hiring the right leaders
Inside The Office Management

Hiring The Right Players: Find Leaders for Your Team

Last weekend, my hometown of Detroit had the honor of hosting the NFL Draft. I subsequently learned that this is a huge marketing event centered around hiring 257 of the best college football players for the National Football League. All 32 clubs had an assigned order to make one “pick” in each of the seven rounds.

The picks were the result of careful consideration of the pro teams on (1) their strengths and weaknesses, (2) the positions they needed to fill and (3) the performance of the top college football players, along with their personal styles, to determine which ones would be the right fit. Often, for the top picks, the player and teams already had conversations so that clubs understood whether the player was interested in being on that team. In that context, it was a two-way street.

Right players vs. right leaders

Hiring athletes and C-suite leaders are similar in both the size of the contract and the selection’s impact on achieving the goal of winning. Staffing the C-suite with the right people is one of the biggest decisions a CEO will make. Just like how incomplete passes, turnovers and failed plays add up, costly and ineffective strategies, failure to communicate and collaborate can cause serious problems. Every organization needs leaders who can come in and quickly understand the organization’s past, learn the present environment and develop an effective plan for the future. The challenge is exercising patience and diligence in the selection process to hire the right players, being clear about what and who you need.

WHAT you need

When filling leadership roles, dedicate more time and attention to clearly defining the role. What are the deliverables? What are the present and future challenges? What’s the competitive environment? What are the workforce concerns? How is the industry impacted by global (and generally uncontrollable) forces? What are the trends in this functional area? For example, these days, the proper application of artificial intelligence must be a consideration in every senior role.

While this list may be long and complex, without these considerations, there’s a greater risk of making the wrong decision. And CEOs hiring direct reports should engage the thought leadership of board members and other C-suite members when making a decision.

The careful prioritization of these needs becomes the basis for the position description. No two chief financial officer or chief marketing officer roles are the same. Ensure everyone understands which capabilities and experiences are a “must have” vs. a “nice to have.” This is also the time to identify the personality characteristics that will best mesh with your team and help them handle the challenges ahead.

WHO you need

Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many mid-size and small firms conduct their own search for leadership candidates – with mediocre results. Instead, try casting a wide yet targeted net, particularly for the most important roles in your business. Once you’ve identified candidates who meet the basic requirements, the truly hard work begins. No one is a perfect fit.

Research has shown that what gets leaders in trouble the most is the questions they don’t ask. You won’t find these questions in a formal interview guide, and they don’t always come up in natural conversation. That’s why engaging others in the interview process and inviting them to focus on specific types of questions is helpful.

Here are some key questions to help you focus.

  • Study the past – Learn about the candidate’s career journey and how they came to hold different roles. Was it chance opportunity or a strategic move? Which roles did and didn’t work well for them, and why? What’s their level of self-awareness? What strategies do they employ to offset their known weaknesses?
  • Understand the present – How does the current role fit into their career goals? What strengths align with your needs? How will they fit in with the current team? How do they problem-solve? What are the most interesting parts of the role to them? How do they manage transitions and drive change? How do they execute?
  • Explore the future – How will they meet the coming business and functional challenges? What will be the biggest obstacles to their success? Where do they see the business some years from now?

Ultimately, ensure your interview team includes people with broad expertise to ask smarter questions. And don’t rush the process. Instead of selecting a mediocre candidate, it’s better to appoint an interim leader or wait until you find the right candidate. External pressures to make a decision are generally not more important than the need to make the right decision. Gaining deep insights about your candidates – and asking the right questions – will lead you to hiring the right leaders.

Read The Art of Hiring: When to Start and How to Begin for more on hiring your first employee.

About the author

Priscilla Archangel

Priscilla Archangel, Ph.D. is a seasoned leadership consultant, executive coach, author, speaker, and teacher. She has a passion for developing leaders, and motivating individuals and organizations to align their values, behaviors and goals with their purpose. Visit priscillaarchangel.com.

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