Recruitment secrets of Positive Leaders

Team building strategies matter, so does recruitment. How much easier would it be if you only recruited positive people in the first place? 

In the movie ‘The Untouchables’ the hero crime fighter, Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner), complains to his mentor (Sean Connery) about corruption in the police force and the tip-offs to criminals.  In reply his mentor says, “If you’re afraid of getting a rotten apple, don’t go to the barrel. Get it off the tree.”   The point to the story is clear enough. 

Unfortunately, even when you go directly to the tree choosing the right apple is never guaranteed. From the outside good apples and rotten apples can look the same.  So how can we ensure that during recruitment we focus on star performers who really want to be part of our team?

Business professor Amy Wrzesniewski has studied recruitment practices at the most demanding leadership environment on earth; -West Point Officer Academy.  West Point is highly demanding, both physically and mentally.  New cadets need strong academic grades to apply before undergoing gruelling tests of physical endurance, personality testing and intelligence testing. The ultimate goal is to predict who will survive the four years of instruction and training until graduation.

However, the Wrzesniewski team examined something different. They examined why the cadets had applied in the first place.   They examined what had originally motivated the cadets to apply to see what factors predicted who would be successful.  

  • Some cadets had applied to West Point for external reasons, such as pleasing others, following family traditions or seeking future career advancement.
  • Other cadets had internal,or intrinsic motivations such as a passion for leadership, a desire to serve, or a love of the military code.
  • A third group had a combination of both internal and external motivations.

The results showed the cadets with the internal motivationsdid significantly better across three key measures of success. They were more likely to survive the four years to graduation (resilience), they were more likely to gain promotions (excellence), and they were more likely to remain in the military beyond the mandatory service period (loyalty).  

Interestingly, the internally motivated group also outperformed group three (the group with both internal and external motivations).  This last point contradicts all previous assumptions about motivation, that two kinds of motivations are better than one.  It seems when we focus on what wewant, deep down, regardless of secondary considerations such money, advancement, or prestige our motivation surges.  And this effect is so powerful that anything that takes our focus away from our internal motivation only dilutes that surge.

This leads to helpful coaching questions when evaluating your own life goals and personal ambitions.  What do you really want?  Regardless of money, or prestige, or pleasing others, what do you really want for yourself?   

A helpful question is this:  Imagine you have just won lotto.  You no longer need to consider money in your goals.  You can now spend the rest of your life doing whatever you find most rewarding or satisfying.  After the initial excitement of winning lotto dies down a little, how would not needing to worry about money change your life direction?   

When you know the answer to that question your motivation will be almost unstoppable.

Positive recruitment

When recruiting new staff it is common to ask people what attracted them to the position.  Sometimes this question is a formal part of the interview.  In many cases, however, it is only asked as an icebreaker question.

This kind of question may be the most important question you can ask a new recruit. It is certainly too important to use as a mere icebreaker.  

In answering this question people reveal their motivations, either internal or external.   For example, people with external motivations may say they applied because it is the next, logical step in their career.  In contrast, people with internal motivations may give more personal reasons for why this type of work matters to them. 

If you can imagine this person winning lotto, and still wanting to join your team and do this kind of work because it matters to them, hire them.  Everything else being equal, they will become one of the most self-motivated people in your team.

If you’d like to share your thoughts on this topic leave us a comment below. If you’re interested in other leadership blogs you can read more here.