Simon Sinek quote on skills and attitude

May 1, 2016

LinkedInanity — Dubious Wisdom From The LinkedIn Wall, False Dilemma Edition

by Freddy J. Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango + Guy Who Hires Skilled Professionals Off LinkedIn…

From his bio, Simon Sinek sounds like an amazing person: author, TEDx star, military innovation adviser, supporter of nonprofits. So I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that this quote was taken way out of context.

But that’s how the quote is being shared, in its entirety, in that source of infinite dubious wisdom, the LinkedIn wall.

“You don’t hire for skills, you hire for attitude. You can always teach skills” is a classic example of a false dilemma, which involves limiting a choice to only two alternatives when others are available.

In this case, the quote forces a potential employer to choose between skills and attitude. That emphasis on attitude seems to resonate with many people on LinkedIn… maybe because they don’t have skills to sell. Or more likely because the quote has that Pollyanna feel-good Kumbaya vibe that resonates on social media: “Hey, stop discriminating on the basis of actual ability, bro – just be open to teaching…”

But as a teacher who hires people for their skills — writers, designers, programmers, actors, video editors, accountants, lawyers, illustrators, car mechanics — I opt for the third option:

BOTH.

As in, why not hire someone who has both the skills and the attitude? Who says a professional can’t have one without the other?

After all, am I going to teach accounting to my favorite bartender so he can do my taxes? Dare I find a gung-ho cheerleader I can train to repair the vibrating window on my car? Should I instruct a can-do “yes sir” intern to represent me in court?

Obviously, if I knew how to teach all that, I wouldn’t need to hire in the first place.

While I hire purely on a temporary contractor basis, this attitude-instead-of-skills strategy also wouldn’t work for a large corporation hiring full-time employees. Certainly, they’d want to hire smart people who can acquire skills down the road, but a corporation is NOT in the business of teaching every skill. Does Apple want to teach people how to be lawyers, accountants, or HVAC repair pros? Does HBO want to teach people how to act, direct, create props, apply makeup, write scripts, set-up lights, finance, market, and whip together a wicked craft services table? Does the National Football League want to teach an average fan how to throw a pinpoint pass 60 yards while a 300-pound beast is threatening to turn him into hamburger?

Civilized societies already have something in place to teach all these skills: we call them “schools.” We can argue about how effective those schools are (every time I deal with my Internet service provider, I do question the efficacy of our education system). But neither I nor a large corporation has the time, knowledge, or resources to teach all the skills that we need.

To take my counter-argument a step further, if all we’re hiring for is attitude, why bother with schools at all? Let’s shut ’em down! Who needs literacy? We can teach people how to read! And basic math… and nuclear waste disposal… and operatic singing… and animal husbandry… Instead, we’ll spend the money hiring TEDx speakers so everyone is enthusiastic about everything all the time.

And while we’re at it, let’s also dispense with resumes — and, of course, LinkedIn profiles! — and just interview people. Who cares what they know or how much experience they have?

I’d love to see how many of the people who share this platitude about attitude would hire only cheerleaders to do their next big project: “Hey, you with the pom-poms and the big smile: I need cardio-thoracic surgery pronto. So here’s a textbook. Read it tonight, and I’ll see you in the morning.”

Call me a misguided philistine, but I hope my hospital will hire someone called a “doctor” instead.

False dilemmas make for lively discussions — would you prefer your spouse to be caring or ambitious? would you rather have a meal that’s nutritious or delicious? would you rather have national security or freedom? — but in the real world, we need to hold ourselves to higher standards. The lazy way out is to choose just one; the better choice for all involved is to figure out how to get both.

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If you liked that, you’ll also enjoy reading LinkedInanity — Dubious Wisdom From The LinkedIn Wall, Micromanaging Boss Edition.

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

8 Responses

  1. Freddy, I suspect the quote was taken out of context. I believe the advice was aimed specifically to those hiring managers who are insecure about their own positions becoming redundant because of competent subordinates. And, that is not a small population of audience he is addressing. :)

    • mm

      Ah, incompetent hiring managers. Who knew such people exist? :) You could be right, but Sinek’s quote uses absolute terms: “don’t” and “always.” That to me raises a red flag, and like a bull in the ring, I can’t help but charge.

  2. That is sort of a silly statement unless it is being used to shake people awake and think about why they hire. I’d like to see what he said before and after this statement. Sort of like journalism today. They take everything out of context and make that into the whole story.

    There are a lot of companies today don’t really spend much on training, especially for lower rung workers.

    I’m sure there are a lot of hiring managers who do hire based only on skills and algorithm based resume readers.

    I watched one of his Ted Talks “Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe”, which is very interesting.

    • mm

      I agree. It scares me that business people are getting their management advice from infographics they find on social media.

  3. Freddy – All inspirational speakers want to be known by their unique quotes or witticisms. I find it interesting that Sinek is being shown with a well worn concept AND then having it attributed to himself. I believe that this concept has been made famous many, many years ago. Regards, Jimmy

    • mm

      Hey Jim:

      Good points!

      My fixation is how business people respond to infographics and other memes, and my concern is how they apply them. As consultants, we’re often called in to clean up messes, and I guess superficial clichés taken out of context and haphazardly applied keep us in business!

      Thanks for your comment!

      Freddy

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