I think we get something wrong when we hire leaders. Often we look for skill set only. What has the leader done at other companies and what could he/she do at this company? We focus on experience, expertise and abilities. While this makes total sense, we are missing one large component of successful leaders.
I bet you have been in an environment where an amazing experienced leader is hired. Maybe it was the CEO or a more front line level. This person came with industry experience and probably had a record of very high performance. They come in, hit the ground running and immediately alienate everyone on the team. They are performing but employees can not stand them or stand working for them.
I get that leaders need to have skill. I understand the need, especially at the top leadership levels, for extensive experience in an industry or trade. Where I think we miss the boat is in forgetting about assessing leadership style and whether it is a good fit for the overall team.
A leader can be the best at what they do, but if no one follows them, they will not get far. If they can not rally the troops to march in the direction of the mission, then all of that experience will be wasted.
In order to assess leadership style you have to first know what type of leader would fit best with the current team. Then you can ask some very simple questions that drive answers geared towards how the candidate’s style will fit, or not fit, the current employees.
I tend to gravitate towards questions that involve leading change as I think these times make or break leaders. Here are a few questions I often ask.
The company is reorganizing. How do you communicate this to your team?
Can you give me an example of a time when you were able to get people on board to an initiative they were originally opposed to?
Can you give me an example of a time when you allowed someone else to assume the leadership role on a project or initiative?
There are tons of other ways you could get to leadership style but I find these three questions often give me great insight into how the leader works, not just what he can do.
So then the question becomes, if you come across a leader with the right experience, the right skill set and the absolute ability to do the work, but who’s leadership style is probably not going to mesh well with the crowd, what do you do? Do you hire them anyway?
In my opinion, if you do that you are making a big mistake.
This is where companies get stuck. This is where culture and employee engagement trump in the hiring process or take a back seat. Does it prolong the recruiting process to continue looking for that person who has both the experience and the leadership style. Of course it does, but a good recruiter will be able to flesh one out for you pretty quickly.
Here’s what it does though that is more important. It tells your current employees that you care about not only what gets done, but how it gets done. The manner in which your leaders lead is important to you because your employees are important to you. That’s huge!
That isn’t to say that people won’t work for leaders whose style does not necessarily mesh with theirs, they will. Steve Jobs and the entire Apple enterprise is proof of that with all of the reports of Steve’s unpopular style. However, leaders like Steve work in companies like Apple. If you have the product and are giving people the opportunity to work for a company like Apple, then they may forgive harsh leaders. If you don’t, they won’t.
For most of us, style matters. Style can be a difference maker from forcing people to do the work to simply sitting back and watching them go on their own.
Next time you are hiring a leader, think about style and fit as well as experience. You may find that finding the dynamic between the two impacts your business in ways you never imagined possible.