When Leaders Are Hired for Talent but Fired for Not Fitting In
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June 14, 2017
Executive Search

Harvard Business Review

The Harvard Business Review article, “When Leaders Are Hired for Talent but Fired for Not Fitting In,” was co-written by Russell Reynolds Associates CEO, Clarke Murphy, and CEO of Hogan Assessment Systems, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic. The article looked at challenges in appointing the right leaders and three critical errors organizations must fix in order to upgrade their selection efforts. The article is excerpted below.  

Over and over again, organizations are unable to appoint the right leaders. According to academic estimates, the baseline for effective corporate leadership is merely 30%, while in politics, approval ratings oscillate between 25% and 40%. In America, 75% of employees report that their direct line manager is the worst part of their job, and 65% would happily take a pay cut if they could replace their boss with someone better. A recent McKinsey report suggests that fewer than 30% of organizations are able to find the right C-suite leaders, and that newly appointed executives take too long to adapt. 

Although there are many reasons for this bleak state of affairs – including over-reliance on intuition at the expense of scientifically valid selection tools – a common problem is organizations’ inability to predict whether leaders will fit in with their culture. Even when organizations are good at assessing leaders’ talents (e.g., their skills, expertise, and generic leadership capabilities), they forget that an essential element of effective leadership is the congruence between leaders’ values and those of the organization, including the leaders’ team. As a result, too many leaders are (correctly) hired on talent but subsequently fired due to poor culture fit. 

In our view, there are three critical errors organizations must fix in order to upgrade their selection efforts, namely: 

Decode leaders’ motives and values: While expertise and experience are central to leaders’ potential, they are insufficient to predict leadership performance. In fact, even generic personality characteristics, such as integrity, people skills, curiosity, and self-awareness will fail to predict a leader’s fit to the role or organization. A proper understanding of fit must take into account the leader’s motives and values, also known as the “inside” of personality. Motives and values operate as an inner compass, dictating what the leader will like and reward, the type of culture and climate they will strive to create in their teams, and the activities they will see as meaningful and fulfilling. 

For example, leaders who value tradition will have a strong sense of what is right and wrong, will prefer hierarchical organizations, and will have little tolerance of disruption and innovation – put them in a creative environment and they will struggle. On the other hand, leaders who value affiliation will have a strong desire to get along with others, will focus on building and maintaining strong interpersonal relations, and on working collaboratively. This means they will not be engaged if their role is too isolated and the company culture is overly individualistic. Finally, altruistic leaders will strive to improve other people’s lives and drive progress in the world, so they will suffer if their organizations are purely driven by profits and disinterested in having a positive social impact. 

To read the full article​, click here.