Looking for Leaders by Jim Johnson


There comes a time in every organization where a leadership position opens up. Think about the last time this happened at your company. What typically takes place?

* Positioning – folks start (figuratively) body-checking others to get in front of the “look-at-me” line.
* Prospecting – the hiring manager begins to get emails, phone calls, or sudden visits from those posting for the open position. Their conversation usually begins with, “so what do you think…?”
* Postulating – other leaders bring you “the ideal candidate” that you, the hiring manager, should hire. “They are the perfect fit”.

So how do you, the person responsible for hiring the next leader in your area, navigate through these precarious waters?

1. Prepare. What are the needed characteristics of this leader? What was lacking in the last leader? What does the team really need? How will this leader “fit” with the other leaders on your team? Am I comfortable hiring someone who has strengths where I don’t (I hope so!)?Write it out.

2. Observe. If you’re hiring from within, discover who is already leading? I’ve seen many organizations force a leadership position on a person who was not ready or who did not have the necessary skills or reputation as a leader.

Years ago, I was attending a large church where they were looking for new elders (church board). The pastor was focused on filling the open positions with doctors, lawyers, or other “respectable” professionals. I asked why these positions were important? The response pointed to the positive appearance this would bring to the church.

I asked this question to the pastor, “who – right now – is ‘eldering’ (I know that’s not a word)? Who is seen as a leader? Who is doing the job of an elder just because it’s in their nature – it’s what they are gifted to do?” I was ignored. I then suggested a man I had observed. “What about Rick? He leads a small group. He’s active in the community. He has a real heart for the people of this church. Others go to him for counsel and respect his opinion. He is a staunch promoter of our church.”

“No, not him. He works at the GM plant.” And with that, the die was cast. An attorney, a CEO, or some other corporate “eye-candy” was selected (not a bad man, please understand) for the open positions.

If you’re looking for leaders – and I repeat – who is already leading? Who does the staff seek out for guidance? Who builds up the team? Who is getting results and is sharing with their team mates how they can do the same? Who is volunteering time to do the extra things? Who is respected outside of your department? Take time to truly observe your team.

3. Interview. Write out your questions in advance based upon the needs of this position. Always, always, always ask open-ended questions. “Tell me about a time when you…” vs. “Can you do this job?”

Read the application/resume. Question items listed there. Ask for details, examples, stories. If they embellished on their resume, will you be able to trust them to lead others? Don’t overlook this.

Take notes during the interview. You will not remember everything said. Your notes will come in handy if you are blessed with the tough decision between 2 or more great candidates.

4. Selection. Once you’ve made your decision, take the time – if allowed – to follow up on those you said “no” to. This can be a great learning experience for them. Be honest why you selected someone else. Share with them their positive traits and then what they can work on. Bring value to them by helping them in their next career step.

Finding your next leader can be a great experience. You’ll learn a lot about yourself. You’ll learn a lot about people.

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