Hiring Effective Leaders: Five Key Insights

In their search for a candidate for a particular leadership role, many companies try to find one who has acquired 100% of the hard skills in an organization of a similar size in the same sector. I have termed this “same to same hiring,” and it often doesn’t work. Even a candidate with a striking match of hard skills and sector experience may still fail in the role.

There’s a better way to do it.

From our experience conducting Executive Searches for high-performing leaders, we’ve defined five key insights that have changed the way our clients think about hiring for success:

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1. Be prepared to hire a candidate with 60% to 70% of the hard skills but no less than 90% of the interpersonal skills required for the role.

It may appear that the more completely a candidate’s hard skills match your requirements, the better the candidate fits the role. But in practice, employees seldom fall short of expectations because they lack hard skills. Most often they fail because they have poorly developed interpersonal skills. Also, the strongest performers want to learn. Learning keeps them motivated and challenged. And since the role will likely change and grow over time, any successful candidate will need to keep developing his or her hard skills.

These realities make it critical to hire individuals with a strong match of interpersonal skills who can learn and adapt. Since no one possesses all the interpersonal skills you ideally want, you have to determine in advance which ones are crucial and then find the candidate who best demonstrates those skills.

2. Be open to considering candidates from different sectors.

The common assumption is that an individual with experience in an organization of a similar size in the same sector should come to speed more quickly than someone from a different sector.

But organizations within the same sector operate in different ways. To succeed in your organization, the candidate needs to have the right motivation and to demonstrate the specific traits that the role and organization need. While a hire from the same sector may initially be preferred, in practice a hire from a different sector, with both relevant transferrable hard skills and the right mix of motivation and personality traits, may yield the best mix of experience and quality.

3. It’s not what candidates have done that matters, it’s how they’ve done it.

Candidates may have the experience you’re looking for, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re good at what they do or that they can work well with other people. In your interviews, you should ask candidates about their approach to their work and about how they work with others to achieve results. Their answers will give you important insights into whether their personality and leadership qualities meet your expectations.

4. Experienced candidates acquire leadership skills in different ways.

Most candidates come from a setting, structure and culture that’s very different from yours. Their achievements may seem, on the surface, to be unrelated to your setting, different terminology may describe the same function. Many candidates have worked in more than one organization, acquiring their transferrable skills from a combination of environments beyond their most recent job. To uncover and understand clearly what these individuals have to bring to the table, you need to dig below the surface and ask open-ended, revealing questions.

5. Hire individuals who are open to feedback.

No matter what their prior experience, new hires need to adapt to your organization. Over the longer term, they will need to continue adapting as your organization evolves and the role changes. To establish and maintain fit they will have to be open to feedback and flexible in the way they adapt to different ways of doing things.

For more on avoiding the pitfalls of “same to same hiring,” follow this link to my article Who Can Do the Best Job? For more on identifying the right set of personality traits for your upcoming hire, check out Hiring for Keeps and our upcoming seminar Hiring the Right Fit.

JW Associates specializes in Leadership Fit and offers both Executive Search and Management Consulting services. Call 416-363-6532 to set up a complimentary meeting to explore ways in which we can support your organization.

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