Hiring people is difficult. Hiring great people is even harder. And perhaps the most difficult thing of all is hiring great leaders. In an ideal world, you would hire high potential people and, through a robust development program, identify and grow your own future leaders. However, in some cases, hiring externally is a business necessity: when there’s a gap that no-one internally can fill, or you need to move your business in a different direction.
We’ve worked with numerous organisations to help them hire the best leaders, both internally and externally. While there are many factors that contribute to successful leadership, we’ve distilled what, in our experience, are the essential qualities to look for when you’re hiring a leader. They’re not new principles – as evidenced by the vast number of research and quotes around each factor – but they’re critical to keep front of mind when you’re assessing someone for a leadership role.
Great leaders know how to inspire and motivate their people. They can engage their team members and gain their support and commitment to a compelling goal, keeping them energised and focused. They know how to gain involvement from disinterested people and encourage a sense of team identity and unity.
In today’s data-driven economy, it’s essential that leaders are able to spot trends and patterns, and break down complex issues into simple elements. They need to be able to analyse information and develop workable solutions.
Excellent leaders know that success depends on their people, and they invest in their people’s growth. They coach their people to reach individual goals and milestones, and give them clear, actionable feedback to encourage desired performance levels. They set clear expectations for their people and their teams and the support they need to stretch themselves and achieve ambitious goals.
4. Determination and resilience
A great leader recovers quickly from setbacks, and remains confident and positive even in times of uncertainty. They learn from experience. They help their people stay motivated and keep morale up in difficult times. They’re also hungry: they’re continually challenging themselves and their teams.
Successful leaders are endlessly curious about the world around them. They keep learning and asking questions, about the world, technology and business. They’re always asking ‘What if?’ and looking for new and better ways of doing things. They listen carefully and while learning, they’re also giving their people respect.
Egon Zehnder believe this is the ‘secret sauce’ of the very best leaders and there are numerous high profile examples, including Jack Dorsey, Michael Dell, Jeff Bezos, Melinda Gates, Richard Branson and many more.
As well as being curious about the world, great leaders are curious about themselves as well. They proactively seek feedback from others and learn from it. They admit they’re not perfect and don’t know anything, and will be committed to continually improving.
7. Emotional intelligence
Rather than being ‘nice to have’, a number of recent studies have shown that leaders with highly developed emotional intelligence can tangibly impact your bottom line by improving the productivity of their teams, and reducing turnover and lost time incidents.
Emotionally intelligent leaders understand their own and their people’s emotions and how to manage them effectively. They empathise with their people and make them feel valued and respected.
A great leader also has integrity: they are honest, transparent and can be trusted to act ethically and responsibly. Employees feel comfortable coming to them with questions or concerns because they respect and trust them. The leader keeps his or her promises and is genuine, principled and consistent.
Every year, Google asks its people to rate their managers on a range of factors and found that one factor predicted effective leadership more than anything else: how predictable and consistent a leader was. The reason? When people know what the parameters are, they’re free to get on with the job and do their best work.
It’s based on the premise – variously attributed to Steve Jobs, Lee Iacocca and Richard Branson – that the best leaders hire smart people and then get out of their way. In return, the leader makes sure their people know what to expect from them.
10. Collaboration and teamwork
Effective leaders understand that they don’t have all the answers. They draw on the strengths of their people and are confident about the value each person adds. They find ways to capitalise on each person’s talent and leverage their contributions to surpass expectations.
They’re also skilled at identifying sources of potential conflict and reducing friction between people, while still maintaining momentum. They encourage a sense of team identity and unity.
Objectively identifying whether your potential leaders have these traits can be difficult. We can help with scientific, valid and fair evaluations that assess people against critical leadership factors.