Leadocracy: Hiring More Great Leaders (Like You) into Government

Leadocracy: Hiring More Great Leaders (Like You) into Government

by Geoff Smart


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781608322886
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group, LLC
Publication date: 06/05/2012
Pages: 176
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Geoff Smart, PhD, is passionate about great leadership. He is the chairman and CEO of ghSMART, the management assessment firm for CEOs and investors. His assessment, feedback, and coaching tools are used around the world. He is the coauthor of the New York Times bestseller Who: The A Method for Hiring. And he has started two nonprofits focused on encouraging great leaders to grow and serve.

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Greenleaf Book Group Press

Copyright © 2012 Geoff Smart
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-60832-288-6

Chapter One

Who, Not What

Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened ... institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. —Thomas Jefferson

On a cold day in December of 2010, I received the following email from a client:


As you might be aware, I am on the governor-elect's transition team. Various lawyers and professionals are donating hundreds of hours. Would your firm be prepared to interview two to three of the top candidates for various cabinet positions? We would need this done in the next couple of weeks, as they are making the announcements by year-end. Roxane White, chief of staff, would like to call you.

Thanks in advance. The People of Colorado appreciate your support.

Blair Richardson

My initial reaction was, "No way!"

Various thoughts crossed my mind. Help the government? Government is hopeless and broken. What's the point? We're on a path to inevitable doom. Eventually, if it gets bad enough, I'll have to move my family to Australia or somewhere.

Any help I offer to the new governor would be pointless. All of his leadership hiring decisions will be politically motivated anyway.

The next couple of weeks? It's December 13! I was planning on coasting into the New Year and eating myself into a pleasant holiday stupor, maybe doing some shopping with the family. Bad timing. Too bad, so sad.

I'm going to say no.

That's what I thought. I started writing back with my regrets. "I'm sorry, but—"

My fingers froze on the keyboard.

A thought had popped into my head. Blair is somebody for whom I have the utmost respect. He radiates success—kind, polite, and never too busy to forget to put a tri-fold pocket square in his blazer. He's smart, has delivered impressive results as a global business leader, has a great family, and so on. If he is helping, maybe the situation isn't hopeless, I thought. Besides, Time magazine had called the new governor, John Hickenlooper, one of the "Five Best Big-City Mayors" in his previous job as mayor of Denver, and he had been a business leader and entrepreneur before that. I realized that I wouldn't mind meeting him. In fact, it was a rare opportunity to meet a fellow businessperson who had gone into public service. I was curious what it was like. And I was interested in meeting our new governor, to see what he was all about. I had voted for him, after all.

I deleted the words I had written, and wrote this instead:


I voted for Hickenlooper, and am happy to use my firm's expertise to help him pick a great cabinet. His success as our governor will be largely determined by the quality of the team he selects. Privileged to serve.

The work I was about to do for the governor ended up being the most exciting, meaningful, and fun work I did all year. And I can point to it as the moment that put me on the path to a very different mind-set about government and how to improve it.

A Journey Begins

Four days after I sent the reply, I found myself at a small round conference table with John Hickenlooper, the newly elected governor of my home state of Colorado, and his chief of staff, Roxane White. Our task was to discuss whom to hire for key cabinet roles. The governor was to take office in three weeks.

In person, Governor Hickenlooper looked like the brew pub owner that he once was—energetic, friendly, and genuine. A mop of semi-combed hair flopped around cheerfully as he spoke. But I noticed an intensity of purpose behind his eyes, which let me know that we had important business to attend to today. And Roxane White—I was not sure what to expect from this former not-for-profit CEO and social-services director. Was she going to be a bleeding heart? I had heard that she was tough as nails. Was she going to be that in a good way, or a pain to work with? What I found was a woman who matched the governor on energy, but managed to steer hers, and his, into lanes of highly productive decision making. Instantly, I could see why they made a great pair in their previous jobs as mayor of Denver and mayoral chief of staff.

Would this be a formal and stilted conversation? I had wondered how this governor would respond to my business-oriented approach to leadership selection. I was expecting this to be a waste of his time and mine. Any moment, I would hear the words or see the actions that would confirm my assumption that all government was dysfunctional beyond any hope of repair. But I was in for a surprise.

