Is it better to hire skills or character? Is it better to hire knowledge or vision? Is it better to hire experience or attitude? We could find a dozen or more similar paradoxes—then mix them up to make more! The core issue is what should we look for when hiring leaders. That’s the question I’ve been exploring for the past three weeks. In this final installment, I’m going to make an argument for some factors that I think are most important.
Revisiting Parts I, II, and III
A few weeks ago, a client asked me, “What are the key things I should know about people before they start working for me?” I pondered that question in Part I of this series. The essence of the answer lies in the philosophy you hold for selecting people. I know a man who hires people whom he knows he can manipulate into submission. That’s a dysfunctional philosophy that I doubt any of my readers hold to. Rather, it is my belief that you want people on your team who are a good fit for the organization—people who are ready to run as soon as they arrive. I call these the “80%-ers” because they are 80% of what you need on day one of employment with you. The other 20% can be developed later.
So what should you look for to identify the 80%-ers? In Part II of this series I examined assessment dimensions that are “softer.” I explained the importance of knowing a candidate’s personal values, character, chemistry, and wisdom. In contrast to the softer dimensions, in Part III, I examined more quantifiable aspects. These included:
- strengths and talents,
- personality type,
- relational style,
- emotional intelligence,
- motivated role,
- leadership practices and behaviors,
- and others.
As you can see, there are many ways to assess a candidate’s fit for your organization. This all might seem overwhelming, but your best strategy for assessing candidates will become more clear as you develop greater understanding of what you are looking for.
Know Your Organization First
Years ago, I worked with an organization looking for a new president. The first task of the search team was to build a comprehensive profile of the organization. We needed to have absolute clarity in our minds what the culture of the organization was, what the current issues and challenges were, what potential the organization had, and where we believed the organization was headed. We committed ourselves to complete honesty in this task, so the ugly truths were put on the table, too.
After a few weeks of this research and profiling work, we had a very clear picture of the organization that the new president would be leading. If we didn’t have clarity on this, how could we be certain we were determining the appropriate fit of any given candidate? In this process, it also became more clear what we needed to assess in the candidates. That is, we developed a sense of the relative importance of each of the assessment options. For example, we had answers to whether we should assess certain competencies or the relational styles of the candidates. We had answers to whether we should look at industry certifications versus field experience. Without a comprehensive profile of the organization, we could have wasted tremendous time arguing over these points, and not being confident in our decisions.
So, the answer to this question, “What are the key things I should know about people before they start working for me?” is really “You first need to fully understand your organization.” With a clear profile of your organization you will better understand what you should look for in leadership candidates.
Profiling the Candidates
Since every organizational profile is different, I can’t possibly present a formula for assessing leadership candidates that will work in all settings. (I suppose that’s one thing that keeps us consultants in business!) However, I am going to make an argument for the most important thing you must know about your candidates, along with a few other helpful items.
I’m going to stick my neck out and say that the level of emotional intelligence in your candidates is the most important thing you need to know. More than competencies, skills, strengths, or any other dimension, whether a person makes it or not in your organization, and whether or not they actually move your organization forward, may depend on their emotional intelligence.
One definition of emotional intelligence is that it is a set of “interrelated emotional and social competencies, skills and facilitators that determine how well we understand and express ourselves, understand others and relate with them, and cope with daily demands, challenges and pressures.”1 Take a moment to read that definition again, then ask yourself if you know people who are poor at understanding and relating with others, and coping with daily challenges. Sure you do. Do you want them on your leadership team? No, frankly, you don’t. These people have low emotional intelligence. They have the potential to drag down teams, departments, and entire organizations in the messes they experience and create.
Conversely, people with high emotional intelligence are adept at dealing with a wide variety of people and challenges in many settings. You probably don’t know as many of these folks, but they are the ones you can always count on in a tough situation. They stay cool and point the way to good strategies and solutions. The people with high emotional intelligence are the ones who will elevate others and the organization as well.
(Emotional intelligence can be measured in many different ways. There are different tools for different settings. Contact me if you want guidance on this. I am certified on the Bar-On EQ-i and EQ-360 tools, but I can point you to other resources that fit your needs.)
Preferred Relational Style
While I believe emotional intelligence is the most important thing to assess in your candidates, you should also get a strong picture of their preferred relational style. I unpacked this a bit more in Part III. The quick summary, though, is that you want to understand the habits and preferences your candidates have for how much they include others in their lives and want to be included, how much they control others and want to be controlled, and how open they are with others and want others to be open with them.
This may all be a bit confusing at first, but it helps to think of this as essentially how well your candidate “clicks” with others. (To understand that, you’ll need to assess your existing people on this dimension, too.) For example, if the team this person will lead has several people who get along well and do lots of social things, outside of work, together, they probably have a high need for inclusion. If you want your new team leader to be a part of this social dynamic, then it would be prudent to hire someone who also has a high need for inclusion.
After you identify candidates with high emotional intelligence, their relational style compatibility with the existing team members will help you understand how well this person will fit in. (Preferred relational style can be measured with the FIRO-B Element B assessment tool. Contact me for more information. I am a certified administer of this assessment.)
Finally, it is important to assess the personal values of your leadership candidates. I considered putting this ahead of emotional intelligence, but in practicality, for leadership positions, organizations tend to attract people with compatible values. Often candidates are referred by current employees and they are unlikely to recommend people with incompatible values.
Yes, values are important and you should seek to identify the values of your candidates. However, the problem of values compatibility often takes care of itself in the interviewing and vetting process. In fact, I have known several candidates who de-selected themselves during interviews because they realized there was a values incompatibility.
Don’t forget that the most important thing you can do in finding the 80%-ers for your organization is to have absolute clarity on the organization itself. Have a clear and comprehensive profile of who you are. This will give you increased confidence in the process of finding your 80%-ers. After that, start with measuring emotional intelligence and ask your assessment specialist help you understand how that person’s profile fits (or doesn’t) in your organization. Beyond this, your organizational profile will help you understand what you should assess.
What do you think? Is this a good strategy for finding leaders who are an 80% match on day one? If not, how would you go about it?
1: Definition from Reuven Bar-On. Found at http://reuvenbaron.org/wp/?page_id=37