Do Your IT Job Applicants Have Moral Courage?

IT hiring managers should ask probing questions to discern whether job candidates have the integrity to make unpopular-but-necessary decisions.

Most of us have physical courage, retired Marine Corps Col. Anthony Wood told a recent gathering of CIOs. "But there is another type of courage, one that in my experience is less common: moral courage.

My simple definition is doing or saying what is right or needed, knowing it could be unpopular or even damaging to you." He also made clear that moral courage includes a dose of human understanding.

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Wood knows something about courage: He led the U.S. evacuation of Saigon in 1975 (remember the pictures of helicopters on rooftops?). His lecture was, for me, one of those "Aha" moments. Everything we talk about today as key to being a good leader--accountability, integrity and conviction, balanced with empathy and humility--was summed up in those two words: moral courage.

As hiring managers, we tend to assume that the personable applicant before us will have all of those characteristics. But there's a danger that we'll fail to ask the probing questions that could confirm the candidate has those traits.

"I don't think people hold soft skills in high enough regard. They get too caught up trying to hire the biggest egghead in the store," says retired military officer Salvatore Abano, who is also senior vice president and global CIO for insurer Tower Group Companies.

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