How do you screen potential talent during the hiring process? Do you choose second interviews based on intuition, personal preferences, or impressive resumes? Should you be evaluating potential talent based on their personal character?

The dictionary defines competence as: the quality of being competent; adequacy; possession of required skill, knowledge, qualification, or capacity and character as: qualities of honesty, courage, or the like; integrity; good repute. Competence can be learned through education and work experience; character must be earned through life experience.

Dr. Tim Irwin, consultant to SunTrust Banks, Chick-fil-A, Bank of America, Corning, Inc, IBM, Gerber Products Company, The Ritz Carlton Hotel Company, and Turner Broadcasting Systems, recently proclaimed that character always trumps competence in organizations. Dr. Irwin specializes in organizational effectiveness, talent management and leadership development and recently authored Derailed: Five Lessons Learned from Catastrophic Failures of Leadership.

When highly visible leaders fail, Dr. Irwin claims that we should take note of their fall and learn from their mistakes. “At the end of the day, you have to be competent, but character still trumps competence and the failure of it why people derail,” says Irwin. He goes n to explain that while competence is important, trust is the glue that holds an organization together. Without sterling character, trust is impossible to achieve and maintain.

In traditional hiring practices, potential employees are screened by how impressive their competence appears on a resume. If Dr. Irwin’s concept holds water in the corporate world, perhaps employers will begin to adjust the hiring process to make an initial selection of candidates based on competence, then further reduce the candidate pool through a process that digs deep enough to reveal the character of potential employees. Could this two-step process help strengthen companies from the interior by ferreting out the most qualified and trustworthy employees to build a potential corporate dream team that has the skills and the cohesiveness to accomplish industry-changing goals?

Does it really boil down to character and not merely competence in the corporate world? The difference could be described as the difference between book smarts and common sense. While formal knowledge is very valuable, it takes character to apply that knowledge effectively in the corporate world.

Questions to Ask within your Organization

  • How important is evaluating character in new talent within your organization?
  • If you reflect on the actions and reputation of the key people in your organization, how would you rate their personal character?
  • In your particular industry, how important are characteristics such as honesty, integrity, and courage?
  • What would happen if you put together a team of talented people with exceptional character and placed them in charge of brainstorming out-of-the-box ideas and implementing them?

Competence is a vital part of any team, but character could be the make-or-break trait that determines if your corporation will derail or journey on toward new levels of success.