The top company executives had been interviewing candidates for the CFO role. They found someone they really liked and were convinced he was the right guy for the job. In fact, they were already driving him around the town to show him attractive neighborhoods where his family could live. By the time they asked me to interview and assess the candidate, his hire was all but a done deal. I was just answering a few last-check questions: Was he the right leader for the job? Would he be a good fit with the company culture?

I spent two hours with the candidate, and as I walked out of the room I heard myself thinking, “I would not like to work for this guy.” That gave me pause. He was bright, affable, well-qualified. What had turned me off? I realized he had been a terrible listener. In a job interview, where he was presumably trying to make a great impression, he had interrupted me, failed to answer my questions, and rambled on and on about tangential topics. I thought, “Wow, if he’s like that in a job interview, what is he going to be like to work with on a daily basis?” 

I advised the CEO to do a really thorough reference check — to talk with people who knew the candidate from previous roles. And guess what? The reviews were terrible. He wasn’t a team player, he was very full of himself, and he had failed to meet expectations over and over again. The company didn’t hire him, and thereby saved themselves the probable expense and hassle of terminating him and having to repeat the whole search process.

Why was I, an outsider, able to pick up on a serious problem they had all missed? Yes, part of it was my training as a psychologist, which has taught me to listen not only to what people say but how they say it. But there’s another reason: sometimes it takes the outside perspective only an independent adviser can provide.  

A recent article explored some of these dynamics. The author, James Schrager, wrote, “Outside advisers have probably been a few places you haven’t and may know some people you don’t.” While outside advisers certainly don’t have the depth of knowledge about the business that the executives have, the breadth of their experience enables them to bring frameworks and ideas that the executive team hasn’t thought of. Outside advisers help leadership teams avoid groupthink. Because they are independent — they don’t work for the company — they pose challenges and talk about topics that insiders are afraid to touch. 

Outside advisers are also useful in opening channels of communication. They facilitate conversations across divisions or functions or levels of authority in the company. They add value by connecting leaders to others in their network who have useful information or resources to share.

So how do you find a good adviser?

Schrager suggests some criteria. The adviser should:

  • Offer thoughtful advice
  • Have broad experience with leading businesses
  • Know a wide range of people and
  • Be gutsy enough to say the difficult truths.

Outside advisers are not magical wizards. But the right person at the right time can make a huge difference to the success of your business.


If you’re looking for an excellent outside adviser, contact us at ggolden@gailgoldenconsulting.com.

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