Hiring right is, at best, a 60-40 proposition. Even the most experienced bosses will tell you that finding the right person for a job is never easy. A candidate can look great on paper and in the interview but upon arrival just can't do the job or fit in with the team. It happens.

And when it does, effective bosses let the hire go. Sure, they may give him or her up to a year's time to improve, but if that doesn't occur, they ask the person to move on. Women bosses often wait longer. They tend to avoid confrontation and worry about the employee and her family, who depend on the paycheck, so they give the new hire more chances to get it right. They coach and cajole the employee more; they may even change the job's parameters to make it work. And in these efforts, they often impose upon the whole team to make up for the hole in the system.

Basically, women bosses try to minimize hiring mistakes rather than eliminate them. Again, men fall into this trap, but women more so. One possible reason is lack of self-confidence, because self-confidence is what you need to publicly admit a mistake and fire someone. And where does self-confidence come from? Well, surely some of it is inborn. Some of it comes from life experiences, like school and sports. But at work, much of it comes from the organization's degree of trust in you. And women, particularly early in their careers, perceive less of that coming from above, sideways, and below. No wonder they can be reluctant to come out and say they've screwed up. People, they worry, will just trust them less.

Ironically, the opposite is true. Few hiring mistakes are a secret, and a leader's reputation in an organization only improves when she has the insight and guts to face a problem and fix it quickly. As one woman boss told us in Phoenix, "I held on to an incompetent marketing director for about a year too long, and it wore me out." His lack of ability, she said, also drove the rest of the team crazy, albeit out of her earshot. The day she finally asked him to look for another job, she told me, "I felt sick to my stomach—scared witless I was going to get reprimanded for hiring him and not being able to make it work."

Instead, the incident passed without comment from anyone upstairs until a week later when she bumped into an executive in the elevator. "Why did you wait so long?" he asked her.


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