No C Players in Leadership Positions, Please
We're searching for top company cultures to be featured on our annual list. Think your company has what it takes? Apply Now »
Most great CEOs are constantly looking for talent, not to mention developing and retaining it. It is not at all unusual for CEOs to spend 65 percent to 75 percent of their time on these critical people-related issues.
Great CEOs interview for core values first, experience and skills second and refuse to settle for anything less than A players in their leadership roles. Unfortunately, companies often end up with C players on the leadership team, making the job of execution that much harder.
Typically C player leaders in entrepreneurial companies fall into a few predictable categories:
They were there from the beginning and helped the CEO start and grow the company.
Or they are business partners and own part of the company.
Or they are relatives
Even worse, they are all three.
Tolerating C player leaders may be one of the greatest sins on the part of a CEO. I once met a CEO who was in denial about whether he had a C player leader in one of his key leadership positions. To help him, I posed the most important and toughest question for him to answer, “Knowing what you know today, would you hire that leader again tomorrow for the same job?” When the CEO paused and reflected rather than answering with an immediate yes, it became obvious to him. He had known he had a C player all along. He just didn’t have the courage to take the required action.
Let’s remember, C players are defined as people who can’t be successful in their current position. They are not bad people and might even have been A or B players earlier in their careers when they were in positions that were smaller or less complex. What has typically happened is the job has outgrown them.
This is one of the few guarantees in business: Jobs will always outgrow people. It isn’t whether. It's when.
So when you are hiring for leadership positions, here are some reminders of why you should never accept C players in your business:
While many C players leaders can think tactically and find short-term solutions, they can’t think strategically and do long-term planning. When I get a call from a CEO who wants my company to lead a two-day strategic-planning meeting my first question is “Tell me about your team.” I ask this because if I am going to spend two really valuable days of time trying to do strategic planning with a bunch of C players, the CEO will end up with a tactical plan that has more short-term solutions than long-term ones. At the company level, C players just have a harder time thinking in that blue-sky, creative, out-of-the-box way.
Your C player leaders will never hire anything other than more C players! They typically wouldn’t recognize an A player even if they bumped into one. If they did find an A player, they wouldn’t hire them because they would be scared to death to hire someone better than they are.
And shouldn’t that be every leader’s goal, to hire people better than they are? What a travesty to have C player leaders who hire people weaker than they are!
Employees know who the C player leaders are in a company. They keep asking one another why the CEO tolerates those C player leaders. Rarely is it a secret who the C player leaders are but why they are tolerated is usually a mystery.
Finally, remember that A players do not want to work with C players. If you tolerate C player leaders, you may ultimately lose your A team. This will leave you trying to run your company and execute plans well with a team made up of C players, which almost impossible.
So ask yourself, Knowing what you know today, would you hire all of your direct reports tomorrow for the same job? If you can’t immediately say yes for all of them, then what are you going to do about it and when?