Now that the initial puzzled excitement over Jim Yong Kim’s abrupt resignation and short notice has abated, and the fun speculating over replacements has passed, the tough work of selecting a suitable successor must begin.
Civil society and journalists can gossip about why and why now, and question whether his rumored $20mn signing bonus is appropriate for a man without any skills or experience in infrastructure, investment, or private equity. Fine, but that’s not as important as finding someone excellent to head up the Bank Group starting this spring less than two years after he was given an undeserved second term.
Governments, I hope, are looking at suitable candidates—women and men—for these challenging, anti-multilateralism times, and civil society is watching. So are World Bank Group staff.
But first things first: let’s flesh out the criteria that the Bank’s Board of Executive Directors have announced for a transparent, open, and merit-based appointment. Yes, we’ve heard that before, and as Lant Pritchett famously observed in 2017 when Dr Kim was reanointed, “this time is last time’s next time.” Will we be fooled and disappointed again?
It’s all well and good to announce that candidates should be committed to the implementation of the Forward Look word salad, and the capital package agreement as articulated at US insistence in the Sustainable Financing for Sustainable Development Paper. Candidates, the Board announced, should (not ‘must’) meet the following five criteria:
- a proven track record of leadership;
- experience of managing large organizations with international exposure, and a familiarity with the public sector;
- the ability to articulate a clear vision of the World Bank Group’s development mission;
- a firm commitment to and appreciation for multilateral cooperation; and,
- effective and diplomatic communication skills, impartiality and objectivity in the performance of the responsibilities of the position.
What do these mean?
If the Executive Directors were to conduct a proper search, assisted by an executive search firm, the headhunters would need to understand what each of these criteria meant. They’d also need to sit through any interviews to keep the interview panel honest, and to share anything their reference checking uncovered that might not be part of the ‘public record’ of a senior, fifty-something executive who sought the job or came credibly recommended.
All of us who’ve hired staff (I interviewed candidates for the Bank’s Young Professionals Program from 1993 to 2012, with some success) or written performance evaluations knows that these headline criteria normally have anchors, benchmarks, examples of what each means, and what ‘meets’, ‘highly meets’ and ‘does not meet’ mean. This effort should not be a ‘check-the-box’ effort against these five stylized criteria.
On the contrary, we should all know how high the bar is, and how it’s being set. Let’s show some initiative and say, publicly, how it ought to be set, and how they’re applied in a transparent and merit-based way.
So let me take a stab at these criteria, one by one, to get the conversation started.
“A proven track record of leadership” evokes the long list of management theory, history, individual merit and flaws, corporate success and malfeasance, current events, and even fiction.
The successful candidate should be able to point to solid, sustainable results achieved the right way. A leader inspires a team, and holds it to high standards. Her or his own behavior is beyond reproach, and meets the 60 Minutes or Washington Post test. As Bankwatchers well know, tone at the top inspires good—or bad—behavior, including harassment, bullying, imperiousness and autocracy, as well as vision, ambition, drive, and empathy. A leader makes tough decisions, and sees they’re implemented. A leader tells the truth to stakeholders, and remains open to opposing views and to changing her or his mind, publicly if necessary. A leader can give examples of times when this happened, unvarnished by corporate PR assistance.
The Board should seek evidence on all these aspects of leadership, and in a public setting let the candidates make their case that they truly are ‘a leader’.