Stepping out of your comfort zone when recruiting a leader

Gera Patel, partner at Campbell Tickell, discusses the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone when recruiting for a leadership role.

We are lucky to work in sectors which are strong on social values and committed to making a difference. So, most days I feel confident that I won’t be seeing evidence of direct discrimination in a senior recruitment process.

I am not so naïve as to think that it never happens – and people are probably a bit more careful when I’m around. But I do genuinely believe that I work in a sector where most people care about diversity and are strongly committed to fairness.

What I do see on a regular basis is something more subtle. So, I’m making this plea to all of you powerful people who make decisions about appointments to senior roles.

Consciously or unconsciously, interview panels can create situations where the invisible measurement bar for candidates ends up being higher for people who represent some kind of ‘difference’.

What is being played out here is that everyone feels more comfortable with what feels familiar to them. So, there is a tendency to appoint candidates who put you at ease. This can lead to the view that this is ‘our kind of person’ or ‘they will fit in really well’.

Occasionally, these may be legitimate assessments – but not all of the time. And certainly not in an organisation where leadership diversity is already limited.

Please think about this when you are poised to make that all important decision on whom to appoint.

And ask yourself, why does this person makes me feel comfortable, but that person doesn’t?

Take the time to properly reflect upon this (remembering that you probably told your recruiter that you wanted to see a diverse range of candidates).

Then ask yourself why the person who represents the biggest difference couldn’t be the best appointment. It takes real courage to appoint someone to a leadership role who is strikingly different from what you already have.

Someone who is going to stretch you and the team. Someone whose approach to work is informed by different life experiences and diversity of thought (a quick shout out to the chief executive and panel with whom I was interviewing recently, who did exactly that for their executive role).

I am not sure why you, as that powerful person, wouldn’t also want to show the same courage.

I sometimes walk away from recruitment processes asking myself: When did we become so frightened of hearing a different perspective? Why are we so threatened by difference?

Are the foundations of a successful organisation so precarious that there is no resilience to manage change in a leadership post that could also bring greater diversity?

I hope these thoughts help to generate some conversations. I for one am up for more debate from all perspectives. Some action would also be very welcome.

To discuss this article, contact Gera Patel:

This article is also featured in the latest CT Brief – Diversity Focus


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