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Candidate’s Leadership Potential

How To Assess A Candidate’s Leadership Potential

It’s not hard to find an employee who can eventually advance into a management role. You can train virtually anyone who’s intelligent enough to tackle budgets, hire when open positions become available, and land new clients. However, the difference between a manager and a leader is a drastic one — and it’s essential to recognize this distinction.

Assessing for leadership potential as you hire is hugely important. You don’t just want someone who can complete spreadsheets and fill out paperwork; you need someone who can execute your business’s overarching vision and bring the brand firmly into the future.

As you’re hiring, here are some components to focus on to be sure you’re properly assessing a candidate’s’ leadership potential.

How do they go about earning the respect of their team?

A manager expects their team to respect them right off the bat, simply because of the title they have had bestowed upon them. A leader understands that a title doesn’t guarantee respect, but that they must earn this through their actions.

During the interview, considering asking the candidate how they plan to earn the respect of the team. Do they intend on standing up at the front of the room and spouting orders or will they create an open dialogue where everyone can contribute ideas?

Their energy levels

An effective leader is an energetic person, and this enthusiasm is contagious. If they come in each day revived and ready to work, this positivity spreads to the rest of the office. However, if this person shows up with stress levels raging, ready to lash out at the first person they see, they’ll contribute to create a hostile work environment.

It’s too easy for a job seeker to tell you that they’re always positive and excited to show up to the office. Instead of taking this response at face value, ask them a question that lets them prove this to you. Inquire about the most exciting thing they’ve done over the past year. This could include a trip they’ve taken, a new hobby or skill they’ve learned, or a pet project they’ve finally devoted their attention toward. Hearing them talk about this will give you good insight about what their passion and energy levels are really like.

What do they do when they don’t have the answers?

Great leaders aren’t afraid to ask for help. They have no shame in admitting when they don’t know something. Rather than blindly trying to make decisions when they lack information, they want to go to the proper sources so they can gather all of the data they need to make an informed choice. To find out if this individual has this ability, ask the following question: “How would you proceed if you find yourself in a situation where you simply don’t know what to do?”

If they tell you they’d make it up or just pretend and hope for the best, you know they might not be the ideal candidate for a leadership role within your business. However, if they explain that they would admit their area of weakness and consult with those who have the necessary expertise, they have some of the traits of a strong leader.

The right leader believes in the importance of continuing to learn and develop, no matter how established they are in their career. Therefore, hearing them speak about continuing education, attending conferences, and obtaining further certifications is important.

The ability to adapt to a changing environment

No matter what industry you’re in, change is inevitable. If you’re running your business today like you did 10 or 20 years ago, you’ll eventually find that the company starts to plateau. When you’re hiring for management roles, you want to ensure that the people you’re putting in these positions are willing to pivot when necessary.

Because of the way change permeates through all industries, it’s essential to touch on how this person tackles an evolving business. How do they continue to grow as a professional? What do they do to ensure that they’re staying on top of new trends, technology, and players in the industry so they’re never left behind?

The factors that drive them

True leaders don’t just accept the role for the perks and the job title; they’re mission-driven and see a greater purpose beyond just a salary boost, extra vacation days, and a company car. Before you put someone in a management role, you want to find out what drives them. This will become very important, especially during particularly stressful times when they may need to come in on the weekends or work long hours.

Ask the candidate what’s appealing to them about this position. If they’re rattling off reasons like they want to make a difference, they love inspiring others, they’ve had a lot of great mentors in their life and they’d like to return the favor, and other valid responses, you probably have a strong leader on your hands. If the response is more wishy-washy and points to self-centered reasoning, you may want to question whether this individual is an ideal fit for the position.

Their relationship with their direct reports

Many people understand that, in order to lead effectively, your staff has to support your ideas and vision. However, some people — particularly those newer to a leadership role get caught up in the balance between earning their team’s respect and trying to befriend their employees. Yes, your staff needs to back you, but this doesn’t mean you need to be slamming two-for-one margaritas together at Happy Hour every Thursday.

To gauge if this individual understands this important need for separation between colleagues and best friends, inquire during the interview about whether direct reports respect or fear this person. Ask if they believe it’s possible to solicit both reactions from the same group.

The ability to assess and use employees’ strengths

When you’re involved in running a business, you have to get good at learning how to let your employees shine. If you’re trying to put a highly creative, imaginative person in a very cut and dry role, you may end up frustrated when they spend too much time daydreaming and forget to fill out an Excel spreadsheet you need by 5 p.m.

