the following said: “Look, we just don’t know.” I suspect that sounds familiar.

And with that uncertainty, I want to speak to you about an issue that is dividing our nation. It’s the question of opening up a term that used to be reserved primarily for the dental office:

“Do we open up? How quickly do we open up? How much do we open up?”

Well, the majority of Californians definitely support the shutdown. There are some who feel differently. And there have been public demonstrations expressing anger.

You know the thinking on both sides of the question: The longer we keep businesses closed, the more cautious we are, the fewer people will be exposed and contract COVID-19 and ultimately there will be fewer deaths.

In the other position, people assert that they’re being denied their liberty to walk on the beach or to open a business. It might be the person with a nail salon or who wants to go back to work in a restaurant. They see their savings dwindle, and they fear that things have gone far enough.

I’m not advising a position, but I do want to share two thoughts: 1) that it’s difficult to be fully empathetic; and 2) the importance of not demonizing those with whom we disagree.

So let’s look at empathy. It is said that we’re all in the same boat. Well, I want to suggest that’s not really true. What we are is in the same storm, the storm is the pandemic. It affects everybody.

But there are many different boats. If you have, God forbid, lost a loved one to this disease, or have a loved one who was sick – you’re in one boat.

If you’re a single mother or a single father or you are a parent at home with children, you’re in a different boat.

If you’ve lost your job, or you’re scared that you can’t pay for necessities or you’re in line, waiting for food, that is yet another boat.

We can be somewhat sympathetic to people in different boats. But it’s almost impossible to fully feel what they’re feeling.

I read an account from Rabbi Joseph Telushkin that I think well illustrates this. In the 19th century, there was in a town in Eastern Europe, a long period of freezing weather. And the local Hasidic Rabbi needed to raise money for the poor. So he goes to the home of the town’s richest man, he knocks on the door, the man invites him inside.

The rabbi says, “No. I’m only here for a moment and let’s talk on the doorstep.” He then asked the man about his wife and children. The man felt his own teeth chattering and he, he asked for the Rabbi to come inside. Instead, the Rabbi asked the man about his business. The man is now shivering.

“Rabbi, please come inside and tell me why you’d come into my home,” but the Rabbi stays outside and says, “I’ve come to ask you for 100 rubles to buy wood to give me to heat the houses of the poor.”

And the man says, “If I promise to give it to you, will you come inside?”

“Yes.”

“Then I will give you the money right now.” And then he says, “If you knew all along that you want what you were planning to ask me, why didn’t you come in right away and ask?”

And the Rabbi says “If I came in as soon as you opened the door, you would have brought me into a comfortable chair in your living room, you probably would have given me some hot tea, you would have had some, and the fireplace would be warming us. And when I would have asked you for money to heat the houses of the poor, you would have offered me five, maybe 10 rubles. But standing outside, you experienced just for a few minutes the bitterness of the cold the poor are experiencing all the time. I wanted you to be feeling that bitter cold when I asked you for 100 rubles.”

It’s very hard to be truly empathetic, unless you are experiencing that very same hardship.

But it’s important to try to be empathetic for another reason. Because the more empathetic we can be, the more we can put ourselves in another boat, the less likely we are to demonize those with whom we disagree. And that’s very important. People may hold a different perspective than we do. It doesn’t make them selfish. In fact, they’re likely to be just as decent as we are. They’re just in a different boat.

Eric note: Rabbi David Woznica is a member of the Clergy at Stephen Wise Temple in Los Angeles, and I am very lucky to call him a friend. This is excerpted, with permission, from his sermon on June 6, 2020.

You’re Looking For a Candidate That Doesn’t Exist Right Now

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Contrary to popular belief, this is a lousy market for employers trying to hire professional services employees. There is very little good or great talent out there. Here are the reasons:

  1. While the unemployment rate is indeed about 14-16%, it’s less than 7% for people with college degrees. When you eliminate the (substantial) number of people included in the 7% figure who are working part-time, you’re looking at a lower number again.
  2. Great employees in the professional services industries have been retained by their firms during the pandemic. The vast majority of people looking for work are the weak employees that their firms didn’t want to retain in the first place.
  3. Further, those great employees are extremely reluctant to switch jobs right now. They now have security where they are, regardless of our happy they are in their jobs. It will take a lot to make them switch in this time of uncertainty.

So to find someone right now means we’re either going to have to completely overpay or give them such a compelling reason they won’t have a choice but to switch jobs.

Or, we’re going to have to settle for someone who’s out of work, and likely because they weren’t that valuable to their employer in the first place.

I’ve talked to a number of recruiters who work in and out of the professional services space who are seeing the same thing.

We’re currently helping clients hire white-collar professionals: three openings at two public accounting firms, one at a law firm, a COO for an insurance broker, a senior property accountant at a property management company, and some other related hires. We’re working with recruiters on most of those hires. There’s no one good out there.

So if you think there’s currently a bunch of fantastic employees out there just dying for a job and can’t wait to work for you, think again.

[Note: this does not apply to our clients in manufacturing, hospitality, warehouse, and related industries – indeed – there are a LOT of great employees looking for work there]

Does this change if unemployment starts to go away or be significantly reduced, or if there is no second stimulus check? Unlikely. It will just increase the number of candidates applying who have been out of work.

If, however, there is a second downturn in the economy, and businesses have to shed good employees to stay viable, that might be the uptick in qualified candidates we need. Professional services firms will then need to decide whether to eliminate positions or rollback salaries.