When you’re searching for the next member of your leadership team, it can be difficult to distinguish between an inflated resume and a truly gifted executive. But this one question cuts straight to the core of the matter.
Tell me about the last person you fired.
“Of all the ways I interviewed executive candidates, this question and the discussion that followed proved to be the strongest indicator of the candidate’s leadership ability,” writes Marc Barros, co-founder and former CEO of camera company Contour, in a recent post for Inc.
Barros believes a candidate that claims to have never fired anyone is clearly a bad choice. “You can’t build a great team without occasionally deconstructing and rebuilding it,” he argues.
If your candidate has fired someone, then focus on how the process went. This will teach you a tremendous amount about your candidate’s communication skills. Was the employee he or she fired surprised? If so, that would likely indicate a poor top-down communication process. If the employee wasn’t surprised, how did the termination go? Did your candidate offer feedback to the person and explain his or her reasoning for the decision? “Great leaders,” Barros notes, “are often like coaches, providing consistent and honest feedback.”
Finally, Barros says to tack on one follow up question: What did you do after they were let go? This is a window into how empathetic your candidate is. Mediocre leaders typically offer severance and a positive reference — the minimal amount. Great leaders, Barros says, often do everything they can to help the fired employee bounce back from the blow.
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