Passion & Drive: They’re the Game Changers For Top Performers

“It would not be enough to keep you interested.”

That statement was told to me by a dear friend who had interviewed with a non-profit and was told this was the reason that she would not be hired. Say what?

When you are in HR you get calls all the time since you are the “resident expert in all things HR” (their words not mine). I had to tell her that this is the first time in my career that I had ever heard that one. She is an accomplished HR consultant who has an excellent career.

Finding the sweet spot

A few years back, she got involved in a non-profit as a volunteer assignment. She was so excited that she would be able to bring some of her “real world corporate” experience to bear on their organizational and procedural dilemmas.

That’s all well in theory, but she later found out that the leaders of this non-profit did not want change, and, that they detested the use of the word “business” in a non-profit space. While my friend was successful in getting through a strategic plan and building other organizational models that could serve as a framework for other initiatives, in the end, she left. She retreated back into the womb of corporate America.

Funny thing, though; she actually found fulfillment in the non-profit space and could see how, in the right environment, she would welcome the opportunity to give it another try.

Out of the blue she gets a call, and it was from a major non-profit looking for a head of HR in a contract role. The role was discussed in a way that she thought this must be karma, because they said that they wanted someone who could move HR into a more strategic role within the organization and with the various boards.

How do you gauge a candidate?

During the interview, my friend specifically told the story about her prior non-profit engagement and the level of work that she had done, the challenges, and most importantly, the fulfillment that she got from working in the non-profit space. In the end, however, it was not enough.

The candidates that the non-profit has had an interest in since my friend interviewed were all hands-on generalists. I suppose those are the one who would stay interested in the work and keep it administrative.

Last week I read an interesting story about the rebirth of the Lincoln brand at Ford. In the need to find a new designer for this iconic but fading American brand, they were in the hunt for a top flight designer who would totally redesign this product.

As the process began to search for this “savior,” they interviewed a number of top flight designers with excellent credentials. They all looked corporate; you know the type — the ones that (as they say) all came out of central casting. They fit the stereotype of the position.

Superstars come in various disguises

But one of my learning moments in recruiting is that superstars can come in various disguises. That is what happened at Ford. A gentleman by the name of Max Wolff came through the door. In no way was he from central casting.

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He grew up in Melbourne, Australia. He was an indifferent student who preferred pool halls to the classroom, but knew from an early age that he wanted to be a designer. However, he was only accepted into design school at a relatively late age because he kept getting rejected because of his poor grades. This time, he excelled winning all types of design awards and leading design teams on all types of projects.

Fast forward, he was the designer that designed Cadillac’s new flagship, the XTS. He came to Ford for the interview in a souped-up Mustang and was someone who would never be mistaken for a Lincoln buyer. Looking disruptive with trendy haircut, trendy shoes and the requisite amount of stuble on his face, he did not look like the one that they would have asked for from the casting department

As it turns out, Wolff was hired and by all accounts in the industry, he is the best thing that could have happened to Lincoln.

Why passion matters

Never value physical appearance when hiring, whether it be the visual presence or the resume, over inner passion. It is the inner passion and drive that hiring managers should be on the lookout for. That little nugget of inner passion is the game changer.

You should also hire for the aspirational level of the job, especially in a strategic role. Never settle for just the body that will do the job as it is laid out. Where would you like the role to be in the future is the target that you should aim for.

Passion is the driving force that catapults us forward even when our motive, intellect, and character are called into question.

In the end, passion will NOT allow you to become disinterested.

Hear Ron Thomas as he leads the first-ever TLNT Transform conference in Austin, TX this coming Feb. 26-28, 2012. Click here for more information on attending this event. 

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.