The candidates were very different. One was the textbook winner—great pedigree, including top schools and a nice progression of assignments for name-brand firms during his first decade in the workforce.

The other individual didn’t match-up well on paper.

The assignments for the other candidate were less glamorous, and there were more of them, including a failed start-up. The schools were not household names. And there was a long phase filled in with work that screamed under-employed.

During the interviews, the first candidate wowed people with success after success. The polish and charisma were contagious, and to the team, this seemed like an easy call.

It wasn’t.

If you stopped and listened to the two candidates what you heard was one who could do no wrong in great environments and the other who had learned to survive and grow stronger in some harsh settings and tough situations. The latter candidate owned her failures and her victories and had a palpable sense of confidence to navigate in adverse circumstances.

This candidate oozed courage and resilience.

What would you do here?

There’s a safe choice. No one would ever fault you for hiring the first candidate.

I hate most safe choices when it comes to talent and strategy. Safe is the adversary of great opportunity.

I hired the one who had learned to survive and grow stronger in tough situations.

No matter what life had thrown at her, including that long stint of under-employment while she cared for a loved one battling a brutal illness, she persevered, bounced back, and reinvented herself.

Resilience and Courage:

She was and is resilient and courageous.

Resilience according to one dictionary definition is the capacity to absorb a shock or a punch and return quickly to original form.

Life and business are filled with shocks and punches. We can either let the negatives derail and define us or, we can revert to form wiser for the experience and excited to apply the lesson(s) learned in the next phase.

And safe choices in talent and strategy are the ingredients of mediocrity. You shouldn’t make stupid choices, but you don’t find greatness without taking chances. It’s important to rebel against convention when the stakes are high.

The resistance to my hiring decision tested my courage and resilience. Truthfully, I didn’t care about making the unpopular call as long as I believed in the individual. I was prepared to deal with the consequences if the outcome was poor.

Fortunately, things worked. While she was part of our team, she was a difference-maker every single day. She taught us how to shake off momentary stumbles and defeats and come back smarter and stronger. And she showed everyone to focus more on the depth and resilience of the person and not the outward labeling of pedigree or the power of charisma.

She’s back building a great new business in yet another market. This time around, she has a lot of people cheering for her, including those naysayers from a few years ago.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The next time you come face-to-face with someone offering different ideas or coming from a world you don’t know or understand, slow-down and listen. And then listen harder. Don’t let the pressure to conform with convention keep you from the right decision. After all, this is what leadership is all about.

Art's Signature