How to tell if someone kicks ass

My first job out of college was Trust Associate for Bank of America.  Why you ask?  3 reasons:

  1. I graduated with a degree in economics
  2. My grades were terrible
  3. It was 1990, no one was hiring

I spent my days explaining to Trustafarian Jane why she could not have more money from the trust set up by her favorite grand dad Henry who thought she would use the money to win the Nobel Peace Prize not to get arrested buying a kilo of heroin in Bangalore.  Eventually every phone call ended with Jane threatening to kill me for stealing her goddamn money and me saying OK Jane, I’ll talk with you next month.


This week I had lunch with my boss from Bank of America, Bill.  Bill kicks ass, unassuming, calm, steady, not adjectives you normally ascribe to an ass kicker, but Bill is also giving, loyal, compassionate, and smart, no I mean SMART.  His emotional IQ is off the charts.  He knows how to get the most out of people and situations.  In short, he has horse power.  I was asking him for thoughts on hiring and developing kick ass employees and we built interesting hypothesis.


I asked Bill why he hired me, I mean I have a folder of 42 cover letters I sent out summer of 1990, the year he hired me, and only 1 interview, it was with Bill.  How could Bill tell I was worth it when everyone else passed me by?  Of course, being Bill, he asked me how I knew a great employee when I found them.


Like we were playing the card game war we flipped over our cards, Bill said Intelligence, Drive, and Personality, I said Opinion, Backing, and Articulation.


I would say Bill’s answer is looking for horse power and my answer is looking for leadership.  Probably you have to look for all 6.  This seems correct to me, you have to have raw horsepower to be a valuable employee but you must also have leadership to be a great employee.  I have often said people who have opinions based on real data and can clearly explain why the data leads to the conclusion are able to get shit done.  As a result, I now exclusively interview for leadership.  I am last in the interview chain and over the years I have come to realize everyone else in the interview loop has already screened for horse power.  The combination of these 6 traits dictates the slope of a persons career, their promotion velocity and the ultimate peek of their career.

Generic Leadership

So, can you hire someone who is missing one or more of these traits and change the slope of their career, can you make them more successful than if they never worked for you?  Is it possible a manager can change the destiny of one person’s career by teaching them, by mentoring them?  In other words can you hire and average person and make them a great employee?  Bill and I determined it is not possible to change the slope of a person’s career by education and leadership.  People must change who they are or what they do or where they do it in order to change how they do it, so, in general, a single manager cannot change an employee’s career slope. In general, people gravitate to their natural slope regardless of manager because their slope is based on horse power and leadership.  Generally a manager is merely filling time on the curve either serving as a foil for their growth or their failure.  Its not that leaders are born not made, its that a person choses whether or not to develop skills that grow leadership and horse power.  If a person has not chosen to develop these traits by their early 30s they are not likely to be self-enlightened enough to develop them tomorrow not matter how persuasive you are as a manager and mentor.

So what can you do, the only thing you can do, continue to be the best manager and mentor you can be and provide the coaching and opportunities that give employees the chance to develop on their own.


I build amazing teams, teams that transform opportunities into unexpected success.  That is my brand, building great teams to accomplish great things.  But I suck at hiring, at least until recently.  How can these contradictory facts coexist?  Well I have a whole philosophy on team building but that is a topic for another post, looking back it has been my bets on the unlikely candidate, the potential diamond in the rough, candidates who seem to have all 6 traits but lack experience in the domain or the role, that have always formed the cornerstone of great teams.  Sure not all of the bets pay off but as long as 1 or 2 pay off you will have the foundation of greatness.

I like to think I was one of those candidates.  Bill over looked my 2.2 GPA and hired me because he saw intelligence, drive and the personality required to succeed.  I also suspect I clearly articulated opinions on how I would fulfill the job, make the department a better place and make for happier customers every day and having shown all 6 traits clinched it for him.  I only stayed with Bill for 15 months.  In that time I developed and documented process for every major activity required by the job and worked through a backlog that was literally 2 feet high the day I started.  In fact working through the backlog only took 3 months of ass kicking.

At lunch I learned Bill has cancer and listening to Bill I realized how a lifetime of looking for the best in those around him prepared Bill to look for the best within him.  And I remembered, Bill kicks ass, that cancer better look the fuck out…

One thought on “How to tell if someone kicks ass

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s