Employers often hire with an eye towards those who have potential to move into management. That is an important consideration, but I don’t think it aims high enough.
I strongly recommend you hire individuals who are potential leaders.
Not everyone who can and will someday lead necessarily wants to be a manager. The title and responsibilities of management may or may not be important to your employees. Leaders with or without a title are interested in exerting a positive influence within their organizations. Making a difference is more important to them than simply having a title.
In my book, You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader: How Anyone, Anywhere Can Make a Positive Difference, I quote Philip of Macedonia (father of Alexander the Great) who said, “An army of deer lead by a lion is more to be feared than an army of lions lead by a deer.” His insight is valuable but he misses the bigger point: an army of lions lead by a lion is to be feared most of all.
Why not recruit and hire an army of lions? Think of the competitive advantage of having not just good formal leadership at the top of your organization, but leaders at every level. An army of lions is an organization where everyone knows two things: first, when is it appropriate for me to lead in my role? And secondly, how do I do it?
But before you can help them answer those questions, you must first find the lions. Here are some ways to do it:
Here are some important guidelines to use when looking for potential leaders, for “diamonds in the rough;”
Look for people who are as interested in making a difference as they are in making money. Unless you’re interviewing someone for a volunteer position, they expect to be paid. While pay should be fair, it is an incomplete motivator for a job candidate with leadership potential. Potential leaders want to do work that matters. It isn’t unusual to find people pursuing success; leaders also pursue significance. Look for the latter.
Find those who have proven that they have power with people and they’ll be able to get results even if they never have power over people. The ability to positively influence others is essential for a leader. If someone can’t get results with others without a title, then the only way they’ll get results with people once they have a title is through compliance. Leaders have the ability to create commitment in others.
Identify those that are interested in what they learn as well as what they earn. If you read my work, you’ve seen me write this before. The redundancy is for emphasis: the only two ways to grow any organization are to grow yourself and grow your people. Employees who are growth resistant won’t develop into leaders, nor will they be able to encourage and assist others in growing.
Potential leaders are looking for more than perks and benefits; they’re looking for opportunities. Desired benefits should be more than economic. Getting to learn new things, develop new skills, be challenged, participate in a variety of experiences and explore one’s potential are usually the type of benefits that rev-up potential leaders.
Beware any employee that hides behind taking action. Leaders take responsibility. Taking action doesn’t always solve problems, but taking responsibility does. It is easy to hide behind the right actions rather than to extend oneself and take ownership for outcomes.
Spend time inquiring into the candidate’s desired legacy, and not just their stated resume. Any hire has long term consequences for both employer and employee regardless of the employee’s tenure. Understanding a candidate’s values can be complex, but valuable insights come from finding out what his or her end-game is. Younger employees might not be thinking about their legacies, but they should be. Leaders have the ability to combine short- and long-term thinking, and their sense of purpose ultimately relates to the legacy they want leave.
Here are some specific questions to help you in your search:
- When you leave a company, what do you want to be remembered for?
One’s legacy isn’t just about how they’re remembered after they pass from this life. A legacy can be organizational as well; it is about what contribution of significance an individual has made at their place of employment. These mini or short-term legacies cumulatively determine our career legacies.
- What problems and opportunities do you believe we face in this business?
Did they do their homework and learn about the industry or sector you’re in? Are they a big-picture thinker or a little-picture thinker?
- What’s the most important thing you’ve learned so far?
Are they conscious learners? The only way someone could make it far enough in life to interview without having learned something in the process is if they were completely and totally unaware. Reflection is a critical leadership skill.
- What’s the most important thing you’ve been able to teach someone else?
Leaders are learners and teachers. They spread the wealth of knowledge, not out of cockiness but a sincere commitment to support others in their growth.
- Would you rather be famous or great?
Do they know the difference between the two? Do you? Fame is based on the recognition you get; greatness is based on the contribution you make.
- Why do you get up in the morning?
Informal surveys I’ve done over the years indicated people typically get out of bed because of a vague sense of obligation—“Because I have to.” Leaders look at work and life, by and large, as opportunity. They enjoy what they do. Einstein said, “Love is a better master than duty.”
- At the end of the day, how do you evaluate your work?
Many confuse activity with accomplishment, and organizations mistakenly reward the former. It makes little difference how busy you are if you aren’t accomplishing things of significance for your employer and your customer. Leaders focus on accomplishment.
- How do you influence others?
Impressing people is a head game and it changes what others think. Influencing people is a behavior game and it changes what they do. This question can provide insight into the candidate’s understanding of human relations and collaboration skills.
- What’s an accomplishment of a team you were part of that you are proud of and how did the team achieve it?
Potential leaders are also good team members. They understand the importance of contribution, even when they aren’t the lead dog. Beware the individual who presents him or herself like the Lone Ranger.
- How do you define leadership?
This is an obvious but often overlooked question. Has the candidate thought enough about leadership to have a personal definition? Will their definition be congruent and compatible with your organization’s culture?
Depending on the position you’re hiring for, it is likely that you will encounter candidates that are already proven leaders. Even those people need to understand that the leadership process is ongoing, that no matter how good they’ve become, they can still become better. Therefore proven leaders and potential leaders you hire have something in common: an ongoing investment on your part in their development will benefit both them and you, and will enable you to build an army of lions.