Without a doubt, the best part of my job is speaking with accomplished leaders. Whether interviewing someone for a high-level search or learning about the culture of a company, I come away from meetings with truly trusted advisors both invigorated and excited to share what I learned with my team and others.
Of all the questions I ask, “How do you create a competitive advantage for your company?” sparks the most passionate responses and allows me to learn just how valuable a particular leader is to the company and the people around him or her. While the question might sound simple, the answer – and how it’s answered – often reveals whether someone has a seat at the table, and the culture where he or she thrives.
Like Fine Wine
Being a fan of good wine, I like describing what it’s like to find a leader who’s been integral to a remarkable culture using the analogy of a night out at a wine-tasting dinner. While some wines that you sample do little for you, when you taste something special that pairs well with the meal, your senses come alive and you immediately want more. The key is the combination of the quality of the wine alongside the appropriate entrée. When you make the right pairing, you’re in for a memorable night you’ll talk about for years. This is very similar to the impact that can be made by a highly qualified leader paired with the right corporate culture.
Recently, I had memorable conversations with two General Counsel who elicited the same reaction in me as a 95 point Napa Cabernet (my personal favorite). While I can share the answers, you’ll have to imagine the passion, humble demeanor, and energy associated with their responses.
The GC of a Fortune 500 company recognized globally for innovation, customer service, and employee satisfaction:
“I create a competitive advantage for this company by creating a culture of collaboration on the compliance side.” This GC went on to say that by creating a culture in which people are treated with dignity and respect, and in which people trust that issues are resolved if brought to the attention of management, the company remains a step ahead of the competition. This is because the company’s reputation attracts top talent with little or no turnover. What follows is higher productivity and engagement because everyone respects what the company stands for.
The GC of one of the most successful retailers in the country that continues to thrive as so many others close their doors:
“I create a competitive advantage for this company by always keeping an eye on the big picture and having the vision to spot the holes and steer the leadership team around them.” The GC gave the analogy that he sees himself as a point guard on a basketball team – it’s the point guard’s responsibility to see everything down court. This means knowing where his offensive players are and how the defense is responding to the moves they make. A narrow field of view just won’t work.
My recommendation for everyone reading this is to give serious thought to how you’d answer the question. And when you do, avoid simply answering with “small picture” successes – a specific deal you closed, process you created, or team you hired. Think much bigger. Think 95 point Napa Cabernet.