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Blair McPherson: recruiters should study resilience, not just success

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Organisations look to appoint talented and experienced individuals and rarely look at their track record for evidence of resilience. Resilience is the ability to cope with setbacks, disappointments and failures.

High flyers are used to always doing well which means they are ill prepared for when things go wrong. High performers gain quicker promotions and move from job to job after relatively short periods of time and so avoid being seriously challenged or leave before things get too tough.

I recently read about a study by US-based Westp Point Military Academy on the dropout rate from 1,000 top applicants that found its endurance test success rate had no correlation with the most talented recruits. The high flyers, used only to success, had little resilience when encountering failure.

Council leaders, chief executives and senior managers are ifaced with demanding performance targets, expected to deliver ambitious efficiencies, find new sources of income and make stringent budget savings.

With great effort, chief executives and senior managers will deliver on these demanding expectations. However, inevitably they will fail at some point.

How will the organisation and its leadership respond? How will cabinet members and senior managers deal with these setbacks? Will they seek to identify those to blame or draw on the organisations’ capacity to improve? Will the organisation bounce back or enter a downward spiral?

Executive recruitment needs to take account not just of an impressive track record of success built on success but what experience the individual has of failure. When things went wrong, did they hang around to put it right or did the jump ship before it hit the rocks? They may have risen quickly but has this been a case of two years here, 18 months there and never staying long enough to face a real challenge or be found out?

Even those who can boast a CV containing examples of turning failing organisations around may be hiding a lack of resilience. After all, if you come in when the organisation is at rock bottom it can only go up.

More impressive are the chief executive and senior manager who witnessed the decline, who experienced the disappointments,  frustrations and setbacks yet rose to the challenge, inspired staff and led the bounceback.

Blair McPherson, former director of community services, author and blogger

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