No matter which industry sector or career you’re in, you’ve crossed paths with this person: articulate, decisive, a seemingly brilliant mind and a lot to say. Impressive in interview, a somewhat unfathomable list of achievements, they seem to offer a world of promise and opportunity. You think you’ve discovered the perfect candidate. And yet, dig a little deeper and you uncover a trail of damaged relationships, poor long-term decisions, instances where those who have worked with them, question their reputation or have little good to say. In short, there is little substance behind the soundbite. This happens more often than you think.
One way to get around this by enlisting the help of an Occupational Psychologist, who can help you objectively assess an individual at their best and worst, identifying potential risks and leadership de-railers during times of stress, or when they are not proactively managing or monitoring their behaviour. This is referred to as the ‘dark’ side of personality and we all have a dark side.
Whilst it has long been good selection practice to assess candidates against competencies – the key things necessary to do the job well – the question remains, how do you account for the aspects of behaviour that are likely to upset or alienate others in the long term? Typically, assessment methods seek out evidence of behaviours that are part of our public persona, how you come across most of the time or at interview - the aspects of our personality that we manage to some extent.
What becomes relevant, particularly when faced with significant hires or impactful roles, are those aspects of personality and defence mechanisms that we fall back on when we are worried, stressed or have relaxed our veneer in some way. In these situations, we are more likely to expose our dark side. And there is a risk that if left unchecked, these behaviours become counterproductive or limiting in some way. No matter how smart, capable or experienced an individual is, if they lack self-awareness then their eye for opportunity turns into risk-taking, or their ability to spot flaws becomes argumentative, or their high standards become controlling. A line is crossed, relationships are damaged, poor decisions are made and there are irreparable long-term consequences.
At one level our dark side behaviours can help us succeed. Being very confident and always ready with an opinion are often characteristics that are rewarded and reinforced. But there becomes a level where the limits are pushed too far and it’s when we’re not mindful of how we’re coming across to others that the tipping point occurs. Those around us recognise the pattern. They brace themselves for what they know will come next and it demotivates until they no longer want to be part of the same team or put in extra effort anymore.
At an organisational level, these examples can be far-reaching. It is an all too familiar cautionary tale: the costs of reduced motivation, disenchantment and productivity are proven to be significant and expensive. Crucially, it's critical to explore these vulnerabilities at the hiring stage. A candidate may have a strong track record for their technical knowledge and intelligence, or they may have been in the industry for a long time. However, in most cases, great people leave poor managers, not poor organisations.
So, the critical question when considering a role with people responsibility - What are you doing to assess de-railers?