How To Spot A "Falling Star"
Newsletter volume 2 number 4
For fifteen years, Christopher Steffen blazed an erratic trail through corporate America's stratosphere. At various times he was a dazzling light in the skies of Chrysler, Honeywell, Kodak, and, most recently, Citicorp, only to fall from grace at each company. Although he helped turn around the fortunes of financially-troubled Chrysler and Honeywell and increased productivity in his role as a vice chairman at Citicorp, his tenure at all three ended abruptly. In 1993, his resignation from Kodak after only eleven weeks sent shockwaves through investors, if not the entire corporate world.
What was going on? How can an executive repeatedly fly so high only to be shot down with such predictable regularity? The answer seems to lie both in Steffen's character and in the faulty judgment of those who hired him.
Steffen's friends consider him a "brilliant executive," with a powerful personality, supreme self-confidence, penetrating intelligence, and financial sophistication. On the other hand, his detractors - many of them former colleagues - label him arrogant and abrasive, with a glaring lack of interpersonal skills and a tendency to overstate his contributions. No doubt both assessments are right. Steffen clearly has talent, yet his flash-and-burn career seems to demonstrate that he lacks the personal qualities to stay on top.
Still, this is not exclusively Steffen's problem. His personality and track record are well-known, but blue-chip companies repeatedly woo him for top positions. Steffen, in fact, is a prime example of what can happen when management focuses exclusively on the contributions a strong candidate can make and ignores that candidate's inevitable limitations.
We believe that in evaluating any candidate - no matter how desirable or dazzling - it is essential to consider limitations as well as strengths. This does not mean a search for the flawless employee. It does mean, however, that companies must be astute enough about their own cultures to know what makes an employee successful for them. Kodak, for example, is conservative and collegial, and nothing about Steffen, from the cut of his expensive suits to his aggressive, Lone Ranger style fit in. It only took eleven weeks for his limitations to derail him.
Effective Interviewing!® involves realistically assessing a candidate's strengths and limitations and determining how well both will play in a particular corporate culture. This enhances management's ability to accurately predict a candidate's future performance and minimizes the chance that a Chris Steffen will be hired by the wrong company. It might also prevent the bright lights of talented executives from burning out too quickly.