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The Twisted Interview Question This CEO Uses to Quiz Job Candidates on Work Ethic

This CEO might not hire you if he doesn’t agree with your answer.

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BY Betsy Mikel - 13 Jul 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

We've all had that oddball interview question. The one that's meant to catch us off guard and reveal something about our true character.

Don Mal, the CEO of Toronto-based software firm Vena Solutions, has a go-to question he likes to ask. He recently shared it with New York Times as part of their Corner Office series.

In interviews, Mal pops this question: Would you be willing to leave your family at Disneyland to do something that was really important for the company?

Think quick. How would you answer? Or more importantly, how do you think the boss wants you to answer?

"Some people have said no, and I haven't hired them," Mal says. He thinks the non-willingness to leave a family vacation displays poor work ethic. I think he's wrong. And it's not for the reasons you might think. Because ditching your family to go work means you're a workaholic? Sure. You could say that. But that's not the real problem I have with Mal's approach.

I think the willingness to leave your family to see to something work-related displays three very problematic problems with your leadership style: a failure to prepare, lack of confidence in your team and poor leading by example.

Failure to prepare

Just as planning the dream Disney vacation takes preparation, so does leaving your work for any period of time. Just throwing up an out of office reply isn't going to cut it, especially if you're in a position where you manage people or projects.

No one should duck out of work without putting processes in place to keep things running smoothly as possible while you're out. From making sure your colleagues are debriefed on what needs to happen while you're away to giving everyone a heads up that you'll be unreachable, it's your job to set -- and manage -- expectations in your absence.

Leaving a family vacation to tend to something work-related should not be necessary. It means you failed to prepare your team properly to cover for you while you were out.

Lack of confidence in your team

Whether someone is out of the office for three months of parental leave or taking a one-week vacation, often their work falls to other members of the team. Ideally, you'll have a rock-star team of colleagues who will chip in and help minimize disruption in your absence.

Everything might not be done exactly as you would have done it, but you should have confidence that they'll do their best. It's bad news if you have so little confidence in your team that you feel you need to ditch your family so you can swoop in and save the day.

If you don't trust your team to cover for you while you're on vacation, you've bigger problems. Either they really can't be trusted to do the work, meaning you've failed to recruit the right team and don't have strong support. Or, they don't want to help because they're not the helping kind. Then you've got some serious culture problems.

Even worse, the problem is you. Do you believe your work is so precious that no one else can touch it? Do you feel the need to micro-manage everything? So much so that you have to leave your vacation to do it?

A leader is only as strong as her team. If you can't put full confidence in your team's abilities, it might be time to reconsider who you hire or how much control you need to have over every little thing.

Poor leading by example

When you're in any position of leadership, people watch your every move. Even those who don't report directly to you are watching.

As much as you tell your employees that you respect their personal time and they don't need to cut their vacations short just because you do, nothing is more effective than leading by example. The old "actions speak louder than words" trope especially rings true in this situation.

And if people observe you never take full vacations, that sets a precedent. It says that you probably expect all other employees to follow suit.

Mal understands that his opinion on this topic is an unconventional one. He says he wouldn't ask the Disneyland question if he hadn't done it himself. Mal goes onto explain that to close the biggest deal of his company's history, he left his wife and kids at Disneyland for two days. He doesn't regret it. It advanced his career and made the company a lot of money (money that paid for the entire vacation, he adds).