A couple of recent articles on the Harvard Business Review Blog caught my attention. In For President, I want the guy who’s failed, Jeff Stibel proposes four unconventional questions to reveal how the Presidential candidates think and solve problems. The whole article is worth reading, but here are the four questions with a selection of quotes:

1. What’s your biggest failure?
“I won’t hire someone for my company who doesn’t acknowledge failure and I would insist on the same from our presidential candidates.”

2. What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken and would you do it again?
“Whether in business or government, the hallmark of a successful leader is often courage. The question is, which risks are worth taking and how are these decisions made?”

3. When have you taken an unpopular decision against special interest groups?
“I want a candidate who can demonstrate that he has taken a position that serves the broader public in the face of adversity.”

4. What’s the most unconventional thing you’ve done?
“It’s undeniable that the success of most entrepreneurs is connected to the fact that they were innovative and often unconventional. I am convinced that this is an important qualification for solving any nation’s problems.”

Read Jeff’s full exposition of these questions here.

Then there’s Julian Birkinshaw’s piece on the Seven Deadly Sins of Management. His point is:

I continue to be a little puzzled about why so many managers do such a poor job. We have known what “good management” looks like for decades, and enormous sums have been spent on programs to help managers manage better. And yet the problem endures: In a recent survey I conducted, less than a quarter of respondents would encourage others to work for their manager.

He proposes that instead of focusing leadership training on platitudes and mottos, we should “focus on the bad behavior we are trying to get rid of.” Again, here’s a list with some summary quotes, but you should really read the whole piece:

  1. greedy boss pursues wealth, status, and growth to get himself noticed.
  2. Lust is also about vanity projects — investments or acquisitions that make no rational sense, but play to the manager’s desires.
  3. Wrath doesn’t need a whole lot of explanation. “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap, Fred “the shred” Goodwin, and “Neutron” Jack Welch were all famous for losing their cool.
  4. Gluttony in the business world is where a manager puts too much on his proverbial plate. He needs to get involved in all decisions, he needs to be continuously updated, he never rests.
  5. Healthy pride quickly tips over into hubris — an overestimation of your own abilities.
  6. Envy manifests itself most clearly when a manager takes credit for the achievements of others….or does not promote a rising star, for fear of showing up his own limitations.
  7. Sloth…They are inattentive, they don’t communicate effectively, and they have no interest in their team’s needs. Instead, they focus on their own comforts and quite often, on personal interests outside of the workplace.

Birkinshaw provides a test for evaluating our own leadership sins, and then supplies questions for those who are brave enough to conduct a 360-degree assessment.

Application to ministry
And why am I blogging about this? Well, since my first years of working life were spent in finance, I’ve always had an interest in management and leadership. But I also think that there’s valuable material here for pastors and churches, both in assessing potential candidates for Christian ministry, and in ongoing accountability of Christian leaders.