While the mood was serious, it was also refreshingly upbeat and practical. Governor Hickenlooper was engaged and clearly determined to make the best possible leadership decisions for key roles in his cabinet. The discussion about candidates was focused, fact-based, and lively. We focused on one key role at a time. What was the mission for the role? Key outcomes to achieve? Competencies that matter in that role? What about the slate of candidates? What are their backgrounds? To what extent do we have data to suggest how strong or weak they are on our scorecard checklist areas? What remaining questions need to be addressed before the in-depth interview?

The chief of staff had a refreshing can-do attitude in the face of this daunting challenge. Once we covered a topic thoroughly, we shifted seamlessly to the next topic of importance. These people are as sharp as any of my CEO or private-equity clients. This is going really well. Oh my gosh, I admitted to myself, I am actually having fun.

The governor's leadership competence began to chip away at my negative assumptions. First, he was clearly more interested in hiring the best leader than in playing politics. He didn't make any references to political party during these discussions. Not once. Let me repeat that: We spent hours discussing key hires for cabinet roles. Not one time did the governor say the word Republican or Democrat. That was mind-blowing to me; I assumed that every elected leader cared mostly about the politics surrounding appointment decisions.

Second, he had his eye on results. What were we trying to achieve in human services, by when? How much would that cost? It was a very straightforward discussion of outcomes and strategies, not too different from thousands of conversations I have had with leaders in the private sector. Then he really surprised me and started talking about customers.

When I heard the governor refer to citizens as "customers," I almost fell out of my swivel chair. Our citizens are our customers. We are here because they put us here. How do we take their tax revenue and invest it as wisely as possible? How do we manage those investments of time and money as intelligently as possible to deliver the best results?

I was shocked. And the second thing that I felt was a sense of relief. Maybe the situation in government is not hopeless, I thought.

All was going well, but then something happened.

Flipping through some of the résumés for one cabinet position, I began to feel disheartened. The job we were discussing was a big one. It required managing a multibillion-dollar business unit, or department, in the government. Thousands of employees. Weak performance outcomes. It was a big leadership responsibility to turn this organization around. "There are a few impressive candidates in the stack, but too few," I said. "Where's the A list?" I asked with my palms open, hoping not to insult anybody. I then added, with a smile on my face to bring some levity to my question, "Do you have some secret drawer somewhere where you keep all the great résumés? You know, people who have actually managed a $3 billion P&L before, and have led thousands of employees successfully?"

The governor and his chief of staff cried out, almost in unison, "We can't get enough of the kind of leaders you are talking about. They won't come!"

The governor continued, "I would love nothing better than to hire the very best leaders we have in our state. But they have a perception that government is unsavory, so they won't come."

Before I could stop myself, I blurted out, "Isn't government unsavory?" My face got red as I realized how insulting it sounded.

The governor was not fazed by my question. "It doesn't have to be," Governor Hickenlooper replied with a small smile.

"In our administration, we're going to be all about talent and results. We are going to make government the 3 Es— more elegant, effective, and efficient. So it will be a lot less unsavory for my key leaders here than in an administration that was all about politics. In the right situation, a cabinet job like this can actually be incredibly rewarding and meaningful for a leader."

So all government roles are not unsavory. OK. Hmm. Maybe more leaders would go into government if we let them know that this is true. But right now, we clearly have an absence of great leaders.

That's why government is so messed up, I thought.

I asked, "So what if you could get all the great leaders you want? Let's say I backed a school bus up to your door right there, and it was filled with the state's greatest leaders, eager to accept positions in your administration?"

The governor quickly replied, "Well, you would have a government that performed much, much better. There is no question about that. The change would be profound."

That is when it really clicked. Yes, government is broken; everyone knows that. Our attempts to fix it have been focused on chasing what solutions—new laws, regulations, fiddling with policies, arguing about ideology. But what if the fundamental problem were not a what problem? What if the fundamental problem were a who problem?

What if the fundamental problem was simply that we did not have enough great leaders in government? Then it would make sense for us to stop chasing the what, and solve the who, I thought. That point is in the last sentence of Who, the book I coauthored. It was echoing in my head as I sat there.

