Author’s Note —
This is taken from the introduction to a book in progress (working title: The I-Competencies: Head, Heart, Guts and Will as Keys to Success). If anyone has an idea for a shorter title, please let me know. If it works better, I’ll send you a free copy of the book when it’s published next year.
Hire smart people who get along well with others, who do what they’re supposed to do and who work hard. That will guarantee your success as a leader. Simple in concept, difficult in execution. The book will explain what these blindingly self-evident insights really mean, their practical implications and how you can use them to be more successful.
—- Hodge Golson
The ultimate mission and purpose of any leader is to make his or her organization successful. The leader’s ability to select and develop the right people is crucial to the accomplishment of that goal. Insightful and successful people as diverse as humorist Leo Rosten (“First rate people hire first rate people, second rate people hire third rate people”), former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (“A’s hire A’s, B’s hire C’s) and Good to Great author Jim Collins (“First the WHO, then the WHAT”) emphasize the importance of getting the best people. A leader has no higher duty than choosing people who will ensure the future success of his or her organization.
Theories of personality can be conflicting and confusing, even for psych graduate students. Some measures of personality lead to type-casting that doesn’t hold up when subjected to rigorous predictive analysis. Competency models used by many organizations to define the desirable characteristics of their people are usually too narrow. They may lead managers to look at the wrong things or ignore the whole person picture when hiring or developing their people. Competency models don’t often differentiate between what can be taught and what may be an ingrained trait or ability. Some things simply can’t be changed or developed to any significant extent, at least in the time frame required for success in business. Having personally conducted over ten thousand psychological assessments for business organizations, I still sometimes find it difficult to understand and integrate the multifaceted and often conflicting data gathered in the interview. But the framework described in this book has helped me stay focused on the most important factors in assessment and in coaching for development. It can also help you make better selection and development decisions in your own organization.
We can all get better at just about anything we focus upon. In spite of the fact that most of the characteristics and behavioral patterns associated with the four foundational competencies described in this book seem to be hard-wired, improvement is possible. If we set the right kind of goals, pursue them with the right strategies and monitor our progress, we will improve. Psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson has offered compelling evidence for the dynamic nature of human ability in her book Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals. This is quite encouraging and has broad implications for self-development, for coaching, for parenting and for educational applications. As with anything worthwhile, progress takes insight, planning, time and effort. Unfortunately, unless you’re running a well-funded early career developmental program, you don’t have the resources or time to bring in raw material and nurture it to full potential. If you’re a typical recruiter or hiring executive, you need competent people with the talents and skills necessary to help out quickly. A quote attributed to Lewis Pierson, businessman and former president of the US Chamber of Commerce in the early part of last century, describes your situation fairly accurately: “Business is like a man rowing a boat upstream. He has no choice; he must go ahead or he will go back.” If that was true nearly one hundred years ago, it’s certainly so now.
This is not to downplay the importance of good management and leadership practices, but in most instances, you simply don’t have the luxury of providing the long term nurturance, coaching, care and feeding of new hires it would require to develop them to full potential in the time frames you face. So, although people have great capacity for improvement and development, for your purposes, your candidates typically have to hit the ground running. They need to possess the appropriate raw material (the competencies described herein) walking in the door so that they can learn, adjust and make a contribution in relatively short order. The necessary business skills can be learned relatively easily and quickly as compared to moving the needle on these more deeply ingrained qualities described in the following discussion.
As Halverson points out, few things are totally innate. But there are factors that are largely built-in by the time a person gets into the recruitment pipeline for other than entry level jobs. We consider long term and enduring patterns of behavior to be traits. Traits affect us consistently over time and consistently in a broad range of circumstances. An old nugget of business wisdom is “hire for trait, train for skill.” But if certain traits aren’t in place, certain skills won’t develop no matter how hard one tries. For our purposes – hiring the best people who can quickly become assets in our organizations – we must act as if some things are innate. Among these are the I-Competencies. These factors: Intellectual; Interpersonal; Integrity; and Intensity can be thought of as foundation competences. That is, they are fundamental and typically cannot be developed quickly or significantly by training, coaching or experience. Think of them as head, heart, guts and will. They are the result of genetics and the values and attributes one absorbs from early family and societal/cultural influences. In this respect, they differ from the many surface competencies (e.g. formal presentation skills, spreadsheet skills, technical knowledge base, etc.) which can be taught. As noted, there is evidence for plasticity in each domain, but change takes time – more than most organizations have. So, for practical purposes, we’ll treat these as hard-wired. Of course good parenting, good schooling and good coaching can help a person work at the high end of his/her abilities, and may even push the limits out much further than we can predict. But those are topics for several other books. Those are societal concerns and not likely to be high on your list of immediate issues if you’re charged with deciding which candidate will best help you achieve success in your day-to-day business battles.
