Summer Leadership Series: Personality Riddles

Shirk-145728-180x180Finding the “right” employee is one of the most difficult tasks for any company.  The new hire must have the technical skills and expertise to do the job. Of course, figuring out this part is a matter of having a well-crafted job description that identifies what the employer truly needs.

The much harder task is deciding whether the new hire will fit in well with the existing team members.  A technically skilled person is so much dross if she or he has a toxic personality that destroys team morale.  Here’s how one leader solved the personality riddle.

summer leadereship seriesIn World War II, U-boat captain Peter “Ali” Cremer was concerned about how new crew members would fit in with his existing crew. U-boats were claustrophobically tiny. Crew members shared bunks (one crewman slept while his bunkmate was on duty). There was no privacy, no exercise space, and no room to separate crewmen if a dispute arose. On top of these living conditions, U-boats took weeks-long patrols looking for Allied convoys and risking enemy attacks.

Bravery and technical skills were useless if a crewman was not willing or able to be a team player. Cremer knew that he needed men who were used to working as part of a team. So when Cremer looked at applicants for a place on his boat, he looked for men who had played team sports in school or college.  He knew that men who played team sports were used to functioning as part of a group. That made it easier for them to work in the close quarters of a U-boat. 

Cremer’s criteria worked. He’s the only U-boat captain that operated in the Atlantic Ocean for the entire war.  His crew losses were minimal. They ended the war as the military bodyguard for Rear Admiral Doenitz, last head of state for Nazi Germany.  By the way, Cremer had a fascinating family background. His mother was English, his father was German, and one set of grandparents was from Alsace-Lorrain.

For more information about Peter Cremer, check out his memoirs U-Boat Commander (1984). For an example of the U-boat service, see the movie “Das Boot”, based on Lothar-Gunther Buchheim’s book of the same name.

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