This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab
The single most important responsibility of a CEO is to recruit the best executive team possible for the organization.
From my own experience and watching others, this is a particularly challenging task because the jump from director to vice president is the largest stretch made in one's career. The VP role combines everything you have learned as a director in effectively managing part of the business, with a new higher level of responsibility including stewardship, strategy and effectiveness.
At the VP level, compensation shifts more towards joint and organizational goals rather than individual goals. You are required to think about the strategic benefit for the organization and those the organization serves – and for the first time in your career – you become a steward of the organization.
This change in focus makes the recruitment of VPs a minefield. The CEO and the interview panel are often put in the position of comparing someone who has experience at the VP level and understands the expectations, with a director who doesn't have the experience but has demonstrated potential. This can lead to risk avoidance, where going with someone who has less long-term potential for the organization is the safer and more prudent choice. This leaves aspiring VPs who are currently directors with the odds stacked against them.
So how do directors break through? Let me share some advice on what not to do, because in my experience too many worthy candidates make three common mistakes in VP job interviews.
Emphasizing their track record
The first mistake is focusing on how well they have performed as a director by concentrating on their track record. The problem with this approach is that the decision to hire will be made based on whether they have the potential to make the jump to a different way of thinking and acting at the VP level – not on their successes as a director.
Every candidate coming into the room for the interview will come armed with a solid track record of performance – that's what got them the interview in the first place. But it is not the key ingredient that influences hiring. The candidate should focus their presentation and answers solely on convincing the interview panel that they understand the jump that has to be made and that their experience has prepared them to make that transition.
The second common mistake is not recognizing what the interview panel is looking for and being improperly prepared. I am often surprised by how some VP applicants prepare for their interview. The panel will ask a fairly standard set of questions, but the questions themselves are relatively unimportant. The key to success is how the candidate chooses to answer. Whatever the specific question is about – leadership style, driving new business opportunities, developing strategic plans – the candidate should take the opportunity to answer with a whole-of-organization approach.
Each question is simply an opportunity. There is no right or wrong answer. A strong interviewee will turn a bland question into a compelling story that makes the interviewers forget the question they asked and instead focus on what they are being told. Even if the question is more specific about a detailed operational question, candidates should not take the bait of getting into the weeds. Instead, they should shift the focus and demonstrate how an operational challenge can be an opportunity for the entire organization.
Acting the part
The third mistake is being overly concerned about how your personality might come across in the interview, and trying to convey traits that are not natural. It is almost impossible to hide one's true personality, and efforts to do so can detract from the effectiveness of the presentation. It is difficult, if not impossible, to perform at your best if you are not being yourself.
I have had the experience of interviewing someone who was so low key I had to bend forward to hear and understand what they were saying. But 10 minutes into that interview I was on the edge of my seat listening to every word the person said. I found myself learning from the interviewee.
Others have announced themselves with what appears to be an almost perfect level of assertiveness and engagement, but then had little to say. I'll take the first candidate every time.
The idea that good leadership comes with a particular personality type, with charisma and assertiveness, is a myth. Good leaders have all types of personalities and some of the most successful organizations are run by humble, quiet folks.
Like everything that is worthwhile doing, a promotion to VP requires hard work, lengthy preparation and thoughtfulness. Challenge yourself to view things from a higher perspective starting from how your own work is helping to drive a broader organizational strategy and how it can be leveraged to support other parts of the organization. Take this type of thinking to the interview and then into your new role as a VP and you can help your organization scale new heights.
Michael Sherar is president and chief executive officer of Cancer Care Ontario (@CancerCare_ON), a provincial government agency that manages the quality of services and patient care for those with cancer or chronic kidney disease.