How to Hire Courageous People

How to Hire Courageous People

Author: Bruce Weinstein

Courageous employees make the lives HR managers easier because they are willing to address problems that would be easier to ignore.


The following questions and suggestions may be useful for evaluating a job candidate’s commitment to courage.  The questions are courtesy of Bill Treasurer, founder of Giant Leap Consulting, Inc., and author of Courage Goes to Work.


Describe a time when you had to disagree with someone in authority and stand your ground. What was the situation? How did the other person react? What did you do?


Bill says managers who ask these questions should pay attention to how the respondents portray themselves. An authentic response will probably include a reference to vulnerability. Courage, Bill notes, isn’t the absence of fear; fear goes hand in hand with doing courageous things. Standing up to someone in a position of authority or influence, as Marvin did with the dishonest vendor, would be frightening for a lot of people.


In The One-Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson present the “praise down/criticize up” model of management. This upends the traditional arrangement in which direct reports extol the virtues of their bosses, and bosses have the freedom to find fault with their direct reports. Blanchard and Johnson say that if companies are to succeed, their leaders must welcome disagreement, even — or especially — from their subordinates.


A person who is willing to expose an injustice like fraud, sexual harassment, or bullying is one of the Good Ones– high-character employees whose commitment to honesty, care, courage, and other moral qualities benefits their employers, their clients, and themselves.


Tell me about a time when a direct report pushed back on you and felt strongly about a position. What was the situation? What did they say, and how did you react?


This question, Bill says, aims to get a sense of the type of leader the candidate is. Does he or she invite people to speak their minds? It takes a strong leader to admit to the possibility that he or she is mistaken or hasn’t thought a matter through thoroughly enough.


“McKinsey & Company is one company that prides itself on constructive disagreement,” Bill notes, adding that in his experience this is a rare trait in corporate culture.


The best leaders, Bill observers, welcome principled pushback. “They don’t want to be surrounded by sycophants and yes people. Otherwise, they’ll be closed off from the good information they need to make good decisions. That’s why they do well to listen to people who have enough backbone to resist going along with dunderheaded ideas.” Having less power and authority may explain why direct reports don’t always speak up when something bothers them. But that doesn’t justify the practice.


This is the fourth in a series of blog posts on how to hire high-character people. The first three were How to Hire Honest PeopleHow to Hire Accountable People, and How to Hire Caring People.


Next time, we’ll look at what it means to be a fair person and how to evaluate this quality in job applicants.

Through his keynotes,webinars, in-house training programs, FORTUNE contributor Bruce Weinstein, The Ethics Guy works with organizations that want to do the right thing every time and that know the key to their success is the high character of their employees. More information about Bruce and his services can be found at or he can be reached at 646.649.4501.

Bruce lives in Manhattan with his wife Kristen Bancroft, who was recently a contestant on Jeopardy!

Thank You to Our Chapter Partners