I was doing a motivational keynote for a national insurance company in California. The topic was Defy Marketplace Gravity – Strategies To Succeed No Matter What This Economy Does. Later that day, one of the agents stopped me in the hall to ask a question.

Let me tell you, because he was remarkable. I was shocked when he shared with me that he was 71 years old. I couldn’t believe it as I thought he was in his fifties. He told me had been with this company for more than forty years, loved what he did and could not imagine retiring.

He loved every part of it, especially coming to the meetings, like this one, to get refocused, energized, and motivated. This was a man who was engaged, pumped up, and just generally excited about life. I thought as I was talking with him that he ought to be up there on that stage.

I apologized for gushing so long over his age and his energy and asked him what his question was. “This may sound crazy, but I want to know how to clone myself.” I laughed because I knew what he meant and it was not the first time I had been asked that question. What he wanted to know was how to hire team members that he could work with and mentor who had the same energy level, passion, work ethic and customer focus that he did.

He shared that in all the years he had been doing this, he had hired many team members he thought would be great, only to learn within months that he had made a poor choice. They were not representing his agency or the company to his standards.

This challenge is one that many leaders find themselves wrestling with.

Hiring well and hiring correctly can be extremely difficult, especially when your standards are high and your work ethic is strong. Believe me I know; both my husband and I suffer from the same affliction. Why is it so hard, why is it so difficult, and why, as leaders, do we often make poor choices? The answer is easy: It is because, more often than not, we hire based on skill level, not on attitude and values.

Just take a moment and think about the hiring process.

We first decide we need someone, and then we ask a few people in the office whether they know someone, or we ask a friend or two. We never clearly explain what exactly we are looking for and the very values and attitude we need this person to possess. If that does not find us a proper candidate, we make a call for resumes, which when you think about it is pretty much like blind dating.

You put an ad out online, someone writes whatever they want to on a resume, you spend twenty minutes interviewing them and boom they are hired. Oh, if you are a little more sophisticated, you may have one or two other people talk with them, and run them through a testing process, but for the most part it is at best taking an educated guess. Why? Because standard interview questions and testing processes are designed to assess skill level; they do not test for those things that matter most, our values and our attitude.

To me, hiring someone, deciding to work with them is like getting married.

Actually in some ways it’s more serious because everything your new hire does is going to be a reflection on you. How they act in tough situations, how they handle customers, if they create a customer experience, and their work ethic and response time are all a reflection of you and your company. So you have to be sure, given any situation, they will handle it like you or better than you.

So how do you do that?

You have to remember that skills can be taught; attitude and values are ingrained, so those are what you hire for. When people share the same values and the same attitude, it is almost like a shared language or membership in a secret club. Attitude and values are inherit within you, and they spark the internal drive to make you talk with a customer a certain way, go to work even when it is cold and snowy, and enjoy building a team or working alone.

So how do you hire based on values and attitude?

  • First, you have to know and understand yours. You need to sit down and spend some time really thinking about what is most important to you; what are the non-negotiables in your office. For example, my husband has a value of patience first and foremost, which means that if a patient calls at 11:30 a.m. with an emergency, then there goes the lunch hour because that patient’s need comes first. Understanding this has saved us from hiring people whose priority is to work just a 7.5 hour day and who insist on getting a lunch hour. Now, understand those people are not wrong, it is just a different set of values and priorities.
  • Second, look before you need to hire. You should keep a running list of amazing people that you meet, people you would want to have on your team and in your company. Have coffee or lunch with them, get to know them, and begin the recruiting process slowly. This gives you time to really get to see what they are like, how they act, and if they would be a good addition to your team. To hire well, the hiring process needs to be more proactive than reactive.
  • Third, you need to set up the interview process so that the majority of the questions you ask center around situational issues. Honestly, in this job market, skills level and education ought to be the ticket to entry. You should not even be spending time talking with people who do not meet that requirement. So, that leaves you the opportunity to ask questions that allow the candidate to share how they would react in a certain situation or handle a customer complaint.
  • Fourth, never close the deal without doing a working interview. Insist they attend a networking event or a team meeting, and see how they act and respond. Does their behavior and attitude match what you are looking for? Set your standards high and watch them in action.

Lastly, stick to the 90-day rule.

Believe me that is the honeymoon period, and it is as good as it is going to get. What this person does, how they act, and what they do is the best of the best in the first 90-days. If their attitude and values do not meet your standards, then end it now, and turn back to your proactive list.

So yes, it is possible to clone yourself as a s leader. With a little different approach and a different focus, you can find the right people for the team and the right people to take your organization to the next level.