Archive for June 2010

Completing the Leadership Assessment

June 29, 2010

As with all interviews, and particularly interviews of this type, the key is to get to know the candidate. Therefore, as the interviewer, you must be engaging and energetic. Yet, you must also be a good listener.

Always take notes during the interview. It will allow you to “mentally record” the candidate’s responses and then review the comments as a collective conversation to give you a broader perspective of the candidate’s philosophies. Look for consistencies as much as you look for inconsistencies. At this level of experience, past performance is truly indicative of future performance.

Taking notes also help to prevent blurring the candidates. Often, candidates share similar philosophies in certain areas. Remember, though, that it is the total package that you are engaging, so the intersection and amalgam of a candidate’s management philosophies are critical to your assessment.

So in the end, what was the value of the leadership profile assessment? After all I was not familiar with the company and its needs other than a cursory understanding.

There were several values.

Because, I was not attached to the outcome of the interviews and would not have to contemplate working with the winning candidate on a daily basis, I was able to retain objectivity more easily.  I found this liberating as it allowed me to assess leadership styles more openly.

Second, the context of my assessment could be a little less traditional. I was able to identify the various leadership styles and my presentation to my client could be couched in a more meaningful and, I believe, more elegant way.

That is, I was able to answer a couple of core questions.

  • Does the candidate understand the leadership role?
  • Does the candidate understand strategy, tactical planning and what is necessary to run an organization?
  • What is the candidate’s leadership style? (My client could then decide if it fit the “heart of the assignment.”)

Somewhat surprisingly – at least to me, the five candidates represented five different management styles. And each of these styles would be appropriate in a particular situation.

This reaffirmed to me the very first lesson of interviewing – you must understand the heart of the assignment before beginning this process.

Establishing the Foundation for the Leadership Interview

June 22, 2010

A leadership interview is a little more delicate. In fact, I would categorize this discussion as more of a conversation than an interview. There are several reasons why this is so.

The candidate being interviewed is typically more mature. Usually, this person has managed departments or divisions, if not other companies. Therefore, this applicant is more comfortable with the proceedings.  For this level candidate, it truly is an opportunity to shine and demonstrate the depth and breadth of the knowledge and experience that has been acquired over an entire professional career.

These factors by themselves make this interview different.

It is as much about making sure that there is a stylistic and cultural match as it is about the skills that the candidate possesses. And the candidate also usually understands on some level that a poor match will not work for him or her.

To make this conversation more effective and easier, I typically explain that I am assisting n this process. My intention and goals is to find a fit so that the candidate can be happy and fulfilled for years to come and so can the company.

This allows for a conversational shift toward getting to know the person. The context and the most fundamental rule to apply is that we are here to “screen out” inappropriate candidates rather than “screening in” people.

The purpose of the questions that we outlined in the previous post is now clear. The se questions have been designed to facilitate the discussion and they are clearly in the best interests of the applicant as well as the company.

Determining the Candidate’s Leadership Profile

June 17, 2010

One of the challenges in the interview process was the need to capture information in a meaningful way.  The plan was to interview five candidates in one day and the risk of blurring responses, characteristics and attributes was fairly high. Effective data capture was therefore important.

The tool that was built had a section for evaluating each of the core attributes highlighted in the prior post. It was to be completed after the interview and it simply asked if the candidate had the particular attribute and allowed for any additional comments or insights.

The rest of the document – and clearly the most important section – was devoted to a series of questions designed to create a conversation that would enable the candidate to share his or her views on leadership.

Here are some examples of these questions:

A. Getting to know you questions:

(1) I’m about to buy a brand named <candidate>. Describe what I just bought.

(2) What was the best job you ever had? Why?

B. Execution:

(1) How do you assure / implement accountability among your staff?

(2) What do you reward and how do you reward it?

(3) How do you convince people to change behaviors?

(4) How do you evaluate staff?

(5) Why should someone be fired?

C. Ability:

(1) What characteristics of your present job do you like?

(2) What are some of the things you don’t like?

(3) How would you change your job if you had the power to do so?

(4) Describe your perfect job?

(5) Describe your perfect boss?

(6) Give me 5 adjectives that generally describe the people who work for you.

D. Leadership:

(1) What are 3 core tenets of your management philosophy that you would never compromise?

(2) Fast forward a year —  how is our company, the one that just hired you, different?

(3) How do you hire people (i.e. what is the hiring process / what do you look for)?

