One of my tasks as a leader is to evaluate people. How good are they now, how good might they be, what would it take to bring out their potential?

I am interested in the organization achieving results. In a principled manner, yes, respectful of people, certainly. But it is performance that counts. Gender, race, national origin: I shouldn’t and don’t care about those. Can you do the job? Ivy League, state school, community college: What counts is what you learned, what you know, what you can do. Degrees and institutional status are not guarantors of quality, just indicators and often unreliable ones at that.

One of the most common human traits is to confuse comfort level with competence. We tend to hire after ourselves, select and promote those with whom we feel most at ease. This is how “old boy” or “old girl” networks are formed and perpetuated in an industry or organization.

Psychologists tell us we irrationally assume that taller people are more competent, that physically attractive people are more intelligent.

At times when evaluating or interviewing people I try imagine them as a glowing ball of light. I try to remove their physical appearance from the picture. How do I feel about them then? Among other things, it forces me to focus more on the words, to listen more closely. I also sometimes imagine them “transported” into other bodies, making a tall person short, a thin person heavy, an attractive person less so, or vice versa.

The goal is to stay focused on competence, and to be more competent and self-aware as a leader myself.