Great Leaders Bring out the Best in Others

It’s important to inspire the best in other people.

Recently a job candidate turned me down for an interview, but I hired her anyway. Let me share with you why.

Ann (not her real name) was quiet and nervous. She was soft-spoken and unsure of herself. During the phone interview I noticed something special. She didn’t have years of experience in the field she was applying for. She had a relevant, but not perfectly matching degree. On paper there were many other stronger candidates. But still, there was something special. So, I offered her an in-person interview.

My goal in an interview is to bring the best out in people. I don’t want to trip anyone up. So sometimes I send the most challenging questions to the candidates ahead of time. This way they aren’t caught off guard.

The Quiet Insecurity

I sent Ann and the other candidates the hardest question. Ann spent a day or two with the question. She the emailed me and said that she might not know enough to answer this question well. She said that there are probably more qualified candidates. She concluded with that she was grateful for the opportunity.

I responded by telling Ann that she didn’t need to be an expert. Instead we are looking at two things. Does she find the problem interesting? And how good is she at proposing logical solutions to a problem that is out of her comfort zone. I told her there isn’t a clear right answer and that we just wanted to see how she thinks. I asked her if she would reconsider. After reading my message, she agreed to still do the interview.

The Interview

The day came. We met downstairs for the interview. She was nervous, but I explained that she really didn’t have to be. Our goal was to help bring the best out of her. She could pause, ask questions, and do whatever she needed to feel comfortable. We wanted to see her at her best!

We got to the hardest question that we sent to her advance. She pulled out her little notebook and asked to reference it during the interview. She opened up the page to a variety of mathematical equations. She referenced her reading of scientific papers. And walked us through a well laid out plan of how to solve the problem.

It was brilliant.

She paused at many points to work out the equations and logic in her head. But when she did speak she had a solid answer.

I was so impressed to see this nervous, soft-spoken candidate do so incredibly well.

The Results

We completed about a dozen more interviews that week. At the end of the week we reviewed all our candidates. One stood out above all the rest.

I called Ann after we had decided. I started out by telling her that we had about 100 candidates apply for the position. We did several dozen phone interviews and about a dozen interviews. I told her that she wasn’t the best educated. She didn’t have the best work history. But she had something much more special than that. She had an uncanny ability to solve complex problems outside her comfort zone. I told her how impressed we were with her ability to solve so much. I also told her that she was the kind of person we love to work with. She has a quiet humility and a deep respect for others. I told her that above everyone else, I wanted her to offer her the job.

I could hear the emotion well up inside her. And with a quiet confidence she said, I would love to accept that offer.

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