Skip to main content

Executive search partner, The Bedford Consulting Group.

Courting a new leader for your organization can be a lot like the search for a new head coach.

A great example of what to do – and what not to do – is the recent case of Josh McDaniels, the offensive co-ordinator of this year's Super Bowl runner-up, the New England Patriots.

The Indianapolis Colts were on a quest for a new head coach and McDaniels was their front-runner. All signs pointed to McDaniels signing. He had verbally accepted the role, his agent publicly said he was coming to the Colts and a press conference was scheduled to announce McDaniels as the team's new top gun.

But less than 24 hours before the conference, McDaniels decided to stay in New England. Let's look at why McDaniels reneged and the lessons we can learn about searching for a new leader.

Know and address your candidate's personal situation

A high-performing executive with a young family will likely consider the ramifications for their family before making a move to a new organization and city.

Josh McDaniels has four children, ages 3 and 12. Moving to a new city would mean each child would have new schools, new social networks, etc. Sources say the Colts knew McDaniels was very concerned about this throughout the recruiting process. It was ultimately a key factor in his decision to stay in New England.

You must address your candidate's personal drivers head on. In this case, take the candidate (and their family) on a tour of top-notch schools in the area to showcase the community. Try to relieve any anxiety about relocation. Set the candidate up for family success, which is the bedrock of professional success.

Go the extra mile to woo them

ESPN reported McDaniels "had been vacillating on this decision throughout the interview process." When a potential leader shows doubt or uncertainty, you need to go the extra mile if you really want them.

For example, the Colts could have been making their case to McDaniels right up to and after the Super Bowl. They could have flown in to spend time with McDaniels. If they were there for him, it would show how much they wanted him.

Psychologically, that effort would surely impact McDaniels and anyone else in this situation. To see that an organization is literally travelling hundreds of miles up to the last minute to woo you would influence a person's decision.

Don't assume it's just about being the boss

McDaniels has been a head coach before. He was inches away from being a head coach again. But in the end, as one source said, "he's always just insisted that everything be right, or he wasn't going to leave."

Like football teams, organizations often assume every senior leader is vying for the top job one day. But that's not the entire equation, as McDaniels's story clearly illustrates. For another example, someone who is vice-president of sales and who is recruited to be a CEO will weigh all kinds of variables before making a decision. Am I going to be set up to be successful? Is the company the right culture fit? Is the team the right one for me? Can I make an impact? Is it right for my family? What happens if I am not successful?

Recognize that when an executive is comfortable and happy where they are, the top job elsewhere would need to be "just right" for them to make the move.

It ain't over till it's over

Baseball icon Yogi Berra coined this famous phrase when the team he was coaching was behind in the race to finish first. The Colts found out how true this expression is and there's an important lesson for all companies to learn from it.

McDaniels had not yet signed a contract, but the Colts went ahead with planning a news conference and tweeting about it, ostensibly to introduce him as their new head coach.

This is a classic example of an organization trying to write their own narrative without the candidate being a co-author. The results were not only the embarrassment of having to cancel the news conference at the last minute, but also potentially harming the new coach they hired, Frank Reich, who may feel like and be viewed as the "second choice."

No matter how great everything seems to be going in the search for your next leader, don't set yourself up to get burned the way the Colts did. In short, hold off on the touchdown celebration while you're still on the one-yard line.

Executives, educators, lawyers and human resources authorities contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.

Interact with The Globe