On the flip side, if you’re asking for a few killer ideas for Q3 from a person who loves functionality and numbers, don’t be shocked when you get several lackluster thoughts about Customer Appreciation Day and nothing worth presenting to the rest of the team.

They say you shouldn’t try to jam a square peg into a round hole, and this is true when it comes to guiding a team. Each employee within the organization will have strengths and weaknesses, as well as passions and things they just can’t stand to do. A good leader knows how to recognize a team member’s strengths and utilize them effectively within the office.

Their ability to assess risks effectively

A skilled leader knows how to calculate risk. If they never try something new, it’s tough for the business to grow. At the same time, if they’re constantly putting the company on the line just because the gamble might one day pay off, the entire brand suffers.

To find out whether this individual has an appropriate level of risk-taking in them, ask about the biggest risk they’ve takens. Try to get a sense of what their thought process was like as they decided whether to take this chance, and what they did to reduce the likelihood of failure.

Those who shoot first and ask questions later are a poor choice for a leadership role, as they can take the company down a dangerous path with their poorly planned decisions. However, those who carefully weigh the pros and cons can help the brand grow in a big way.

There are several other key traits to keep an eye out for when you’re looking to hire your company’s next great leader. Beyond the practical skills and experience you want an individual to have as they step into a leadership role, here are some skills to be on the lookout for:

A positive attitude in both good times and bad

Managers influence their employees in a significant way. If it’s clear the manager is panicking about the company’s future, the team that reports to this individual will begin to panic, too. If the manager seems uncertain about a decision, it will be hard for direct reports to believe in the choice wholeheartedly. Because of this, it’s crucial for a manager to maintain a positive attitude.

Business gets stressful. There are times of uncertainty and doubt for even the best run businesses. But maintain faith in yourself and your brand, because this is what’s necessary to keep the rest of the staff feeling positive. When the manager starts to question the company’s effectiveness, so does everyone else.

They’re transparent in an appropriate way

Some managers are under the impression that they’re a dictator and everyone else in the company is on a “need to know” basis. While it’s true that the business can’t be a total democracy (or else nothing would get done in a timely fashion) and some information is sensitive, keeping employees in the loop is necessary in order for the business to function smoothly.

Employees shouldn’t hear about acquisitions or sales through trade publications. If there are rumors, address them head-on to keep the gossip mill from working overtime. You want to be upfront with your staff to show them you value them and take their opinions seriously. Keeping them in the dark is a dangerous way to operate, plus you miss out on important employee feedback.

Who understands the inner workings of your company better than those spending nine or more hours there each day? Many managers find it valuable to check in with team members regularly to get advice on what the brand could be doing better. A staffer may have insight about speeding up a process that you would never have thought of on your own. Take their words seriously, and keep them in the loop. You’re a team working together to keep the business strong.

They can delegate

Good leaders should have a hand in all aspects of the business, but if they’re trying to do every single thing themselves, they’ll become stretched thin and rendered ineffective. Ideally, managers learn how to delegate properly based on employees’ skills. They’re still plugged in and know exactly what’s going on within the company at any given time, but they’re not trying to do each department’s tasks on their own.

It can be nerve-wracking to surrender a bit of control and trust other people to do a job effectively. But when proper attention is given to hiring, this becomes less stressful.

They’re creative

Managers certainly need to be able to assess profit and loss statements and write up business plans, but true leaders think beyond just the financial aspect of their businesses. They’re able to lead with a creative vision in mind.

They have a clear-cut idea about what that business should stand for and each plan they put into place reflects this greater vision. They infuse creativity into every aspect of their job, whether it’s problem solving, team building, or landing new clients. They also don’t forget that it’s OK to have a little fun at the office. In fact, this is recommended in order to keep morale high and employees engaged.  

While a strong resume and plenty of experience are important components in the making of a skilled leader, it’s important not to overlook other key abilities that enable this individual to bring the team together and get them focused on a common mission. Keep in mind that anyone can divvy up projects, but it takes a certain personality type to unite and motivate the unique blend of individuals working together within an office.

What are some more tips for spotting leadership potential? Share in the comments below!

Lauren Levine

Lauren Levine is a copywriter/blogger who contributes to a number of magazines and websites including The Frisky, USA Today, and others. She also authors her own blog called Life with Lauren. She loves cooking, anything on the E! network, and is trying to convince herself that running isn't so bad.

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