10 Questions to Ask when Choosing Leaders
One of the most painful mistakes of leadership is choosing the wrong leaders.
The difference between success and failure begins with choosing the right leaders. (And ejecting the wrong.)
Three mistakes when choosing leaders:
#1. Overlooking introverts. Extroversion is not a requirement to lead.
#2. Succumbing to the seduction of charisma, talent, education, or good looks.
Degrees, talent, and charisma might open doors. But, all the talent in the world doesn’t compensate for bad character.
#3. Thinking doers are leaders. You sweat your way into leadership, but leadership is more than getting things done.
It’s foolish to define leadership as getting things done. The focus of leadership is people. You earn leadership opportunities by getting things done. You become a leader when you get things done through others.
- How do they make people feel?
- How do they maximize the skills and talents of others?
- How are they instilling a sense of mission?
- How are they developing others?
- How are their values, not urgencies, guiding decisions.
When someone steps into leadership they leverage the talent of others.
10 questions to answer when choosing leaders:
- What is their definition of leadership?
- How are they expressing curiosity?
- Where do they fall on the scale of optimistic vs. pessimistic?
- How are their values?
- How do they appreciate the impact of their behaviors on others?
- What makes you believe they can focus on “what” needs to be done without getting lost in “how” things get done?
- How are they able to see the world through the lens of others?
- How are they including others in decision-making?
- How do they respond to failure or correction?
- How do they respond to authority?
Bonus: Do they aspire to lead?
How might leaders choose leaders?
Great post. I’m curious as to how you define leadership.
Dan, I’m an independent executive recruiter in a niche sector of the healthcare field. My focus is on senior-level positions (Director, VP/SVP, CEO). This post is a great worksheet for vetting candidates for leadership roles. I’m either asking a lot of these questions currently, or instinctively listening for vibes in each of these areas. I really like the way this captures and focuses this approach. Thanks, Chris.
Dan in large public firms I have seen two major problems in choosing new Leaders:
1. The Board of Directors, who are the final authority, do not spent the personal time alone with prospective candidates to get to know them. In my book, I encourage some one on one dinners before the decision is required.
2. Too much weight is given to the Human Resource groups’ recommendations. They are a staff for input not a king maker.
Hopefully all the current pressure on Boards of Directors will improve these issues.
Brad James, author The Business Zoo
Brad, I serve on a few nonprofit boards and item #1 in your comment applies in that scenario, also. On one of those boards, I led the search for a new Executive Director. We did just what you recommend and we landed a superb professional. He’s a fit in terms of competence, character/attitude, and culture. Yes, we had some urgency to find the right person, but we agreed that we would take a mindful approach and have the courage to do a good job for our organization regardless of time pressures.
When I first read the title of this post, my first thought was, “Okay, I wonder how I measure up?” I was thankful to see the note on introverts–I fall squarely into that category. I enjoy service-centered leadership, so nearly all points resonated strongly. One major challenge is #6. Because I gravitate toward details, there is risk of losing sight of the large picture.
Dan – great post as always.
One other mistake that I’ve seen is placing people in leadership positions due to their longevity in the company without any real consideration on a) whether they’d make a good leader, and b) whether the person wants to be a leader.
Time and time again, I’ve seen promotions given to people because “they’ve been here a long time and they’re due” with disastrous results. Yet, it continues to happen. I believe there are some companies that think it’s the easy thing to do (to promote based on longevity), when in reality, there needs to be more consideration on whether or not it makes sense.
Is an optimist always the right choice for a leader? Is there a place for a realist in leadership?
I had the same thought, Emily. While I appreciate optimism for the future, I tend to trust people who have a realistic view of the present and are prepared for the difficulty in changing the future. I’ve always been curious if people really need someone spinning everything as an opportunity rather than a problem in order to move forward…for me, the discomfort, unfairness, or inefficiency of the present IS the motivation for change and improvement. And the painful incremental nature of change seems to crush the relentless optimist. Maybe what I think is realism is just REALLY long term optimism 🙂
When selecting leaders, we need to know them, your questions help tremendously. Brad brings a good point as well with the dining atmosphere and a “feel”, “felt” meeting.
Observing people at a distance helps to, just watch their mannerisms, how they organize, dress, take care of their vehicles, homes, belongings, sometimes these tell the true picture of whom they are?.
Hi, Dan, thank you for this wonderful article. I am sharing this to all my fellow Filipinos and hope they use some of your questions as their guides as we choose our national leaders this coming May 9, 2016. Wish us luck and hope we will choose the right political leaders this time.
Since there is a huge difference between managers and leaders, I would contend that most organizations are searching for managers. Somewhere along the way, the terms manager and leader get tossed around indiscriminately and interchangeably. So, complimenting the important elements that you have brought forth Dan, I would like to ad this dimension to it. There is always someone in charge but it does not make them a leader. Of course the points you bring out can apply for managers as well as leaders. I have seen my fill of individuals in positions that they should have never been put into. So, either way, it is important to understand the position and what you expect them to do.
Ha! Very good questions. I am an intovert, and when I was in an MNC, they expected me to behave like the big, white Dutchmen who surrounded me, ignoring that I may have a different leadership style
I love this..thank you for sharing.
Great post. I have GREAT doer’s and those are the most difficult people to convey there is more to leadership. It also means giving away control which is very difficult for the doer.
Quoting Peter F. Drucker sums it all up for me ” Start with what is right rather than what is acceptable “
Great list! It already has me thinking about how i lead. In interviews, one of my favorite questions is “What is your biggest failure and how did you respond to it?” It relates to several of your questions and provides insight into the leadership abilities.