Posted On 5th January 2014

It is quiz time! If you want to go directly to it and not find out why a high class professional services firm is even doing this skip down about 25 lines and we’ll join you there.

I was an executive search consultant for about twelve years. Don’t ask me how many people I interviewed. One question I must have asked a million times was this masterpiece of insightful interrogation:

“Tell me about your leadership style”.

You wouldn’t believe I’m highly educated would you? I suppose asking that dumb question for twelve years proves I wasn’t too clever after all.

Punish me. Severely. I deserve three years reading The Sun to semi-literate cellmates.

It was such a crime because the question only elicited one of two answers. I called them the MBA answers. They were the perfect, model responses that everyone knew you were supposed to come up with.

The first was “I lead from the front”, which I’ve demolished as an answer elsewhere.

The second is “I adopt a flexible style depending on the circumstances”, which is better but incredibly boring and very, very hard to disprove unless you’ve got a lot of time and make the candidate feel like you’re calling them a liar.

I wanted to do fun questions instead. I wanted to be one of those Silicon Valley recruiters who ask “what kind of a doughnut are you?”, or “if you could be any serial killer which one would you be?

So, I used to fantasise about sexier ways of asking the “leadership” question, ways that didn’t turn candidates into liars and me into a slowly developing abdominal surgery case.

Here’s one I wish I’d tried. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s quiz time!

As a manager and leader, which member of the ‘Rat Pack’ do you most resemble?

Let’s give it a go! For the questions below note if answer A, B, or C sounds most like you.

Q1) You are presented with the challenge of adapting your company’s marketing channels to the rise of social media, and must lead a sceptical team through technical and cultural change. Do you?

A) Get down with the kids by changing your style to meet new ways of thinking, swapping your old routines for ones you secretly hate, just to convince your team you know how to succeed in today’s world?

B) Rely on your effortless charm and sophistication to get your guys working for you, morning, noon and night, pretending that you know what you’re doing and covering knowledge gaps with a classy one-liner, then leaving on time every day to drink. Heavily.

C) Sell out to the Mafia, using their muscle, money and skills in equine decapitation to get your changes through.

Q2) Morale is slipping as competitors are innovating your company out of the market. Key staff are leaving and staff turnover is a business critical issue. How do you retain staff?

A) Smile broadly, always, continually, and go out of your way to hug the most repulsive, loathed and unpopular member of the team regardless of their personal criminality, even President Nixon.

B) Scotch, anyone?

C) Leak to the team that you’ve swum naked with Ava Gardner in Ernest Hemingway’s pool, and anyone else can too if they stick around you long enough, because you’ll dump her eventually, and she’s anybody’s.

Q3) We need to re-negotiate our financing to ensure long term business survival. How would you lead us in these third party negotiations?

A) Don’t ask me. I went broke.

B) From a bar stool. Besides, I married wife number three a month after I dumped wife number two so if you need tough decisions about contracts, I’m your man.

C) Well, you see, I’ve got amazing contacts in the alternative finance world and there’s this guy called Lucky who’ll do us a great deal. But, for the love of God, make sure you pay him back.

All done? OK!  Here are the answers!

If you were mostly A then you resemble Sammy Davis Jnr! Well Mr Bojangles you’ll try anything, accept change without fighting it and win the love of your colleagues by being open about your shortcomings, so the team can support you.

If you were mostly B then you are a managing Dean Martin! Call yourself the King of Cool because you are a charismatic leader who exudes confidence and never loses sight of your ultimate objective. Which is a drink.

If you were mostly C then you are the spit of Frank Sinatra! Old Blue Eyes fits your description because you’re morally flexible and willing to adopt out-of-the-box, or possibly even put-him-in-a box, methods to secure company objectives, while minimising reputational risk through simple, but effective, media management. Like threats.

Silly? Of course. Useless? Yes, clearly. Worse than “tell me about your leadership style?” Only for my reputation.

The irony is there are several really high quality psychometric tests out there that are very good predictors of leadership ability and traits.

I’ve even seen them used. And paid for. They are not cheap. And then clients would listen to the results, nod, ask that stupid question about leadership style at final interview and rely on the answer alone.

It doesn’t make sense. But when did the recruitment process ever make sense?

David Welsh

(With apologies to Sammy Davis Jnr, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, the Gambino Crime Family, Ava Gardner, Ernest Hemingway and god help me President Richard M Nixon)

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