Nobodys FaultBut MineBY JUSTIN MENKESEVERY TIME THAT IM CALLED IN TO WORK WITH A CEO WHO IS INTROUBLE, IM ASKED, IS THE EXECUTIVE SAVABLE? IS IT WORTH TRYING?And while the answer is rarely sinnple, the single mosttelling factor is the individuals sense of agency. Changeis possible; everyone is teachable and can grow andimprove. But if the person has a low sense of agency,then change will be extraordinarily tough, costly, andlengthy and will require highly skilled intervention.Sense of agency refers to the degree to which peopleattribute their circumstances and the outcomes theyexperience to being within their own control. Peopletend to be inward or outward in their explanation tor lifeevents. For those who choose external explanations forwhat is happening—I didnt get promoted because my bossis stupid, I got this job only because my dad called some-one—long-term success becomes much more difficult.No phrase better codifies a low sense of agency thanthe all-too-common "If it is meant to be, it will be."Incredibly circular in its.logic, within this phrase is per-ceived freedom from any culpability in the events of ourlives. For adults who cannot tolerate the anxiety broughton by knowing that they are largely responsible for whathappens to them, this mantra can bring a temporarysense of deluded relief. But there is no genuine escapefrom the reality that our path to gratification or regret islargely up to us. No amount of disowning will change this,regardless of how many times we tell ourselves otherwise.For those who look inwardly for explanations, learn-ing and behavior change become much more plausible.Human beings vary wildly on the degree of influencethey believe their actions will have on outcomes. Theperspective of your own agency in the world is highlysubjective, and realizing potential in a stressful climaterequires seeing and explaining events in a way thatsuggests that outcomes are largely contingent on yourown behaviors.It is one of the essential factors that enable you tomanifest relentless leadership in trying times, both toryourself and for others.• JUSTIN MENKES is a consultant for executive-search firm SpencerStuart. From Better Under Pressure: How Great Leaders Britig Out theSesí/nr/iemse/vesancfOííiersIHarvard Business Review Pressl. "2011Interviewingwith Jeff BezosBY RICHARD L. BRANDTEarly on, the interview process for new hires atAmazon was as demanding as going through oralexams for a Ph.D. in subparticle physics. Eachcandidate would go through interviews withseveral employees, then with Jeff Bezos, who would alsogrill all the other interviewers. He would create elaboratecharts on a whiteboard listing the candidates qualifica-tions, and rejected anyone about whom he had the slightestdoubt. References were asked to list the candidates greateststrength and worst mistake. In the interview, candidateswere hit with random tough questions such as, "Howwould you design a car for a deaf person?" (The bestanswer: Plug your ears and drive around to see what itslike to be a deaf driver.) In meeting to discuss the candi-dates, questions asked ranged from, "What do you admireabout this candidate?" to, "What is he terrible at?""One of his mottos was that every time we hired Isomeone, he or she would raise the bar for the next hire,so that the overall talent pool was always improving," saidNicholas Lovejoy, who joined Amazon in 1995 as the fifthemployee. Bezos put the philosophy this way: Five yearsafter an employee was hired, he said, that employee shouldthink, "Im glad I got hired when I did, because I wouldntget hired now."• RICHARD L. BRANDT is a former correspondent for BusmessWeek.From One Click: Jeff Bezos and (he Rise of Amazon.com IPortfplio/Penguinl. "2011 ,tcbrevievi.com • WINTER 20)2 »
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