The ability to visual and plan a project combined with successful execution is the Leadership Fractal. The rate of growth of these projects predicts potential.
What you probably didn't realize is that people exhibit similar fractals on the job. If you look close enough you'll discover people do the same things over and over again. When hiring people I suggest you hire those who do bigger and better things over and over again. What you'll discover is that the quality and comparability of these bigger and better things predict fit and performance. The rate of growth of these bigger and better things predicts potential. I refer to this idea as the Leadership Fractal.
Some examples will help explain the concept.
Many years ago I was representing a senior manager from a Big 4 CPA accounting firm for a Director of Accounting role with one of the major entertainment companies in Southern California. The hiring manager - the VP Controller - knew she was top-notch but was concerned she didn't have any hands-on corporate experience. The candidate persisted though and put together a 12-month detailed plan of how the entire accounting department needed to be reorganized. This included staff and system requirements and how the reporting systems had to be massively upgraded. She was hired based on this plan and her track record of doing similar project work while at the CPA firm. It was not a surprise that she successfully implemented the program and received a significant promotion as a result.
For a general manager's position I asked a VP Operations how he would turn around a multi-plant manufacturing company using somewhat related technology but in a totally different industry. We talked for 30 minutes about the process he would use to develop the plan and strategy required. This demonstrated his breadth of business understanding and depth of insight into the specific problems this company was facing. However, this wasn't enough given the experience gap. I asked what he had already accomplished that was comparable in scope, span of control and complexity to the open job requirements. He went on to describe how he took one plant in Asia with 100 people and expanded it to a 3,000 person international manufacturing and distribution system spanning the globe.
Based on this assessment I thought he was the best candidate but he was still initially rejected due to lack of direct industry experience and identical process background. He was ultimately and reluctantly hired when their first choice rejected the offer. I was not at all surprised when he called me two years later to tell me he had just become the CEO of the parent company leapfrogging the person who hired him.
These are two examples of the Leadership Fractal - the ability to visualize and implement the solution to a problem and do it over and over again. The quality of the solutions, the consistency of achieving them and the growing size of the accomplishments are all part of the assessment. To figure this out I ask two questions. The first is the most significant accomplishment question to determine the comparability of the person's past achievements to the open job requirements. If there's a reasonable fit I then ask the candidate how he/she would go about solving a realistic job-related problem. The purpose of this approach is to evaluate the process the candidate would use to develop a logical and practical solution, not the solution itself.
Caution is urged as you implement this two part question. Describing how to do something is not the same as doing it. You need both parts. On the flip side, some candidates have a track record of doing comparable work but aren't very good at visualizing different or more complex situations. I've found that these people are too structured in their thinking and too inflexible in their approach to adapt to changing situations.
However, more frequently than you can imagine you'll often find people like the CPA and the VP Operations described above who can bridge the gap between what needs to be done and how to get it done. These are people who can clearly visualize a future state in great detail even though they have never experienced it directly. Plus, and it's an essential plus, they have a track record of comparable results on a similar scale, scope and decision-making standpoint.
After meeting dozens of candidates like these and tracking their careers for 10-15 years (and more) it's clear the Leadership Fractal is a strong predictor of fit, performance and potential. At its core is the ability to clearly visualize a problem and deliver the results as planned. Doing similar things multiple times establishes quality and consistency. If these projects are increasing in complexity you can assess potential by looking at the growth rate of the trend line.
When applied to the assessment process a fractal can be defined as a set of skills and competencies that exhibit a repeating pattern despite the scope and scale of the task.