John C. Maxwell’s Rules for Hiring the Right People

UPDATED: May 13, 2022
PUBLISHED: April 12, 2022
John C. Maxwell’s Rules for Hiring the Right People

Chew on this for a minute: Of all the people who get hired in the next 18 months, 46 percent will fail.

They’ll receive a poor performance review, get written up or be fired, according to Mark Murphy, the author of Hiring for Attitude. Even more surprising, 89 percent of those who fail will stumble as a result of attitudinal factors such as a lack of coachability, emotional intelligence, motivation and temperament.

Now consider this observation by Sony Corp. co-founder Akio Morita: “No matter how good or successful you are, or how clever or crafty, your business and its future are in the hands of the people you hire.” Although investors, partners and customers are vitally important, without your people, nothing is possible. Author and leadership expert Jim Collins once said, “Great vision without great people is irrelevant.”

More than any other factor, those closest to you will determine the level of your success. Hiring decisions, then, are the most critical choices a leader makes. So today we’ll explore some ways to find the best people for your business.

Unfortunately, finding great people is not always easy. The goal, too often, is to fill a position rather than find the best person. Moreover, sometimes the person with the right skill set does not have the right mindset to be successful in your organization. It is much easier to assess education and experience than it is to evaluate attitude and mindset. However, it can be done. Companies like Southwest Airlines, Facebook, and Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts have adopted a rigorous hiring process because they understand that their people can be their biggest asset or greatest liability.

Southwest Airlines’ motto, for instance, is “Hire for attitude, train for skill.” Company leaders argue that this has been a key factor in their success. Gary Kelly, the president and CEO, says, “We take great pride in hiring the right people and spend a lot of energy on doing so. How we do what we do and who we are, our ‘secret sauce,’ is found in our single greatest asset—our people.”

Likewise, at Four Seasons, candidates go through at least four interviews so managers can find the people who are most likely to grow in the organization and deliver great customer service. Facebook prospects meet not only with their would-be bosses, but also co-workers who help determine whether the candidate is a good cultural fit.

So how do you identify and hire the right people with the right attitude?

1. Evaluate your current performers, high and low. Identify both the positive characteristics that your top people exhibit consistently and the negative characteristics that your most challenging people exhibit consistently. You will likely note some behavioral patterns. Use those observations to develop a clear picture of who you do (and do not) want on your team.

2. Look for a values match. Shared values are non-negotiable. Although it is important to encourage independent thinking and diversity in some areas, it is even more vital to be clear about the values of your organization and hire candidates who share those principles.

3. Assess their emotional strength. No one leads without being criticized or without facing discouragement. A potential leader must have mental toughness. I don’t want a mean leader, but I do want someone tough-minded, who sees things as they are and is willing to pay the price for his or her decisions.

In job interviews, ask candidates how they have previously handled frustration, disappointment and challenging situations with co-workers. Listen for how they have been influenced by others or how the feedback of a previous supervisor has made a difference in their leadership style. The ability to accept and adapt based on such assessment is a critical skill for effective leaders.

4. Observe their people skills. Look and listen for evidence of genuine caring and concern for people in your recruits. Past behavior is the greatest indicator of future behavior.

In addition, watch candidates as they interact with people in the lobby, with your assistant, with the server in the restaurant—anywhere they might encounter people they might perceive as “beneath them.” As you observe them, preferably both in and out of the office, ask yourself:

  • Do they value people?
  • Do they understand people?
  • Do they get along with others?
  • Will people follow their lead?

5. Discover their motives. I want leaders who are motivated to serve others, not themselves. So the first question I ask potential leaders is, “Why do you want to lead others?” If their answer is honest, it will reveal their heart.

Self-serving managers and execs ask, “What can others do for me?” Servant leaders ask, “What can I do for others?” Those with the right heart can be relied upon to keep the interests of the team and the company as their top priority because their purpose in leadership is bigger than the position they hold.

I recently heard someone say, “It costs much less to spend time and energy on a hire than it costs to spend time and energy on a fire.” Finding people with the right attitude and personal compatibility—not just a great résumé—requires a rigorous and challenging hiring process on the front end. This may prolong your search, but you’ll likely save time and money in the long run.

This article was published in February 2014 and has been updated. Photo by @galinkazhi/Twenty20

John C. Maxwell, an internationally respected leadership expert, speaker, and author who has sold more than 18 million books, has been named an inaugural SUCCESS Ambassador. Dr. Maxwell is the founder of EQUIP, a non-profit organization that has trained more than 5 million leaders in 126 countries worldwide. A New York Times, Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek; best-selling author, Maxwell has written three books that have sold more than a million copies.