Mike Brown | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Mike Brown

Background:  

Washington Federal operates in eight western states, including Washington, Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah and New Mexico. It has 31 in-state branches in Arizona.

The Mistake:

I hired somebody that wasn’t skilled for the job. They flamed out and I had to let them go.

When I first became a manager at a finance company, I was given the opportunity to make my first new hire. To this day, I remember it vividly because it subsequently became my first firing. I was so excited that I was going to hire my own team. I wasn't trained in how to properly interview and what kinds of traits to look for — all the things that I do today and that you have to do. I didn’t apply them because I didn’t know them.

Consequently, I hired somebody that wasn’t skilled for the job. They flamed out and I had to let them go. I’ll never forget that I didn’t sleep the night before the termination. Those are traumatic moments, both for the person delivering the message and certainly, for the person receiving the message — it’s tough.

As is common in any industry, if you’re a top producer or salesperson, they’ll bring out the magic wand, tap you on the head and say, “You’ll be a great manager.” Many times it works, but sometimes it doesn’t. They may break out the magic wand, tap you on the head and make you a manager, but I didn’t get a lot of training or mentoring before they threw me into the deep end.

I thought I could recognize what a good team member looked like and I think I just chose the first one that showed some keen interest. I just wasn’t well versed in what to look for.

My emotions carried me away and I made a decision that wasn’t a good one.

The Lesson:

Now, I take my time and I know what I’m looking for. More importantly, I quickly know when they’re not a good fit. I really try to understand what their skill sets are, where they want to go and what their career path looks like. 

Over time, you learn to become a better interviewer and you become better at hiring people through experience. To this day, when a termination takes place, it’s painful. Those for whom it’s not painful, they're not in my black book. You’ve got to take it personally, because it’s a very traumatic time. 

I haven’t been able to completely avoid hiring mistakes, but for the most part, my track record has become a lot more successful as I got further into my career. In the beginning, however, my emotions carried me away and I made a decision that wasn’t a good one. 

From that experience, I not only learned the importance of preparing myself for non-traditional tasks that might be assigned in a leadership position, I also learned the importance of helping others get there as well.

Follow Washington Federal Bank on Twitter at @WAFDbank.

Photo courtesy of Mike Brown