How to be – and choose – an unforgettable boss

Make sure your next executive hire goes on to become an unforgettable boss.

During the executive search and recruitment process, companies may come upon multiple strong candidates. Choosing the best of the bunch typically requires widening the scope in order for an individual’s on-paper accomplishments and qualities not to be the only aspects taken into consideration.

“To narrow the executive recruitment playing field, look out for these four attributes.”

For instance, we’ve discussed before how cultural fit can make or break the success of a new executive hire. Delving into a candidate’s backstory and reputation is a powerful way of identifying individuals whose attitudes and approaches stand out from the rest in terms of both realized and untapped potential. How should companies go about narrowing the playing field to ensure their next hire goes on to become one of the organization’s most unforgettable leaders? To start, look out for these four valuable attributes.

1. A refusal to throw people under the bus.
In a piece he penned for LinkedIn Pulse, Inc. magazine contributing editor Jeff Haden broke down how different types of bosses deal with the proverbial oncoming bus.

“Terrible bosses throw their employees under the bus,” Haden wrote. “Good bosses never throw their employees under the bus. Memorable bosses see the bus coming and pull their employees out of the way, often without the employee knowing until much, much later… if ever, because memorable bosses never try to take credit.”

In a recent article for Forbes, contributor Travis Bradberry expanded on this idea, noting that the best bosses will do everything they can to stop the bus by applying their own knowledge and skills to the situation at hand, coaching employees on how to deal with the current circumstances and removing as many obstacles as possible. If the chain of events has already been set in motion and there’s no stopping or changing the course of the bus, these extraordinary leaders will “jump out in front of it and take the hit themselves,” Bradberry wrote.

This type of approach sets leaders apart from those who uphold the modus operandi of assigning blame to others, which is unfortunately a much more common way of doing things. The refusal to throw people under the bus echoes the outlook of President Harry S. Truman, who kept a sign on his desk in the Oval Office that read, “The buck stops here.”

An unforgettable leader should understand where the buck stops.
An unforgettable leader should understand where the buck stops.

2. Perceiving a crisis as an opportunity.
When things go south – whether this be at a company, within an industry or across the national or international economy at large – leaders may react in several different ways. They could panic, which, while understandable, isn’t exactly beneficial from an organizational standpoint. They could grimly strap on their seatbelts and prepare to do the best they can in the worst of circumstances. Or, they could take this period of negativity and instability and turn it into a positive chance to enact change. It takes a special kind of person to see opportunity in crisis, which is why leaders with this ability often go down as unforgettable.

“Memorable bosses see instability and uncertainty not as a barrier but as an enabler. They reorganize, reshape and re-engineer to reassure, motivate, and inspire – and in the process make the organization much stronger,” asserted Haden.

3. Treating others as individuals.
From time to time, many leaders struggle to keep in mind that employees aren’t interchangeable cogs in a wheel. This can lead to problems on both an organizational level and a personal one. For instance, in terms of the former, just because two people work in the same department, that doesn’t mean one can necessarily take over for┬áthe other – their skills and abilities may not be the same, which is a nuance that escapes some leaders. Meanwhile, related to the latter, workers who don’t feel appreciated as individuals tend to be less productive, engaged and loyal, which often leads to low performance and high turnover.

Bradberry distinguished unforgettable leaders from their more run-of-the-mill equivalents by likening them to chess-players, as opposed to checkers-players.

“In checkers, all the pieces are basically the same,” he noted. “In chess, on the other hand, each piece has a unique role, unique abilities and unique limitations. Unforgettable bosses are like great chess masters. They recognize what’s unique about each member of their team. They know their strengths, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes, and they use these insights to draw the very best from each individual.”

“Unforgettable bosses are driven by a purpose that exceeds simply getting the job done.”

4. Making business personal.
Unforgettable bosses are driven by a purpose that exceeds simply getting the job done. Along the way, they are prepared to take the time and commit the effort to causes such as helping employees advance their careers, offering guidance in the form of mentorship, providing assistance to workers in need and engaging in other types of outreach where needed.

“They aren’t just remembered for nuts and bolts achievements but for helping others on a personal and individual level,” Haden wrote.

The idea of making business personal also extends to the way they conduct themselves. As part of our “Busting common leadership myths” series, we tackled the misconception that good leaders have all the answers, citing studies that revealed allowing a few cracks to show may actually help a leader’s image by showing he or she is human – and, therefore, relatable.

“[Unforgettable bosses] realize that people have emotions, and they aren’t afraid to express their own,” observed Bradberry. “They relate to their people as a person first and a boss second.”

Bradberry went on to note that although these leaders aren’t afraid to be open about how they are feeling, they also know how to rein in their emotions and prevent┬ápersonal feelings from clouding their professional judgment. In short, making business personal is a hallmark of good leadership, but taking business personally is not.

The bottom line
Given the high caliber of talent out there, companies in the midst of the executive recruiting process may find it difficult to whittle down candidates. This is when keeping an eye out for the hallmarks of unforgettable leadership can come in useful. By interviewing the individuals on the shortlist and delving into their backgrounds, organizations can get a good idea of:

  • How they respond in situations that appear to require throwing someone under the bus.
  • How they handle a crisis, and whether they are able to seize the opportunity to create something positive out of decidedly negative circumstances.
  • Whether they regard the people they work with as cogs in a wheel or unique individuals.
  • Whether they stick strictly to business or incorporate a personal element.

Armed with this insight, companies are empowered to make better executive hiring choices that will serve them well in the long run.

About Caldwell Partners
Caldwell Partners is a leading international provider of executive search and has been for more than 40 years. As one of the world’s most trusted advisors in executive search, the firm has a sterling reputation built on successful searches for boards, chief and senior executives, and selected functional experts. With offices and partners across North America, Latin America and in London, the firm takes pride in delivering an unmatched level of service and expertise to its clients.