As Alan Sugar demonstrates each year on our TV screens, even the most promising candidates can sometimes fail to deliver. To identify true potential it must be diligently assessed and a number of factors carefully weighed against each other. But how easy is it to spot truly great leaders while they are still ‘in the making’. Fancy trying?

Imagine you are operating at Board level for a major global organisation. Facing a challenging worldwide situation, with a serious threat of major conflict looming after a projected period of economic recession, you must appoint a new CEO. The best-connected headhunters have been working on your behalf, and have provided two candidate profiles. But which will you select for interview?

Candidate A
Operating at the highest level for 6 years, Candidate A has truly worked his way up from the very bottom, exhibiting enormous determination and tenacity. Showing a vigorous – some would say ruthless – approach to mergers and acquisitions, his empire has grown rapidly since he came to office and several new markets have been successfully opened up in quick succession.

He is a powerful and compelling orator, and his skill in this arena has been supported by strong presentation skills which have tended to contrast high-impact visual and audio settings with a personally understated visual style. While his ability to project a vision may focus more on what he opposes that proposes, he is undeniably hugely charismatic and has built a substantial following very quickly and from scarce initial resources. While personal power undoubtedly has attractions to him, he is frequently careful to position himself as a champion and protector of his people.

Although seen by many as a commanding figure, his management style has tended perhaps to over-delegate, taking less interest that might be considered normal in the running of major departments. Opinions as to the extent to which he listens and take advice from his appointees vary, and opinion may reflect a tendency for others to fall rapidly from favour from time to time. High standards are expected of divisional leaders, however, and those that fail can expect their future careers to be brief. Immediate colleagues, by contrast, view him with considerable warmth, and describe his personal style as solicitous and caring.

A rather private figure, he is known to be highly health conscious: he has, for example, established a reward scheme for employees who stop smoking. He is also a committed vegetarian and thought to be a great lover of nature and of animals.

There are, as always, some negative aspects. Under pressure, his ‘hands off’ style can switch to micromanagement, as he may feel his vision is under threat due to perceived failings of sub-ordinates. He can also be highly challenging and combative. There have also been concerns about his commitment to equality and discrimination, although (as in other aspects of his performance) this appears to have been far less of an issue with those closest to him.

Undeniably hugely ambitious, there are concerns that he may attempt more than can be realistically achieved; given that he can become very assertive and unpredictable under personal pressure, attention may need to be paid here.

Candidate B
Equally ambitious, Candidate B has – to date – had a more varied career. Though he can rarely be described as having truly been ‘in the wilderness’, on two previous occasions positions in high office have been terminated followed perceived errors of judgment. Candidate B, however, is very highly educated and has a personal network that includes many influential figures in a wide range of spheres: his profile is unlikely to ever be truly low.

Viewed by many has possessing great leadership potential, it is arguable that he has yet to have found the right opportunity in which to deploy and extend his undoubted talents. By contrast with Candidate A, there is a pronounced tendency to micromanage on occasions, driven mostly by a concern for the best possible result. While this can lead to friction, his ability to inspire and motivate colleagues acts in mitigation. While ‘not an easy boss’, he is consistently respected and liked by the overwhelming majority of those with whom he has worked.

With the possible exception of economics, Candidate B is also highly skilled and experienced in many key areas. Candidate A’s equal in oratorical skills, his style is very different – measured and reasoned, if perhaps old-fashioned, rather than provocative and emotive. While Candidate A’s strengths lie in determined and ambitious pursuit of targets, Candidate B is more concerned with values and principles and there is strong sense of moral responsibility to many of his arguments.

Although there are some recognised visual trademarks of presentation, Candidate B’s communication skills are biased strongly toward the verbal: he is a master of the pithy phrase. Privately, he also recognised as a master of the witty riposte. Openly emotional – on occasions when others might perhaps be apologetic to do so – he can be quick to endear himself to others. He can equally, however, be quite abrasive where he feels this to be appropriate, and is reputed to be flattered to be liked as widely as he is.

A man with a wide and varied social circle, he can be considered ‘eccentric’ by some: there is a disregard for minor matters of etiquette that can cause minor social shocks. He is known to ‘enjoy a glass’ – and also a cigar – and is not openly health conscious. None of this appears to a mark of a dissolute character – more of a man whose mind is ‘on higher matters’.

Like Candidate A, however, there is undeniable tenacity. Where he believes strongly that his argument is right – for the wider good more than himself – he will passionately argue a case or cause whether it is fashionable (or even in his self-interest) to do so. While this can make him a pilloried figure on occasions, it is also increasingly commented that in many cases his argument has – in the long run – turned out to be clearly proven by events.

Your Board colleagues – having interviewed and rejected three previous candidates – are tiring of the recruitment process, but will allow for one more interview.

But which candidate would you select for consideration?

So who did you select? As these candidates were based on two major historical figures, use the links below to find out how you selected.

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