Hiring a Leader

Several months ago, I served on a committee that worked on finding a replacement for my boss.  It was an eye-opening experience.  I have served on these committees before and I have certainly hired people before, but I have never participated in hiring someone above me on the proverbial food chain. 

When hiring an employee, there are the usual skill and education requirements for the position.  But these requirements are more tactical, allowing you to assess whether or not the candidate can perform the necessary job duties.  Additionally, you might look for a certain fit within the organization or additional abilities that may allow him/her to grow with the job. Yet, it is somehow easier to quantify the potential for success based on specific questions and assessments for these positions.

But how do you assess candidates when what you are seeking is a leader?  How can you quantify skills and abilities of candidates to assess their ability to move an organization forward?  Can you judge candidates on their ability to communicate vision, empower teams and support collaboration?  Trust me folks, it’s harder than it sounds.

I think it is easier when there are challenges within the organization and you need someone to come in and fix things.  Then, you have a basis for measuring the qualities for potential candidates, even if it is only a history of being able to fix things in other organizations.  But when a department, division or company is doing well, then at the very least what you want is someone who won’t mess it up! 

At the most, you want someone who can continue your success and find new opportunities for growth.  And that is where you find the challenge.  Not only do you begin assessing skill sets and experience levels, but you also begin assessing personality, charisma and presentation.  During this process, conversations quickly focused around a candidate’s fit within the organization, the ability to work and support staff, and the ability to build relationships and collaborations. 

Personality and enthusiasm and warmth became hot topics.  It was no longer an issue of whether or not a candidate could do the job, but could he do it well enough and within the culture we had created.  A critical checkpoint was the reaction of all staff.  The committee recognized that for a candidate to succeed as a leader, she or he would need immediate buy-in and support from staff.  Without it, s/he wouldn’t have a chance.

Again, I’ve learned an enormous amount through this process – not only what it takes to lead but also how leaders are assessed.  While competent and capable may be enough when you are hiring an employee, they fall short when hiring a leader.  There is no magic litmus test and my guess is that if there were, it would be different for every organization. 

I never would have thought this, but actually, one of the hardest questions I’ve ever been asked is, “who would you want to work for?”  If you don’t believe me, try answering it yourself.


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