The George W. Bush Guide to Hiring

I am reading President Bush’s autobiography, Decision Points, and am honestly surprised by how much I am enjoying it.  As a student of history I have read scores of political autobiographies.  I do not recall anyone being so candid.  That’s Bruce Hurwitz the Ph.D. in International Relations speaking.  The Bruce Hurwitz who is an executive recruiter was surprised by something else:

In Chapter 3, “Personnel,” Mr. Bush writes:

As a small business owner, baseball executive, governor, and front-row observer of Dad’s White House, I learned the importance of properly structuring and staffing an organization.  The people you choose to surround you determine the quality of advice you receive and the way your goals are implemented.  Over eight years as president, my personnel decisions raised some of the most complex and sensitive questions that reached the Oval Office: how to assemble a cohesive team, when to reshuffle an organization, how to manage disputes, how to distinguish among qualified candidates, and how to deliver bad new to good people.

I started each personnel decision by defining the job description and the criteria for the ideal candidate.  I directed a wide search and considered a diverse range of options.  For major appointments, I interviewed candidates face to face.  I used my time to gauge character and personality.  I was looking for integrity, competence, selflessness, and an ability to handle pressure.  I always liked people with a sense of humor, a sign of modesty and self-awareness.

My goal was to assemble a team of talented people whose experience and skills complemented each other’s and to whom I felt comfortable delegating.  I wanted people who agreed on the direction of the administration but felt free to express differences on any issue.  An important part of my job was to create a culture that encouraged teamwork and fostered loyalty-not to me, but to the country and our ideals.

Let’s review the order:

  1. Create an organizational chart.
  2. Focus on building a team.
  3. Create job descriptions, focusing on qualifications.
  4. Consider a number of candidates with varied backgrounds.
  5. In-person interviews are primarily to determine a candidate’s character, personality, and values.
  6. Focus on problem solvers and persons who can handle stress.
  7. Choose people you personally like.
  8. Never hire “yes-men.”

All politics aside, he’s right.  The only addition I would make is to hire people who will grow in their positions and thus grow your company or organization.  I always describe “failure” as a successor being given their predecessor’s job description.  When I meet with a candidate I always want to know what their contribution has been to their present and past employers.  If it’s not the most important thing, it’s pretty close.