Stop chasing the what. Solve the who.

I looked at the governor and his chief of staff and, choosing my words carefully as I counted out six fingers, I said, "Hiring. More. Great. Leaders. Into. Government. There is a six-word solution to the problem of how to reform government. I shrugged my shoulders to invite honest feedback. "Right?"

Five seconds of silence.

Then the governor replied, "Yes."

That December day, in that room with the governor, something told me that this solution did not apply just to our state but also could apply to all governments everywhere. Getting more great leaders into government could improve the quality of life of people around the world. OK, that might be a fundamental solution. But how to make that happen? "Someone should develop a program to get those leaders in office," I said. "You could just go get them. You could demystify government for them. You could train them. Then they do a stint. You could begin at the state level. And if it worked, the idea could spread to other states, and then to the federal and local levels, and then to other countries."

"Like Teach for America," Chief of Staff White added.

"They could do a stint for a couple of years," said the governor, "and if they want to stay in it, they could; or they could then roll off back into the private sector. It's not like they would have to spend the rest of their career in government."

Silence. Exchange of looks. We were playing a game of "who's going to step up?" The governor's expression—eyes wide open, eyebrows arched—told me what he was thinking: OK, Mr. Bright Idea Guy, I'm serving as governor. I'm already doing my part. What are you going to do to help the cause?

I knew he would need someone to get such a program up and running. Someone who was a believer in the power of great leadership. Someone who could help to bridge great leaders from the private sector into the public sector. Oh my gosh, that would take a lot of time if you do it right, I thought. I can't believe what I'm about to offer. Here, I have been skeptical about government for forty years. And now, after one enjoyable meeting with an enlightened governor, I'm going to offer to start some government reform initiative?

I didn't even wait for him to vocalize the need.

"I'll do it," I said. (Gulp.) And "it" turned into two things: (1) the book you hold in your hands, and (2) The Leaders Initiative, which is described in chapter 7.

Why Leaders Are the Solution

I'm passionate about great leaders. I have seen many times how great leaders can turn around or improve organizations. And when you have the wrong leader or leaders, no amount of policy change or strategizing makes a darn bit of difference. Governor Hickenlooper seemed like he really "got it." So did his chief of staff.

However, while I was walking back to my car after that meeting, I felt a wave of doubt sweep over me. You know that feeling when you've just committed to do something big and scary, and you're starting to wonder if it was such a great idea after all? Just because I have a passion for leadership doesn't mean that it's the solution to society's problems, I thought. You've heard the saying by the psychologist Abraham Maslow, "If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Maybe I'm a leadership junkie, so the only solution to fixing government I see is leadership. And maybe all of the leadership success stories I've witnessed in the business world aren't relevant to the world of government. Maybe it's not a good solution. Maybe I'm not the guy.

In Jim Collins's landmark book Good to Great (2001), he urges leaders to focus on "First Who ... Then What." My book Who outlines a step-by-step approach to achieving the goal of successful hiring with 90 percent accuracy. But I wondered whether this fundamental solution for business applied to government.

And yet, a friend had once come to me with a very similar idea. Mark Gallogly serves on President Obama's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness and was a senior managing director with the investment firm Blackstone Group before he cofounded Centerbridge Partners. Years ago, he recommended that I read Ben Franklin's autobiography and emulate Franklin's practice of getting talented people from commerce together to discuss issues of the day from a civic perspective and engage in problem solving. Mark is incredibly smart. As I recalled his counsel, I felt encouraged that I was on the right track.

And when I considered what I'd seen leaders accomplish when the who got solved before trying to tackle the what, I felt even more confident.

