Recently a popular business magazine summarized an article just published in the academic journal American Sociological Review by a professor at a prestigious university. It was focused on answering the question: what are the attributes that professional services organizations are looking for in selecting who to hire?
The journal article was based on only about 100 interviews among what the author called “working professionals.” She summarized it this way: “Interviewers consciously lower the technical bar for candidates with whom they had a great spark.” She indicated the following comment she collected was representative of what she learned: “You can be the smartest guy ever, but I don’t care. I need to be comfortable working everyday with you…and then going out for a beer.”
Here is my take on this. When businesses go out to hire, if they are serious about beating their competition, I can guarantee you they are looking for hard charging, smart candidates that have a track record of accomplishment in whatever they pursued. Yes, they have to get along with people, but some of the more gifted are often a bit “different!” If you don’t have some of these in your organization, you are missing a bet.
The example above is not the only reason why I tend to be skeptical of academia. I do some teaching at a few graduate business schools, and have a lot of interaction with faculty. One thing you can’t help but notice is the over-emphasis on teams. In reality, teams are important when you are improving a process, but if you want to innovate or drive change, you need leadership. The leader keeps the group focused on the goal, and protects the innovators and change agents, who most employees are threatened by and would like to sidetrack.
So…what is the learning here:
1.) Don’t Believe Everything You Read – These days many writers/academics tend to be too politically correct and avoid the notion that courageous leadership is an asset. Also, some of the “research” is of shaky quality (example above).
2.) Innovation and Change Cause Some Disappointment – As a leader, expect a lot of push-back from the status quo protectors. Don’t try to avoid it; deal with it directly.
3.) Communication is Key – The leader must constantly make the vision clear and exciting and the measurements very visible so the group can see the overall game-plan and progress.
As an aside, I don’t recommend you spend much time reading the American Sociological Review!