There they are again…those clichéd words in ALL their glory. Yep, it’s almost a guarantee…centered somewhere underneath work experience on 80% of the 10,000 resumes you receive per job posting is some version of the keyword “leadership.” And on the other side of the resume is someone trying to convince you their fancy title in some student organization, their contributions to their work, or their efforts in a professional association is, by dictionary terms, the definition of “leadership.” And some of them use impressive words and action-oriented statements to convince you to give them a chance by dedicating even more of your time in an interview.
The truth is, “Leadership” has been the magic, hot word of the past decade…and it’s not going away. More and more people are adding leadership to their resume because of its general appeal to employers, therefore saturating the marketability of this word…how follower-like of them!
So you got suckered into sitting down with them and asking the perennially popular behavioral question “tell me about a time when you successfully led a team,” only to learn through their answer that they did all the work themselves, micro-managed the whole process, and/or delegated all the work to others. Even better, it is the only example they can provide if given another leadership-oriented question. You could have sworn you listed “5 years of leadership experience” in the posting!
The truth is, most people identify themselves as leaders but, in the end, all they really know is how to manage. Anyone can manage (but not always manage well)…very few can truly lead. Leadership is about motivating and making those around you better. Leadership is beyond getting the job done and done well…it’s about engaging the heart and mind, and it can take place at any level within the organization—from the front line employee with direct contact to the customer to the President and CEO.
To find a true leader to join your organization, it is prudent to look beyond the bullet points. Considering the following when seeking the ideal candidate can help increase your chances of finding the diamond in the rough:
Know what type of leader you want to hire
There are thought, servant, transactional, intentional, transformational, tribal, situational, and collaborative leaders—to name a few. It’s enough to make your head hurt (you may in fact need a leader just to keep all the other leaders in check). Entering a conversation with this in mind can help you detect the traits and characteristics of the leader you want from the hire who just happens to be overly charismatic.
When asking for references, request people who are colleagues or direct reports (or preferably, both)
The common practice is to ask for a supervisor as a reference. However, a colleague or a direct report can provide just as valuable a recommendation for—as well as vital information on—a candidate, and often presents such information in a non-political nature. To get a perspective from all levels showcases how people lead. It could be your own version of a 360 degree assessment.
Notice the level of involvement
If your candidate is participating in professional associations, how are they contributing? How would you even know? Well, if sourcing is part of your job, you can often determine how much they provide advice and contribute to discussion boards. Are their contributions merely reactionary or are they adding thought and value to the conversations? Also, how many LinkedIn connections/Twitter followers/Facebook friends do they have? Do these acquaintances come from multiple disciplines? This is often an indication of their ability to speak different languages and connect with others.
Consider more pointed leadership interview questions
Instead of asking for one example when someone was a leader of a group, ask for three. Inquire about the candidate’s leadership philosophy and how they incorporate it into the workplace. Ask them what three characteristics they look for in a leader, and then, once they give their answer, tell them to expand on how they use all three qualities in their surroundings.
From research to questions to references, there are many strategies you can use to determine if the candidate is the right leader for your organization—the difference could be as dramatic as finding Mohatma Gandhi as opposed to the Boss-From-Hell.