(4) Talk to me about a great hiring success (what were the factors that made it successful)?

(5) Talk to me about a great hiring disaster. Why did it happen? What did you do about it? (this is a great question to learn about blindspots)

(6) How do you make important decisions?

(7) How do you go about learning new things?

(8) Describe the perfect company culture? How would you create this culture?

E. Ability to Grow and Learn:

(1) Most people have at east one tough integrity challenge in their professional lives – what was yours and how did you handle it?

(2) What is the greatest lesson that you learned in the past five years?

(3) What is the greatest professional challenge you’ve ever faced and why?

F. Vision:

(1) Tell me about three competitive trends for which we should be concerned.

(2) What is the single most important idea that you contributed to your present job?

The purpose of these questions is to learn what is important to the candidate and the thinking process that is utilized. What can be learned from these questions is the values of the candidate, how they are reinforced and the type of people with whom these leaders will surround themselves.

Getting these answers will your company know the type of leader it is engaging.

What to Evaluate When Hiring Executives

June 16, 2010

There are certain items that are prerequisites when hiring an executive. Ideally, the candidate should be either knowledgeable in the industry or the skills that are required by the organization to fulfill its mission.

Typically, when I enter the hiring process, the candidates have been vetted in these areas. What I look for are the leadership qualities that are invariably required for success.

Here’s my Top 10:

(1) Positive Energy: Staff always takes their cue from the person on top. If that person isn’t excited about coming to work, every staff member will be affected by that malaise.

(2) Energize Others: Effective leaders need to motivate and inspire.

(3) The “Edge”: This is a term borrowed from Jack Welch. It speaks to the ability to make tough decisions

(4) Vision: Any effective plan starts with a direction. You can’t lead people unless you know to where you are leading them. Part of this skill is the ability to “see around the corners,” and anticipate what may occur and manage for these eventualities.

(5) Execution Skills: The effective leader needs to help people identify the right tactics, sequencing and hold them accountable for delivering results.

(6) Passion: This is a higher level of positive energy. It’s more about a deep and resounding commitment to the client, the staff, the shareholders and the work.

(7) Crisis Management: Crises happen and they happen to everyone. A leader must be planning oriented, possess a cool head and be able to take charge when everyone else is losing focus.

(8) Authenticity: Leaders must be true to their own selves.  This trait also addresses the leader’s ability to recognize his or her strengths and weaknesses and compensate for both.

(9) Ability to Learn: More than ever, today’s leader must be able to learn about their industry, their people and the world around them.

(10) Commitment to Teach: The fundamental role of leadership is to grow the next generation of leaders. Patience and a desire to educate are therefore core to the effective leader.

This list is not sequenced by importance and, naturally, the degree of strength in any area is relative to the “heart of the assignment.”

Hiring Leadership

June 13, 2010

When you think about it, the amount of time devoted to the hiring process is pretty insignificant. This is ironic given that it is one of the most critical decisions made at any company.  Perhaps, there are a few hours, or at best, a few days devoted to screening, interviewing and reference checking.

The process really cries out for a method – some way of determining whether the individual was appropriate for the position and for the culture. Such an opportunity presented itself in recent weeks and it afforded me the opportunity to create such an approach.

I have always found that having multiple people interview a candidate is extremely important. Everyone has “blindspots,” areas that are not important to them or areas that they are willing to gloss over. Multiple interviewers tend to mitigate this problem and force dialogue during the assessment process.

A COO recently invited me to participate in the selection of a new leader for one of his operating companies. In order to gain as close to a full perspective of the candidates, it was agreed that his focus would include prior industry work experience. The dimension that I hoped to contribute was an assessment of managerial style and knowledge in what was important in running a company

To prepare for my role in the interview, I organized this plan.

  1. Pre-work
  2. Deciding what to evaluate
  3. Building a way for capturing the information
  4. Designing the interview questions
  5. Preparing the introduction so that the interviewee can be engaged and comfortable
  6. Providing the assessment

The pre-work stage was devoted to understanding what the company provides, the culture of the company, the background of the candidates and what the heart of the assignment was.

Understanding the “heart of the assignment,” is perhaps the most critical element in this stage. Every leadership style has its place. A young team may need a patient mentor. A seasoned team may need an expert guide. An undisciplined team might do best with a firm leader dedicated to creating structure. In short, when looking for a leader, the answer to who is the right candidate is often, “it depends…”

In the next post, we’ll continuing reviewing these stages.


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