To Predict Candidates' Potential, Try Using the "Leadership Fractal"

February 23, 2017

You’re probably familiar with fractals. These are physical objects like snowflakes or mountains or mathematical sets that repeat themselves regardless of scale, scope and complexity. What you probably didn’t realize is that people exhibit similar fractals on the job. And if you look close enough, you’ll discover people do the same things over and over again.

When hiring people, I suggest you hire those who do bigger and better things over and over again. What you’ll discover is that the quality and comparability of these bigger and better things predict fit and performance. The rate of growth of these bigger and better things predicts potential and success. I refer to this idea as the Leadership Fractalsm.

Using the Leadership Fractal to predict hiring performance

Using the Leadership Fractal to predict performance involves looking for a pattern of increasingly significant accomplishments focusing on how the candidate first visualized a solution then how he/she achieved a successful outcome.

I ask two questions to figure this out. The first is the most significant accomplishment question to determine the comparability of the person’s past achievements to the performance requirements of the job. The focus of this is on how the project was planned and how it was implemented. If there’s a reasonable fit I then ask the candidate how he/she would plan and implement the most challenging performance objective required for job success. The purpose of this approach is to evaluate the process the candidate would use to develop a logical and practical solution, not the solution itself.

Here’s an example of one search I led a number of years ago that best explains this concept.

For a general manager’s position, I asked a VP of Operations how he would turn around a multi-plant manufacturing company using somewhat related technology but in a totally different industry. We talked for 30 minutes about the process he would use to develop the plan and strategy required. This demonstrated his breadth of business understanding and depth of insight into the specific problems this company was facing. However, this wasn’t enough given the experience gap between his background and the open job.

To address this I asked what he had already accomplished that was comparable in scope, span of control and complexity to the open job requirements. Over the course of the next hour, he went on to describe how he took one plant in Asia with 100 people and expanded it to a 3,000 person international manufacturing and distribution system spanning the globe.

Based on this assessment, I thought he was the best candidate. My client, however, didn’t agree. Regardless, he was ultimately and reluctantly hired when their first choice – someone they knew in the industry – rejected the offer. I was not at all surprised when he called me two years later to tell me he had just become the CEO of the parent company, leapfrogging the person who hired him.            

You don’t have to look far for some more recent examples of people getting hired using the Leadership Fractal concept. Whether you like President Trump or not, you have to admit that Mattis for Secretary of Defense, McMaster as Trump’s National Security Advisor and Kelly as Secretary of Homeland Security are brilliant choices based on using the Leadership Fractal concept to guide the assessment. I also believe that Rex Tillerson is an excellent choice for Secretary of State using this same approach.

Less impactful for most, but not for me, is the Lakers hiring Magic Johnson as their new President of Basketball Operations. In addition, it looks like they’ll be hiring super-agent Rob Pelinka as general manager. Neither have the requisite experience to do their jobs, yet based on the Leadership Fractal technique they both should be excellent.

After meeting dozens of candidates for leadership positions in business and tracking their careers for 10-15 years (and more) there’s no question in my mind that the Leadership Fractal is a strong predictor of fit, performance and potential. I suspect it will work just as well for hiring leaders of any type whether in basketball or government. But as you’ll discover, it’s usually changing circumstances that mess up the prediction. If this is likely, you’ll need to look for leaders who have successfully dealt with rapidly changing circumstances. Then hold your hat and tighten your seatbelts and go along for a wild ride.

*Image by koizumi

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