I have witnessed many versions of the following story. The members of the board of directors of a company are sitting around a large, shiny, wooden boardroom table. The conversation is going down the wrong path. They are taking a what approach to trying to diagnose and to fix a troubled company. The company has been struggling for several years. The CEO is asked to step out for the last half-hour so the board could talk candidly about the dire situation. The discussion among board members goes something like this: One board member says, "We clearly have a financial problem—margins are falling and our revenue is not meeting forecast either. I have some ideas about what we can do financially to right the ship." Another says, "No, we have a product problem—we are getting beaten on quality and we aren't positioning our core products right. We need to execute a whole product overhaul." And another says, "It's actually a sales problem—we just don't have the right sales process in place." I raise my hand and say, "You are wisely pointing out many what problems that this company is facing. But the job of the board is to make one great who decision—to hire the right CEO. Based on our analysis, you have a CEO problem. My recommendation is to focus your energy on hiring the right CEO, and then let that person fix all of these other problems you have identified." The board eventually takes advice. And it works. The new CEO hires more great people. He or she articulates clear goals to the organization, puts in place a plan to improve products and processes, executes with urgency and accountability, and the financial performance improves. I have seen this pattern many times. If you fix the who problem, the what problems get better. What would stop great leaders from improving government in the same way?

I had to find out whether the principle applied in government. Because I was a newbie to government, I needed input from people with more experience. What if I could identify and interview great leaders in government to find out what their context was really like?

I was able to track down and talk to some amazing leaders. These conversations took me on an incredible journey of discovery. I'll share that journey throughout the book, but my discussions with these great leaders ultimately boiled down to three big insights: Great leaders tackle challenges head on. Great leaders are talent magnets. And great leaders deliver great results for stakeholders, sometimes against long odds. Given our current problems and level of dysfunction, we need great leaders in government now more than ever.


Excerpted from LEADOCRACY by GEOFF SMART Copyright © 2012 by Geoff Smart. Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Solving Our #1 Problem 1

Chapter 1 Who, Not What 17

Chapter 2 The 3 As of Leadership 35

Chapter 3 Our Most Valuable Untapped Resource 55

Chapter 4 Why Great Leaders Avoid Government 74

Chapter 5 What's in It for You 94

Chapter 6 Vote Smart 109

Chapter 7 The Leaders Initiative 130

Chapter 8 Living in a Leadocracy 147

Appendices 157

Acknowledgements of Awesomeness 161

Notes 164

About the Author 165

What People are Saying About This

Mike Fries

One of my main goals in business is to find and grow great leaders. Our success depends on it. Sadly, there is no such training ground in government. We should expect more from our politicians and Leadocracy makes a strong case for greater private participation in the public sector.
—Mike Fries (CEO of Liberty Global)

Kent Thiry

It is about time this subject got the thoughtful treatment it deserves. The sad fact is our government is a source of competitive disadvantage for our country. The happy fact is Geoff's book may start to change that.
—Kent Thiry (chairman and CEO of DaVita)

Aaron Kennedy

Leadocracy helps to demystify government, and shows how great leaders from the private sector can make a difference in the public sector, for the good of us all.
—Aaron Kennedy (founder, Noodles & Company)

Darrin Anderson

Geoff Smart is 'the man' when it comes to hiring. I am pleased to see him applying his methods to the daunting task of selecting government leaders. Leadocracy is a step in the right direction.
—Darrin Anderson (regional vice president at HD Supply)

Scott Clawson

Geoff Smart's methods have helped me hire a great team. I can only imagine how much good will be done for society when this approach is applied to hiring government leaders.
—Scott Clawson (president of GSI Group)

Kevin Burns

I would LOVE to see more of Geoff Smart's principles of hiring applied to how we choose our government leaders.
—Kevin Burns (managing principal at Lazard Technology Partners; former CEO of InterSolv)

Mark Emkes

Private sector leadership is badly needed in the public sector. Leadocracy shows us how to make this happen.

—Mark Emkes (Commissioner of Finance & Administration, State of Tennessee; former CEO of Bridgestone Americas)

Craig Zoberis

Geoff Smart's previous book, Who, was the number one most impactful book on my career as a CEO. I am hopeful Leadocracy will be as impactful on society.
—Craig Zoberis (CEO of Fusion OEM)

Ken Griffin

At a time of deep doubt about the ability of our federal government to manage our country, Leadocracy. provides a reason for hope. As Geoff Smart demonstrates in this timely book, with great leadership no problem is unsolvable.
—Ken Griffin (CEO of Citadel)

