Her photo was plastered on the cover of the most-respected business magazines in the country.
“The Next Steve Jobs,” Inc. declared.
“This CEO Is Out For Blood,” Fortune Magazine stated.
“The Freshman,” Forbes’ headline read with a dramatic black-and-white picture to accompany.
But last week, Elizabeth Holmes, the former Theranos CEO who drew those comparisons to Jobs and other transformative executives of generations’ past, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for defrauding investors over her blood-testing company’s faulty technology and business dealings.
Why does this matter? Why should we as coaches, executives and teachers possibly care about the sentencing of someone we may have never even heard of?
While the Theranos story certainly has lessons in serious amorality, the most relevant takeaway for us might be what happens when we make rash assumptions and jump to conclusions without properly vetting a candidate.
As leaders, we often like to be ahead of the curve. We spot a gifted prospect at a tournament and immediately offer him/her a scholarship before the competition can. We make a recent college graduate a job offer after a few weeks because we're wowed by her early work. We dismiss the intern’s arrogance because he's really good at what he does and could make a big difference.
But there’s another key question we may want to ask ourselves when we find something appealing: What could I be missing here and what are the hidden risks?
Holmes’ company had major problems from the onset. Its machines that were supposed to perform over 1,000 health tests with a finger prick overwhelmingly didn’t work — and she herself often struggled to explain the exact science behind them.
But in part because she looked the part of a powerful CEO and commanded respect with her deep voice and a bit of charisma, the media, investors and the general public overwhelmingly glossed over the shortcomings of her product to get ahead of the competition.
The lesson for us as leaders isn’t to necessary become cynical of it all or to voice doubts about anything we encounter.
But we can do a ton of damage to our organizations without failing to extensively vet the character, skills and credentials of prospects.
Sometimes, what appears too good to be true really is.