Tag Archive | Leadership

Throw Them In Over Their Heads!


Part of the reason Monroe Personnel Service, LLC & Temptime is a leading employment agency in the San Francisco Bay Area is because we look at the potential of our candidates.  When we place candidates they must have the skill set our clients need but that is just the beginning of the story.  We also look at what our candidates can become.  If the candidate will be challenged by their new employer in a way which allows the candidate to grow then both will benefit and prosper.

In his article “Leadership 101: Throw People in Over Their Heads and See What Happens” Lou Adler relates a wonderful story about working with interns.  Monroe Personnel Service loves it’s interns as we are constantly challenged to challenge them and this keeps everyone motivated to work well together and bring our best to the table.

Leadership 101: Throw People in Over Their Heads and See What Happens

by Lou Adler

I spent a few hours last week with the CEO of a multi-plant international electronics manufacturing company. The CEO appeared to be an old-timer like me, but he seemed more like a new-age management guru once I heard his tale. He told me a story that all managers can learn from on how to develop people. He was describing his company’s first foray into hiring interns. It happened a few years ago and the stories he told – CEOs like to tell stories – provide insight into how to develop people, as well as how to implement a college intern program. Done properly, it’s also a great way to change your employer brand, but done improperly a quick way to lose it.

As I understand it, six interns were hired the first year, all MBAs with either an engineering, marketing or financial background. The groups were split into two teams evenly represented by their expertise. One team was given the assignment to determine if their U.S.-based OEM pricing model fully captured all of the costs associated with designing and building 1000+ different products at 10 different plants. The other assignment was determining if their product development and Asian manufacturing strategy was appropriate given a global shift in demand and shortened product lifecycles. The students were overwhelmed with the assignment and left with their confidence shaken. But with passports and plane tickets in hand, were sent on their way to locations near and far, expected to return with their answers in six weeks.

Upon their return, and given time to prepare the final Powerpoints, each team presented their findings to the executive team of each business group. After two hours and with beaming pride, they gratefully and humbly accepted the standing ovations. There was an unexpected benefit: it turned out this is not only how you build great leaders, but a great employer brand, too. It seems that the next year, there was a palable buzz as a new group of MBAs eagerly awaited an opportunity to get their chance to be thrown in over their heads.

Unfortunately, this story is not typical and reminded me of a another group of interns I met a few years ago whose experiences were not so positive. While with a well-known company, they told me they were given little guidance, some make-work projects of little importance, little support or encouragement, and a disinterested final review by the leader in charge. Sadly, in September they were no different than when they started, other than for developing a Dilbert-like cynicism for Corporate America.

The lesson: throw good people in over their heads, give them the resources and support needed to achieve the challenging results, and expect confident and self-motivated leaders to emerge. Or, treat people as cogs in a wheel, and you’ll wind up with similar cogs.

Something related to think about – we promote people based on their performance, but hire people based on their experience. As Zig Ziglar said (who sadly passed away last week), “this is stinking thinking.” That’s why I believe when we hire people, we must focus on what they can do and become, not what they have and what they’ll get. This shift in thinking changes everything: how you build your employer brand, each line in your recruitment advertising, the screening and assessment process, the design of the ATS (applicant tracking system), each step in the application process, how compensation programs are developed, the role of hiring managers and recruiters, and whether we look for people to fill jobs, or we structure the jobs around the best people we can find who want real careers. The later seems a much better way to hire talented people. The benefit: more diversity, more military veterans being hired, more high-potential people being hired who are light on experience, and even better – the emergence of self-confident and motivated leaders who will ensure the future of your company. All you need to do is throw people in over their heads and see what happens.


Lou Adler is the Amazon best-selling author of Hire With Your Head (Wiley, 2007) and the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! His new book, The Essential Guide for Hiring and Getting Hired, will be published in January 2013.