Marshall Goldsmith

Geoff Smart is the world expert on the topic of hiring leaders. What he suggests we do in Leadocracy to get more great leaders into government is wise counsel.
—Marshall Goldsmith (Winner of the 2011 Thinkers50 Leadership Award as the World's Most-Influential Leadership Thinker - New York Times bestselling author and editor of thirty-one books including What Got You Here Won't Get You There

Mike Feinberg and David Levin

We have used Geoff Smart's methods for hiring here at KIPP with great results. We would love to see them applied to how government leaders are selected, the way he outlines in Who and Leadocracy.
—Mike Feinberg and David Levin (cofounders of the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), the largest charter school operator in the United States)

H. Wayne Huizenga

Leadocracy is a refreshingly simple solution to the problem of government dysfunction.
—H. Wayne Huizenga, chairman of Huizenga Holdings (former founder and CEO of three Fortune 500 companies)

Roxane White

Nothing we do in government is as important as who we hire into key leadership roles. Leadocracy and Geoff's previous book Who, outline principles that we have applied with great success here in Colorado.
—Roxane White (chief of staff to Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado)

Ken Lund

I loved my job in the private sector. I love my job in the public sector. People seem to think that government is only about gridlock and dysfunction. It's not, as Leadocracy illustrates. Great leaders can make a huge difference, and they can have a fun and meaningful chapter of their career in government.
—Ken Lund (executive director of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade; former managing partner at Holme Roberts & Owen)

Ted Waitt

If we don't have leadership in this country with the experience to develop a smart long-term economic growth plan, the guts to aggressively execute it, and the perseverance to stick with it over the long haul, we'll never again see the economic prosperity we've come to take for granted.
—Ted Waitt (Chairman of Avalon Capital Group and the Waitt Family Foundation; cofounder and former CEO of Gateway)

Atul Gawande

Geoff Smart is one of the nation's top thinkers on how to hire great people. And he has put his finger on our fundamental failure as voters—we don't hire great people into government. Leadocracy shows how that can change.
—Atul Gawande MD (surgeon; bestselling author of The Checklist Manifesto)

Greg Alexander

I used to say that I would never in a million years consider going into government. However, Leadocracy has changed my mind.
—Greg Alexander (CEO of Sales Benchmark Index; author of Making the Number)

Panos Anastassiadis

Geoff Smart's approach to hiring was game changing for me as CEO, which allowed my team to deliver a 67 percent internal rate of return to our investors. I can only hope his expertise has the same kind of impact on the world of government leadership, which badly needs it.
—Panos Anastassiadis (former CEO of Cyveillence)

Eric Cohen

Leadocracy is bound to be one of the most impactful books of our generation. Government desperately needs more great leaders. Great leaders need a sense of meaning and challenge in their careers. When the two come together, the game will change for the better.
—Eric Cohen (president of Power Plant Services)

Steven A. Schwarzman

As someone who has seen up close hundreds of companies succeed or fail, I can tell you that the quality of the leader is the number one driver of success. Leadocracy shows how to get more great leaders into government, which we sorely need.
—Stephen A. Schwarzman (chairman, CEO, and cofounder of the Blackstone Group)

Richard Bryan

Leadocracy signals a movement that is underway to hire more great leaders into government. I hope my fellow Brits figure this one out too; our way of life depends on it.
—Richard Bryan (managing director of BBH Properties)

Governor Jack Markell

Geoff Smart makes clear the compelling need for top talent to choose public service. Leadocracy demonstrates the difference strong leadership makes in the public and private sectors.
—Governor Jack Markell of Delaware

Wendy Kopp

Education reform and government reform are interrelated. I believe that leadership is the answer to both. I applaud Geoff Smart's initiative and willingness to bring his hiring methods into the public sector with Leadocracy
—Wendy Kopp (founder of Teach For America)

Charles Butt

Leadership is the key to human progress. Geoff Smart's book leads the way.
—Charles Butt (Chairman, H-E-B)

Chrismon Nofsinger

Great leaders go through stages in their careers. Leadocracy makes a great case for why one of those stages should be a stint in government.
—Chrismon Nofsinger, Ph.D. (founder and CEO of the Nofsinger Group; author of The Shift From One to Many)


Denver, CO

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