Focusing on Specific Skills is Not Enough. Look Also for This.

At the Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics (COLE) in Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, a consistent theme we hear from leaders across different industries and sectors is that an organization's most powerful asset is its people. And a key way to build that asset is WHO you bring onboard your team.

When looking at prospective team members, it's easy to think about them and the specific skills they have in a linear way - focusing solely on how their skills can immediately shore up the skills gaps on your team.

However, the marketplace is changing so fast that a coveted skill today can become an obsolete one in a few years. And a career outlook by many millennials towards jobs as transient rather than permanent, means that a filled skills gap can open up again in a few years . Furthermore, we cannot underestimate the competitive advantage that results when there's chemistry and alignment with the team beyond skills complementarity. For our organizations to create sustainable success, what else should we look for in a prospective hire?

Passion and know-how for developing others.

We should also look how they can impact the team and organizational network and make those throughout the organization better. If a candidate has remarkable skills, know-how, and values, do they also have the ability to multiply their talents throughout the organization? Can they transfer that knowledge? Teach and develop those skillsets in others? Influence positive behaviors in those around them?

My favorite section in Jim Citrin's The Career Playbook (a must read book full of applicable advice for those wishing to grow in their careers), is the one on investing in other people's success. This behavior is not only needed for personal success in today's complex career landscape, but is one we need to develop in our team members and actively look for in our prospective hires.

I've seen the positive and generative impact of Jim's continual investment in helping others around him succeed, which is also a hallmark of his own remarkable career. Jim is a renowned CEO and board recruiter with Spencer Stuart as well as a New York Times best-selling leadership author.

In my work on effective mentorship, an insight is that a culture of mentorship can tip the scales for an organization's long-term success.

When team members mentor and develop others around them - knowledge, values, and processes are naturally transferred, ensuring that our organization can sustain inspite of the revolving door of talent. When those from the senior leadership to entry level continually model and prioritize this type of behavior , it becomes a significant competitive advantage.

Those with this type of mindset are also highly empathetic people. In order to effectively develop others, one needs to be able to see things from the other person's point of view, to communicate using language that resonates with the audience, and approach the interaction as both a sharing and a personal learning opportunity.

Citing her favorite mantra- It's doesn't take a village, it takes a team - Wendy Selig-Prieb, a former CEO of Milwaukee Brewers who launched a successful startup and went on to become CEO of Worth, shares some of her thoughts on this topic with me:

"I want leaders on my team who are both empowered and empowering! I want them not only to make tough calls, be self-confident and innovative but also to make those around them better. That means not just delegating tasks but delegating authority and creating a culture where failure is an opportunity to learn and grow; and a step in the process of achieving our mission and goals."

Furthermore, if you continue to recruit for this type of mindset, you can build a culture of mentorship and learning that can attract other top talent who see that working at your company is an avenue to personal growth.

For specifics on this mindset, see my recent post on How to Be a Creative Altruist.


Those with self-awareness understand how they will react to different situations and different people. They understand and can articulate which conditions will enable them to be at their best and at their worst. They know how to maximize the former and minimize the latter.

Rodney Evans, whose work looks at at self-awareness, shares this working definition:

"Self awareness is knowledge of your experience in the present. It is understanding emotionally, cognitively and physically how you interact (moment to moment) with your environment. By being aware of our state in the present, we can investigate our reactions and resulting behavior. We can explore triggers, influences, biases and responses."

Those with a high degree of self-awareness also understand how they work and how they process information. They are reflective, making them able learners. They are able communicators as they are tuned in to how others react to what they do and say, enabling them to be effective team-players.

Their awareness of their personal triggers and how they think can enable them to be more effective and resilient learners.

Some questions you can use to use to gain a sense of a person's level of self-awareness include asking about their failures, why it was a failure, how they overcame it and what they learned from it. How do they approach a tough decision? And in the process, be attuned also to your own responses (emotional and cognitive) to their answers.

Alignment of Heart and Values with your Team:

It's also important to understand the heart and values of prospective hires. The VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) nature of today's world means a norm of ups and downs for every organization. If a candidate's heart aligns with the heart of your team, not only will you be able to ride through the tough times, you will also get a powerful force multiplier through the cohesion and chemistry on your team.

To get to this, a start is to ask questions that can unearth motivations and WHY they do what they do. So instead of listening only for whether they fulfill a skillset requirement, ask questions that lead to discovering their humanness. What energizes them? Who inspires them?

How they answer and the content of their answer can give tremendous insight into their heart, what they value, and what drives them.

When you have talent throughout your organization who possess these qualities, you boost your organization's ability to attract other quality talent, to weather the ups and downs that is a norm of any business today, and create an inimitable advantage with your organization's human asset.

What else do you look for beyond skills? Share with me in the comments.

A version of this piece appeared on LinkedIn in January 2016.

Sanyin Siang is the Executive Director of the Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics (COLE), a leadership laboratory at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. A leadership expert who connects ideas and talent from different disciplines and ecosystems, Sanyin is passionate about unleashing the individual and collective potential. She coaches, convenes think tank gatherings, and advises for-profit and non-profit companies. You can follow her on LinkedIn here.