Hiring Leaders For What They Can Do, Not What They Have Done

Hiring leaders and managers is a very thorough and tedious process. And yet, many times organizations end up hiring incompetent leaders. This happens when companies assume that the skills and attributes that helped a candidate reach up to this point will continue to have the same effect in the future. So how can companies avoid this particular right leadership hiring faux pas? By actually screening candidates for good leadership qualities and not just judging their past successes and performance.

Filling a managerial or high-level executive position can be a tricky task. HR needs to have a solid plan and effective strategies for hiring leaders. The key motto needs to be ‘pick a leader, not a boss’. Here are a few great tips to make the process of hiring a good leader a smooth and successful one.

It is important to understand that a leader and a boss are not synonymous with each other. On one hand, where a boss can have you do something for him/her, a leader, on the other hand, can make you want to do the same for them. That is perhaps the biggest point of difference between the two types of managers. A boss who loves to “boss around”, ordering people to do tasks, setting unreasonable goals, not helping achieve them and blaming the team for not meeting deadlines, can bring about a steep decline in the employee’s morale and in turn affect productivity. Whereas, a leader, has the ability to motivate and guide his team to give their best, even helping them out and leading by example. Both bosses and leaders have the authority and power to make decisions and enforce them, but the way they do it is what sets them apart.

You might also be interested to read: Qualities to Look For When Hiring a Manager

Another important question that organizations and the HR need to ask before hiring a leader is whether the person possesses effective leadership skills to be a high-performing and value-adding contributor to the company. Any person’s leadership skills can be measured based on three things, we call them the ‘3 A’s of a good leader’ – their ambition, their abilities, and their affability. Of course, these aren’t the only scale of measurement, leaders also need to have high levels of integrity, empathy, a sense of responsibility, a positive attitude towards adaptability and the ability to deal with different personality types of their team members. The HR needs to come up with strategies that would help them gauge these attributes in a potential candidate to be hired in a managerial position in the organization.

Before hiring a person for a leadership role, companies must think about how reliable the candidate’s individual performance measures are. To this day, the direct line manager’s review is considered the most commonly acknowledged indicator of any employee’s performance. However, the rating or review by direct lube managers can sometimes be biased and unjust. Companies must, therefore, look towards other performance reviews such as peer-based, network-based, etc.

The best and most foolproof way to hire leaders for your organization is to think about the future of the company. Whether the candidate fits the bill right for the company’s future goals, how well would they be able to lead their teams through continuous complex situations that a rapidly growing company faces etc. Sometimes, exceptional past performance may not be enough of an indicator for guaranteed success in the future, so HR needs to be thinking forward and not backward.

You might also be interested to read: Importance Of Feedback And Constructive Criticism In Leadership Roles, And How You Can Make The Most Of It

Avoid getting trapped into the ‘culture fit or misfit’ conflict. Right leadership hiring best practices should always include, diversity of thought and out of the box thinking. In today’s technology-driven fast-changing world, companies require managers and leaders who can easily adapt to the constantly transformative nature of the businesses and technologies that surround them. This requires the hiring leaders to take risks and hire the misfits and give them an opportunity and support to prove their potential. Don’t think about whether the person will fit into your company culture but envision how the candidate can add value to your organization.

Qualities of a bad leader can sometimes be tricky to notice but a simple way of guessing that is by looking for a candidate’s intuitiveness and emotional intelligence. An efficient leader is one who is able to influence as well as actively help his team members to work hard towards achieving the team’s goals as well as personal benchmarks. A good leader must possess the crucial quality of intuition that comes in handy during decision making. Traits of effective leadership also include good emotional intelligence and trust in the team’s abilities, nurturing relationships, concentrating on the big picture and regularly regarding the employees for achieving short-term as well as long-term goals.

The tools that have been traditionally used to screen candidates when hiring are outdated and there is a rising need for newer models of success predictors like virtual simulators that put the candidates through different workplace challenges, specialized personal evaluation techniques, and cognitive tests etc. 

Filling leadership positions is a very crucial task and needs extra care. This is mainly because they act as driving forces for the company, their actions affect the entire organization and it’s future. Leadership candidates need to be able to demonstrate their ability to maneuver through sticky situations, foster a positive company culture, and achieve favorable results. Due to a shortage in the talent pool, sourcing such high-performing leaders is getting increasingly difficult.

It’s time to rethink leadership roles. The best piece of advice for companies looking to fill managerial positions is instead of choosing candidates with a history of successful projects, think about hiring candidates who possess the skills to take your company where you want it to be. In simple words, look for high potential, not high performance. This is the most surefire way of getting your company to thrive.


“Hire Leaders for What They Can Do, Not What They Have Done”, Josh Bersin, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, 27th August 2019

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