Mistakes Are O.K., But Never, Ever Lose Your Passion


Adam Bryant has a column every Sunday in the New York Times called Corner Office. He recently interviewed Kevin Liles of KWL enterprises. I wanted to share some great excerpts for all of you who may be job hunting!

Q. What are some important leadership lessons you’ve learned?

A. I’ll start with one of my early failures. I wanted to be the host of a new hip-hop show, and I didn’t get the job. I was the biggest guy in the marketplace. Given what I’d done, that should have sold me. But I didn’t sell myself. So, after that, I realized that no matter what I have done before, I had to learn the art of selling. I had to learn the art of explaining my value proposition when I show up somewhere. How do I differentiate myself? I know who I am. I’m very clear. If I’m meeting someone, I’m very clear about their value proposition, and I know what my value proposition is. So as long as we do what we’re supposed to do, we’ll get everything done.

Q. Let’s say I’m about to start working for you as a direct report. What do I need to know about the kind of boss you are?

A. Well, the reason I’m hiring you or having you directly report to me is because I want to be influenced by you, period. No. 2, there are things I love to do, things I’m great at, things I’m good at, and things I’m bad at. The things I’m bad at and the things that I don’t love to do, you should learn to really do. Because I want you to become an asset, not just somebody like me. And that is what I constantly push any new hire to do — “You cannot be like me. You can’t outdo me. I’m the best at what I do. But the reason I want you on my team is because I think you add something different to the team.”

And I constantly push myself and I push the team. Don’t be the same person you were yesterday. If I’m not helping you grow, if I’m not helping you put a new tool in your toolbox, then I’m not doing the job, and you shouldn’t be working for me. Because I have to inspire people when they’re with me, and I have to be inspired.

Q. Tell me more about how you hire.

¶A. I don’t look at a résumé. I go by referrals. I go by people I trust. I’ve always said, there’s something about a résumé. You can make it say what you want it to say. But if I go to war — and we are at war, with our industry transforming itself — I need people who are going to go to battle every single day. They don’t want to sleep. They want to figure it out. I want to work with the kind of people who hurt when something’s not right.

Q. So when a job candidate sits down with you, how does that conversation go?

¶A. I’ll ask them, “What made you consider that I could help you with your goals in life?” Because I never look at it like you’re coming to work for me. I only want to provide a platform for you to be greater. And I’ll have the conversation where I ask them: “What’s your value proposition? What are you going to do for my company that we’re not doing already?” If they can’t offer me a value proposition, it doesn’t matter.

Q. Are some people thrown by that?

¶A. Absolutely. I’ll tell you a story. I hired one girl on the spot. We were wrapping up, and I said: “Well, thank you for coming out. I appreciate the conversation.” She said: “Mr. Liles, you asked me about my value proposition. But I’d like to ask you a question. What would make you not hire me? I’m qualified.” I said, “I don’t know. You’re hired.” I wanted her to want it. I look for things like that in people.

I really think this was a very insightful interview and talk about a good closer! I love the applicant who asked the above question-why not approach the hiring decision head on like she did.

Do you have any suggestions for those who may be seeking employment?

You can read the entire interview here: Mistakes Are O.K., but Never Lose Your Passion. 

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