Urban Meyer was fired from his job as NFL Jacksonville Jaguars coach shortly after midnight yesterday. As you are no doubt aware, his tenure could be generously described as tumultuous. His missteps ranged from kicking his kicker, calling his assistant coaches “losers”, skipping a team return steal, and that doesn’t come down to detailing everything. Of course, during all these mistakes, his team won two paltry games.
What’s most interesting about Meyer’s hiring and tenure, however, is that despite all of his many mistakes, if he was put to a test on the principles of leadership, I have no doubts. that he would succeed brilliantly. He literally taught Ohio State on the themes of leadership and character. He also ran the Lead Like A Buckeye program that the website says “exposes team leaders and captains to different styles of leadership.”
This all means that if his initial interview was to ask him to describe his approach to leadership or how he goes about building a culture or the most effective leadership styles, he would easily pass this interview.
Each of these questions is hypothetical, and for someone with Meyer’s level of knowledge, these are the easiest questions to answer. More importantly, the hypothetical interview questions provide absolutely no insight into how a person will react to real-world situations. It’s possible to be a terrible human being who is a nightmare as a boss and still navigate hypothetical interview questions.
In the Why New Hires Fail study, we learned that new hires don’t fail for lack of skills; they fail because they lack attitudes like leadership skills, emotional intelligence, temperament, etc. And the only way to test if someone is coachable or has emotional intelligence is to ask them specific times in the past when they have faced difficult challenges.
For example, if you want to hire someone who is coachable and learns from their mistakes, you can ask them, “Could you tell me about a time you made a mistake at work?” Whether your candidate is a football coach, business executive or front-line employee, this question immediately reveals their suitability for coaching.
If he answers something like, “I really didn’t make a lot of mistakes,” then you know that candidate has little or no self-awareness. Have you ever met someone who didn’t make any mistakes? Of course not. But there are a lot of people out there who won’t admit their mistakes to themselves or to others, and these are incredibly dangerous people to have on your team.
Imagine the candidate responds something like, “Well, every time I make a mistake I always try to have a learning mindset. I pride myself on being open to criticism and introspection, and this is how I am always able to quickly come out of my mistakes.
This answer sounds better at first, but did you notice that they didn’t actually answer the question? You asked them to tell you about “a time” when they made a mistake. In contrast, this candidate described his general approach in vague and sketchy terms, but did not reveal any details about a particular time when he made a mistake. They also did not detail the details of their reactions, what they learned, their emotional response, etc.
We also know from the Words That Cost You The Interview study that when candidates use words like always, never, would, should, and quickly, these statements are typically associated with low performing candidates.
Now imagine a candidate who answered your question by saying, “Last year we had an injury on our offensive line in the left guard. I responded by moving our right guard to the left guard. Over the next two games I analyzed the data and we allowed 50% more sacks using this approach. I realized I was too hasty to make this change so I apologized to my assistant coaches and the offensive line. Then we had a two hour meeting where I asked them for their suggestions. Here’s what they decided … “
This candidate recognized an error. They did it without blame or apologies. And they detailed the steps they took to rectify this mistake. Details aside, this kind of response shows someone who isn’t in denial, and who isn’t likely to be an arrogant jerk.
Remember, brilliant assholes know how to easily pass hypothetical job interviews. The only way to prevent them from entering your organization is to employ questions that reveal their underlying attitudes. And the only way to do that is to ask questions about past times when they encountered difficult challenges.