James Citrin, Executive Intelligence and Marissa Mayer

James Citrin, a senior official at executive search firm Spencer Stuart talks about hiring process for a CEO level position in one of organisations. James was part of interview panel.

The Chairman of the company asked each candidate one question-” How do you assess the state of our industry and our company’s position within it?”

James found that successful candidates and unsuccessful candidates answered question differently. Unsuccessful candidates gave confused response, while successful candidates did following things

  1. Explained the key competitive dynamics in the industry, i.e. what is driving change, who is winning and who is losing.
  2. Clearly describe what company should do to thrive- top priorities, strategies, acquisitions, organisation architecture etc.

James was give task of finding CEO for Yahoo. After interviewing lot of candidates, Yahoo board felt that Marissa Mayer from Google was ideal candidate. Objections that she was stagnating (in fact demoted) in Google and she had no experience of having responsibility for balance sheet were brushed aside. The members were impressed with her presentation – industry analysis, what she would do to make Yahoo a success, how she would overcome her shortcoming etc., the very qualities James had talked about related to successful candidates.

“I took a computer-science course to fill a prerequisite at Stanford, and I realized that every day was a new problem, and every day you got to think about how to solve something new, how to reason through something new, how to develop an algorithm to solve for something you hadn’t worked on before.”

-Marissa Mayer

All stakeholders- customers, employees and board members had high expectations from her, but she failed in her task. Soon stakeholders had doubts about her decision making and people management skills. Finally, a company which was once valued at $ 125 billion was sold for $ 5 billion to Verizon. Mayer was failure at Yahoo.

Why did this happen. One of the reasons could be lack of what is called as Executive Intelligence.

“Executive intelligence is the ability to digest, often with the help of others, large amounts of information in order to form important decisions…Personality is not a differentiator of star talent. It is an individual’s facility for clear thinking or intelligence that largely determines their leadership success.”

-Justin Menkes in HBR

Justin Menkes has done lot of research on Executive Intelligence. Executive intelligence consists of getting tasks done, your relations with others and evaluating self.

Getting tasks done consist of -abilities to properly define a problem, identify the highest-priority issues, and assess both what is known and what needs to be known in order to render a sound decision.

Relating to other consisting of – the abilities to recognize underlying agendas, understand multiple perspectives, and anticipate likely emotional reactions.

Evaluating self consists of- the abilities to identify one’s own mistakes, encourage and seek out constructive criticism, and adjust one’s own behaviour.

While Marissa had high IQ, she lacked executive intelligence.


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