Leadership through Eyes of a Coach...Alan Booth

Monday, February 15, 2010


I was challenged this morning from a Tweet I encountered...to reflect on the most important interview question one can ask. Just one! OK, perhaps the one that you can then follow up with other questions to learn more.

"Tell me about yourself."

That's it. Simple maybe but try it on yourself by having your friends ask you. What do you say? How do you choose what to say?

I can still remember that question when I was being interviewed for a sales position over 25 years ago. My future manager and his manager were in the room. I had no clue where to start so used the "resume format": start from the beginning of my career, cover highlights of each position and and look for a response when to end.

Well, I could not pick up any clues on how my talking was being received, their faces were stone cold frozen. And at the end, I had just one response as one manager said to the other: "He certainly talks a lot but possibly he is trainable and we can fix that."

So was the length of my talk important? Yes, but there was more I learned later as my new manager/mentor taught me:
  • Can the story tell us about his character?
  • How does he make decisions?
  • What is important to him?
  • Why has he been successful?
At events where I am meeting important prospective clients, I use that question with slight variation. At the Greenwich Leadership Forum, I usually ask, "What attracts you to this event?' or "What do you find is valuable enough at these meetings to bring you out for 6:30 am coffee and discussion?"

The point is to start a conversation where I am not the focus, the other person is. So when I am asked at these type meetings, "what do you do?" I answer with one short sentence and then ask a simple question to engage them.

"I advise and sometimes coach leaders on their most pressing dilemmas; my challenge is getting executives to be vulnerable enough to tell me what keeps them up at night. How might you respond?"

The higher the title of people in transition I help, the more difficulty they seem to have is engaging others. It's the old elevator speech but no personable technique to engage in conversation.

In the formalized atmosphere of being interviewed, the answer then must be short, and compelling enough that the interviewer asks you to continue. That's the challenge.

As an interviewer, I greatly respect the candidate when they talk only for a moment, allowing me to refocus where they are going. "When you talked about your last position, I sensed this was not your most favorite job..." The response can be very telling!

Oh! By the way, to really learn about someone enough to predict their future success working for you: drop the habit of referring to the resume or notes. Look the candidate in the eye and listen well enough to read between the lines to formulate your next series of questions.

Monday, February 1, 2010


Mark Pincus, chief executive of Zynga, tells the New York Times [Corner Office, January 31, 2010] that he found himself challenged by how to effectively touch everyone in an organization once the growth of his employees exceeded 150.

It was easy to keep everyone informed and going in the same direction with 50 people but when the size grew, it was physically impossible to efficiently communicate with everyone. Adding middle management did not seem the best solution.

So he experimented [successfully] by having everyone charged with figuring out what they wanted to be C.E.O. of. This technique essentially was an act of delegation with accountability.

He said to his people, "By the end of the week, everybody needs to write what you're C.E.O. of, and it needs to be something really meaningful." This then was published so everyone knew who was in charge of what.

He talks about the receptionist who kept talking about needing a new phone system as the company got larger. By putting her in charge of that project, "I don't want to hear about it. Just go buy it. Go figure it out", she was so motivated that no one could have done a better job of solving this need.

From my own experience with clients, whenever we can put people at any level in charge of a meaningful project, they rise to their true level of ability and with a sense of owner mindset.

Read more at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/31/business/31corner.html?scp=1&sq=corner%20office%20pincus&st=cse