Had Anything to Eat Yet?

Had Anything to Eat Yet?

I speak often in my seminars and executive coaching sessions on the subject of character – that sometimes-overlooked personal dimension that can’t always be discerned in an interview (or even a meeting) – at least not easily.


And yet there may be no dimension more important in determining the long term value to your company or department than  in fully understanding the character of a current or potential employee.


What they believe in – how they treat others- their values and philosophies.


We can train you on skills – but we can’t remake your moral fiber. And when we assess job and career failure it often falls back less on skills and aptitudes – more on the character of the individual. Witness the scandals that scream across the headlines nationally each day.


Best in class companies and best in class leaders know it’s the human aspects that can be overlooked most easily – and they go to great lengths to understand not just the experiences of their new hires – but how those experiences have shaped them.


The chapter in my book The Compass Solution titled ‘Remember Your Waiters and Waitresses’ has engendered as much comment as virtually any other maybe because all of us can identify with it so closely.


I write about an experience with a senior executive early in my career  – anxious to recruit me over a dinner meeting. While he “pitched” me he buried every member of the restaurant staff like a day old bag of manure.


It was like a meal with Jekyll and Hyde – but the effect was mostly Hyde. I not only didn’t want to work for the guy – I didn’t want to break bread with him. Condescending, critical, and domineering toward the “help” – warm and accommodating to me.


I remember reflecting on that experience in the months after – and the insight it offered.


The halls of the corporate world are often lined with “character actors”- who know their lines so cleverly and never miss a cue – but if you want to know their real nature watch them when they’re not on stage– especially when they’re dealing with people they consider subordinate.


The best venues – restaurants, hotel check-ins, airline counters, Uber rides, retail stores, traffic jams, and their kids’ sporting events. When they no longer care what others think.


No limelight – real person. And sometimes real person is not who you want to work alongside.


I hired hundreds if not thousands over the course of my career – made some mistakes along the way too – same for promotions. And when I missed I must profess it was often less connected with skills and knowledge – more connected to character.


At some point I learned to rely heavily on the inputs of others who came in contact with the candidate or colleague when they weren’t reciting their lines.


Sometimes what I learned was shocking.


And when it came to peers or prospective teammates – well, I stumbled onto the next best thing. Get them away from the immediate work environment – where the persona is already well crafted.  It’s amazing the amount of insight that offers.


As noted in my STRAIGHT TALK summary that wraps the above-mentioned chapter….


There is a lot of gamesmanship in any profession and certainly in corporate. The lights of center stage can be blinding. If you really want to understand the character of a colleague at any level, it’s sometimes best to get them away from where they focus on the role they believe they’re required to play.


Take them to lunch.



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