Looking for Lightning When Hiring


We’ve been interviewing a lot lately, trying to fill key positions at the Southern Growth Studio. We have been inundated with well-qualified people seeking exile from soul-crushing corporate cultures and large, global consultancies where they feel like a machine part.

Neither the traditional corporate culture nor the consultant groups that serve them allow these highly talented, often brilliant and always professional individuals to reach their potential in their constricting environments. These relics of the Industrial Revolution hold onto the practices of an era that dehumanized its workforce while stripping the planet of its core resources.

The effect of the rise of corporations has been depicted in books, plays, movies, and television shows: Upton Sinclair, Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman,” “Glengarry Glen Ross” and J.R. Ewing from “Dallas,” to name a few. In this paradigm, profit is king and must be attained at all costs. The real costs are more damaging: the soul-crushing demands of conformity to a culture’s ethos, language, habits, and defaults for the masses in the system. Thankfully entrepreneurs have been bucking this trend and creating new ways of being a community of work that benefits all involved.

There is an irrepressible, indomitable spirit in such brave people. They cannot help but be themselves. When such people hit a ceiling at work, they respond pragmatically. They make an offer for the situation to change. If it doesn’t adapt, they hunt higher ground. These types of leaders create new workspaces and cultures that rectify what kept them and others from hitting their potential in previous settings.

Think about the Googleplex, Herman Miller and any of the other office lifestyle stories. Think about it this way; you can hire someone for a job, a career or a vocation.

  1. If you hire someone to do a job, what you see is what you get. They perform a duty for the money with no commitment to the outcome of the success of your venture.
  2. If you hire a careerist, you’ll bring on an innately political being who embodies the sicknesses of the Industrial Era’s corporate mindset.
  3. If you bring on someone with a sense of mission, a sense of calling, who wants to bring their whole self into a larger context for the good of all parties involved, you strike gold. Such individuals see the world as a place they can make better and see your business as a vehicle for this driving passion. They inspire others – clients and other employees. They remind others why they got into this particular business in the first place.

How do you tell the three types apart? Listen for cues. If someone’s main questions hover around money, vacation policy, parking spaces and processes, it’s a jobber. If the questions center on org charts, responsibilities, and how decisions are made, you have a ladder climber. But occasionally someone comes in, takes a deep breath and asks systemic questions about why you are in business, how it helps customers, and what can be done to make it better.

Such people have a glint in their eyes, as if they have been struck by lightning, which says it all: drive, intelligence, a sense of collaboration, an inspired work ethic. When hiring, look for the lightning.

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Michael GraberMichael Graber is the cofounder and managing partner at Southern Growth Studio, a Memphis, Tennessee-based firm that specializes in growth strategy and innovation. A published poet and musician, Graber is the creative force that complements the analytical side of the house. He speaks and publishes frequently on best practices in design thinking, business strategy, and innovation and earned an MFA from the University of Memphis. Follow Michael @SouthernGrowth

Michael Graber




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