Executive search is a journey. The candidate and all that that leader brings to your company is the destination. Yet one of the things that makes executive recruiting tricky is that, at the senior executive level, finalists start to resemble one another. They all are incredibly accomplished. They all have stellar reputations. And if you’re search firm is good at what it does, all have a track records of outperforming average candidates. So what’s a CEO to do? To do what has never been done before, to become truly awesome, you need to find your person.
On Finding Your Person
The secret sauce that makes magic happen is what is typically referred to as “cultural fit”. But from where I sit as head of the retained search firm The Good Search, cultural fit sets the bar too low. As CEO, you deserve more than someone who forges a connection to your company. You deserve someone who forges a real connection with you.
Steve Wozniak was Steve Jobs’ person.
Steve Ballmer was Bill Gates’ person.
Keith Richards is Mick Jagger’s person.
Finding your person is about finding an executive shares your vision and always has your back. It’s about unshakable trust. It is also about finding someone who is smart and capable enough to challenge you to make you better than we would have been had you not found your person.
In the television series (and my guilty pleasure) Grey’s Anatomy, “You are my person” becomes a refrain used to describe deep professional and personal friendship of two women surgeons Meredith Grey and Christina Yang. It starts when Christina lists Meredith as the person to call in case of an emergency. It evolves to mean so much more.
Your person is a trusted partner, a wing-man, and yin to your yang. Your person is someone who gets you. You deserve more than cultural fit or chemistry. Your person is the alchemy that enables us to get out of our own way and to transcend. As Christina Yang points out in the final scene before exiting the series, your person makes us brave.
Finding your person is easier to do in a startup than in a large corporation where challenging the CEO is usually a shortcut to being shown the door. For Fortune 100 CEOs, their person may come in the form of a consultant who is hired to say what the troops cannot. Bob Benson, the Chairman of RLBenson & Associates and Founder of Canaan Ridge put it this way,
When you start thinking about this, the person could be a lawyer or outside counsel or it could be strategy consultant from BCG — someone with prior relationship with a CEO in the advisory sense where there has been a process of challenging the CEO. It makes it safer. The consultant can tell the boss things no one can tell them from the inside.
Ultimately, your person is a brilliant truth-teller whose insights help you and your organization achieve greatness. But it is the partnership between the two that is what really matters. Apple lost its way shortly after the Woz left. Ballmer did not accomplish all that he sought to do after Gates exited. But the Rolling Stones? Though they have had their differences, Richards and Jagger continue to honor a partnership, understanding neither is replaceable. They remain each other’s person.
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you just might find
You get what you need