The Intellectual Competency (Head)
This factor has traditionally been measured by standardized tests that predict success in school, but test scores alone aren’t infallible. The Intellectual Competency, or general intelligence, encompasses mental agility, quickness and creativity, depth of knowledge, logical reasoning and common sense. This factor is a combination of a person’s unique mix of skills and abilities and how well she or he uses them. People who make smart decisions and who use their talents effectively are more successful over time than those who make bad decisions and/or squander their intellectual resources. After almost one hundred years of scientific research on this dimension, the results are quite clear and unambiguous. This is the best predictor of job performance available. There are always exceptions to the rule (there are very bright people who never amount to anything and there are people of very average intelligence who work hard and achieve great accomplishments) but overall correlations between this competency and performance over time are clear and consistent in all jobs and occupations.
The Interpersonal Competency (Heart)
No matter how clever a person is and how elegant or elaborate his problem solutions, if he can’t communicate them to others and convince others of their merits, it doesn’t matter. People who have good social skills and who get along with other people are much more successful as a group than those who don’t have as many talents in this area. They have greater influence in the group because others like them and feel good about them. The interpersonal competency is the key that unlocks the door of influence. It enables you to communicate the worth of your ideas. This competency includes general social and persuasive skills, social insight and intuition, likeability and persuasiveness. The intellectual competency enables a person to solve a problem. The interpersonal competency enables him or her to convince other people that the solution is the right one, or at least a good one.
The Integrity Competency (Guts)
This is broader than the basic honesty-dishonesty dimension although that is an important part of this factor. This is the cornerstone of building trust, one of the primary factors of credibility. It includes general conscientiousness, discipline and follow-through. The person with high integrity will meet his or her commitments in the time frames agreed upon and according to the standards expected. If not, she will let everyone know in plenty of time so that they won’t be surprised. Part of this competency includes the ability to focus and to use one’s talents and aptitudes with appropriate discipline. This is the factor that holds things together and facilitates trust and consistency of performance. The greater the perceived integrity, the greater the trust.
The Intensity Competency (Will)
This is the motivation factor. It includes energy, stamina, drive and the ability to get fully engaged. People with high intensity are active, not passive. They are driven by a need to get things done and to see results. With the proper control and focus, people with high intensity will achieve at higher levels than those with only average levels of stamina and energy. This is the fuel that provides the force for achieving goals and for staying motivated in the face of obstacles. It is often seen as general motivation. The more motivated you are, the more likely you are to achieve results and consequently the greater your ability to influence others by virtue of your accomplishments and general credibility.
The Basis of Influence
Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer notes that the ability to influence others is crucial to success in a career and in gaining personal power. There are three major factors that predict and enhance a person’s influence skills. In an earlier work based on the major findings from over fifty years’ research in social psychology, I described them as follows:
Expertise (does this person know what he’s talking about – does he have the necessary background, credentials or knowledge?).
Trust (can I rely on this person – will she cover me, further my interests and do what’s expected?).
Likability (do I relate to this person – do I enjoy being around him and like him?).
The I-competencies are fundamental to these influence factors. Expertise depends on the Intellectual and Intensity factors (you need to be smart enough to learn the material, and you need to have the motivation and staying power to apply yourself so that you can learn it adequately). Trust is directly related to the Integrity factor. Likability is a product of the Interpersonal and Integrity dimensions. To succeed as a leader, you need people who can influence the course of events in your organization. To increase your chances for developing people who will do so, pay attention to the I-Competencies. They’re the basis of success in any business or other organization with the purpose of achieving goals.
 Halvorson, H. (2010). Succeed: how we can reach our goals. Hudson Street.
 Pfeffer, J., (2010). Power: Why some people have it – and others don’t. Harper Business.
 Golson, H., (2011). Influence for impact: increasing your effectiveness in your organization. H Lloyd Publishing.