Do I Hire the Worker I Want Today or the Leader I Need Tomorrow?

By Kevin O’Connor

You promoted your best salesperson to manage a sales team. Within one year, half the team resigned and now work for competitors. Sales are crashing. OUCH!  Why didn’t the strong performance in the previous role translate well to leading others?

Traditional interviewing is focused on skills and performance history.  When leadership is what you need, how should you adjust your selection process to capture the leadership potential of candidates?  Answer:  Make it a behavioral interview.

Improve the interview process

Consider using the STARR technique of asking behavioral questions during the interview.  This technique reveals not only how the candidate gets the job done and solves problems, but more importantly how they get these things done through others.

  1. Situation – Challenge or situation
  2. Task/Target – Ask for the task asked of the candidate or the target the candidate set for themselves
  3. Action – What did the candidate do? Look for the what, why, and the alternatives considered.
  4. Result – What was the outcome of the candidate’s actions versus the objectives?
  5. Reflect – Ask what they learned and how they would act differently if a similar situation occurred and why. Listen closely. Is the candidate humble and admitting room for improvement or blaming someone else or something external? Blaming others or uncontrollable factors is a RED flag for accountability.*

Build a consistent set of behavioral questions that measure both the talent needs of the position and the needs of the manager. Planning your STARR formatted questions to reveal attitude, accountability, and past success should likely also uncover their history of leadership and affecting change, ability to mentor and empower others, and aptitude to work with people of diverse backgrounds and communication styles. If you must ask many follow-up questions to gain specific details missing from their answers, consider that another red flag.

Match leadership skills to the environment and culture of the company

A company with a strong team of department directors needs a leader who is open to conflicting ideas, who can build consensus, and who can delegate. Another company with a flatter organizational structure may need a leader who can analyze data quickly and make decisions with less input and buy-in from directors. Cultural fit can be evaluated with questions asking to describe ideal culture characteristics, preferred coworker traits, and preferred ways to be managed.

Use behavioral assessment tools

These tools identify leadership skills and tendencies that affect the candidate’s fit in different environments by measuring:

  1. Communication style
  2. Task vs. people orientation
  3. Collaborative versus dictatorial leadership tendencies
  4. Conformity to procedures and processes
  5. Pace of work
  6. Creativity to solve problems
  7. Energy level to perform and overcome obstacles
  8. Logic style used to make complex decisions
  9. Backup styles used when drained of energy

Is there a time when a company should select the most skilled person for a job role with less emphasis on leadership capabilities? Sure. Just keep in mind as companies grow from 10 to 100 to 1,000+ employees, more and more of the future success of those companies is dependent on the leaders who are delegated with the responsibility to execute and evolve the company vision through constantly changing environments.

With forethought in your interview process to select for both success attributes of the current role and future leadership capabilities, companies can maximize the current and future ROI of their personnel selections. For help finding a leader for your team, contact the expert consultants at Ag 1 Source.

* From The Elements of Success in The Best Team Wins by Adam Robinson.