I was struck by the research outlined in Jim Collins’s book “Good to Great”, published in 2001. I’ve always been fascinated by why some companies make it, why some don’t and why some make it big withstanding the test of time. I’ve always known the people make the place. Without employees there is no company. But as it turns out, it’s all about finding the right people.

What makes a company great is “who” not  “what.”  A great vision, without great people, is irrelevant. This raises the question – how do you find the right people? Although it’s important to find someone with the right skills and experience, it’s even more important to find the right type of person. As Collins outlines, greater weight should be placed on character attributes rather than specific education, background, practical skills, specialized knowledge or work experience. When interviewing find out who a person is by asking them why they made decisions in their life or what they think about a relevant topic. The answers to these types of questions will provide insight into core values.

Collins’s research uncovered character traits for what he calls “Level 5 Leadership,” which is the highest level in a hierarchy of executive capabilities. These characteristics are indicative of an exceptional employee, regardless of where they are in their career.

Collins’s Traits of a Level 5 Leader

- Maintains a blend of extreme personal humility with intense professional will

- Ambition is first and foremost for the institution and not for themselves

- Shy and awkward does not mean weak (i.e. Abraham Lincoln)

- Ferocious resolve

In the end, if you can’t find the right characteristics and you have doubts, don’t hire. You will never get where you want to go if you fill the bus with the wrong people.

Laura B. McCoy