As a professional recruiter in agri-business and food, I often get asked “What are the characteristics of a successful person in the sectors?” In response, I reel off a list off attributes such as optimism, persistence and high energy. But…and equally important a question much less often asked is “What are the characteristics of unsuccessful people?” So as a minor public service to the sectors, here are some traits of those who are likely to lose you money, so you can then avoid them at your peril:
They always have an excuse. These individuals never take any responsibility for their own mistakes but instead constantly blame everyone else. Occasional excuses are forgivable but serial offenders are in denial. Good management will confess shortcomings and try to learn from errors and improve on them.
They talk and write gobbledegook. We all know these people. They try to blind management, colleagues, suppliers and retailers alike with technical nonsense, because they don’t actually know what they are doing. If they do not understand their customers, market, products and the economics of their business, then in all likelihood they will fail. And if they cannot explain it in plain English, expect the worst.
It is always about them. While driven people are sometimes by nature selfish, their ego’s should not be so overwhelming that they alienate everyone. If that is the case, good people will not work for them and the business involved will not succeed.
All talk and no action. Driven people are men and women of action. Ideas are wonderful but just dreams unless someone executes them.
Are they just too nice? Anyone running a business is obliged to make a tough decision occasionally. A leader who wants to be liked too much and avoids conflict at all costs will end up in trouble.
A favourite one – Being overly obsessed about salary and perks. People should be working to create a business and create some form of shareholder value. If they are in it for the money, they should become an employee in a far bigger organisation.
Fixated over status. Being a senior level individual within a business is a privilege. But the reason to work hard is not the kudos but the satisfaction of creating something and proving detractors wrong.
Financially illiterate. Anyone at the head of a serious business must be able to comfortably interpret financial statements and know the finances of their company. They must be familiar with margins and cashflow.
Secretive backgrounds. Do your homework and background checking to turn over any stones to avoid perhaps initially plausible but unscrupulous individuals.
No team. Successful people are often loners, but companies are collaborative affairs. If someone cannot retain recruit and motivate a management team, the odds are that the business will go the wrong way.
Unhealthy. Check that new employees do not have serious pre-existing conditions that will potentially harm your business.
Chaotic personal lives. Individuals with messy domestic arrangements are likely to be very distracted. This is not a moral observation this is a commercial one.
Political. Most of us have no time for office politics. It seems that many who rise to the top in big companies do so principally owing to their skills at networking and advancing their careers. Those games don’t deliver performance only institutional decay.
An inability to delegate. Micro managers never build great companies because of their desperation for control overrides the true needs of the business. So they inhibit its growth and end up with stunted dictatorships.
Humourless. Life is too short and the need to laugh is paramount. Those who take themselves too seriously are no fun to be around. Even if they are moneymakers, it isn’t worth enduring the boredom and conceit.
I expect you all have your own horror stories of disastrous appointments and sadly, I fear there are more bad leaders than good ones out there.
Max MacGillivray – Director at Redfox Executive Selection Ltd
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