Effective leadership in business can bolster and promote teamwork, cultivate a sense of greater good, motivate, inspire trust, or provide purpose and direction. There are several factors that contribute to the success or failure of a business, and your staff must be considered high on that list. Identifying good people to work for your business is crucial to your success. No matter how great your products or services are and how detailed your strategy is, without the right people in place, it’s debatable whether you’ll achieve what you set out to.
We invited Paulina Stankiewicz from Coaching Affair, an executive and leadership coach working with founders, executives and senior leaders to share her tips on how to hire the right people — from setting goals and outlining company values to crafting the perfect job description and asking the right questions.
1. What is a leader’s job description?
If you needed to hire a leader for your company, how would you explain the role to the potential candidates?
To help, I wanted to capture all-important leadership aspects in one list, as well as the necessary industry experience. Job-related skills are excluded for the sake of a general application.
Let’s get started.
When I think of a leader, I think of their good character — someone who knows their values and acts on them, a person of integrity. I think of someone who walks the talk, but the talk has to also meet certain (HIGH!) standards. Many people out there walk their talk, yet I wouldn’t hire them as a leader on my team.
Furthermore, in today’s world, I would like to work with someone who is somewhat well-versed in the topic of cultural acumen, diversity and inclusion. Understanding that people are different is a must. This person must be empathetic and aware of the differences, able to pause and think before jumping to conclusions, and aware of our own conditioning and filters. All of these traits are necessary when building a high-performing team that acts as one organism.
In order for that to occur, people need to fundamentally connect with each other and feel that they belong; it’s a leader’s role to create that space and empower the team.
Next on the list is business acumen and financial management skills. Any good leader should understand why the company operates and what success looks like. Apart from the NGOs, every organization is established to make profit (yes, even those mission-driven companies), otherwise, they would not exist. It’s crucial for a leader to be able to assess new opportunities and have the capacity to explain them to their team in a simplified way.
A leader should also be a good manager and able to lead teams — build team spirit and instil teamwork. Not everyone can do that. Some people are amazing at working alone, being an individual contributor. When hiring a leader I would look for that quality to manage as well.
The value of caring is a big component for me: how much does the leader care about the other team members versus their own achievements? Would they be eager to help develop people reporting to them, as well as other employees? How much sharing will they do naturally?
Depending on the company, I would consider the aspects of the organizational acumen and strategy management. Do I or will I need this leader to take over some of the strategic elements? In principle, I would imagine that anyone leading a team of people should be able to think strategically and critically and be able to envision how the landscape is developing ahead of them.
Organizational acumen is important if any reorganization is needed, hopefully due to growth, but sometimes also due to a setback. A team leader should be able to assess the reality and adjust the organization accordingly. If you’re CEO of the company and hire a leader who doesn’t know how to do that, don’t fool yourself — you will be the one doing it all on your own. It can work in the short term but it will drain you in the long term.
Lastly, I would add passion and inspiration to the list. I want to work with/for a person who is passionate about what they do. They have the intrinsic motivation to learn and develop themselves on the job and are bringing inspiration to others, especially the team they lead. According to Gallup’s research, around 49 percent of people worldwide are ‘somewhat burnt out’. This huge percentage is very disturbing.
I hear time and time again about people around me who experience burnout or are on the way to burnout. Just the other day a friend of mine shared with me that she experienced a panic attack and doesn’t know what to do with it.
As a person hiring a leader, I want to ensure that the leader (just like any other employee) is in the right place. Passion and inspiration are a good measure of whether they want to be there or not. Because you really cannot force anyone to do something, at least sustainably. Look for the spark in their eyes, the smile on their face, the straightening of their posture…look for the fulfilment in their being.
2. How can YOU be a better leader?
“Mix personal humility with professional will” — Jim Collins
To become a better leader, you need to start with yourself. Yes, it’s that simple. In order to lead others, you need to be a role model. If you don’t know who you are and why you are here, how can you inspire others?
Sit down in a quiet place, brew a nice cup of tea, take a few deep breaths and ask yourself: “WHAT do I care about? WHAT is important to me?; and WHY do I care about it?”
You can grab a journal and jot down your thoughts — what are your values? What is inspiring to you?
Finally, be honest with yourself. Answer this: are you in alignment with the job you are hired to do? Or are you just doing this for the money, title, security, etc.?
When you are clear on that part, it is good to know yourself a bit better — WHAT are your key strengths? What can you easily teach to your team? What are you the expert at? What brings you the most joy?
Furthermore, what are you not so great at? What would you or do you like to delegate first? What do you appreciate the most in your team members?
It’s important to do this inner work first so that you can be honest and genuine. Your team will probably know the answers to these questions and it is great if you are not blind to these.
3. When growth pushes you to hire someone but you don’t know how.
“First Who, then What?” — Jim Collins
Selecting the right people is probably the most important job you will have as a leader and hiring a manager. How can you do this right?
First, commit to being intentional. Some managers just post a job description on LinkedIn and hire the first person that they like (like-me bias) and then wonder what happened and why things are not working out the way they should. It all starts by prioritizing having the right people on your team.
That means you will have to hire slow and fire fast.
You want to be well prepared. First, write down the values of the company. Then document the values and characteristics the desired person needs to have for the specific job (i.e. a financial analyst could be an introvert, however, a salesperson would better be extraverted). Get clear on the needs of the job and think about the future of this role. You don’t want to hire just for today; you want to hire for the future, too.
When conducting job interviews, prepare your set of questions to discuss their job experience, as well as the personality and the culture, add. Intentionally ask questions that will reveal any characteristics or strengths you are seeking. Remember you cannot teach passion, so find someone who will be passionate about doing the job you want them to do.
If your company is on the larger side, ask others to help you interview candidates. In the past, I would organize panels and make them very casual and easy-going so that the candidate can feel nice and relaxed. I would invite members of the other departments to help me by looking at the candidate from different perspectives. This helps eliminate bias as much as possible and also uncovers the blind spots.
Even if we are fed up with questions about strengths and weaknesses, these probing questions are quite important and can even be rephrased to keep discussions interesting and different. You want to hire people and play on their strengths, so whatever you choose to ask about, make sure that at the end of the interview process, you are able to identify the strengths and weak points of your potential new employee.
Lastly, trust your gut and clarify any objections. If you feel that something is not right, be diligent and ask about it. And if you don’t get your answers or are still in doubt, don’t hire.
4. Confront the brutal facts of reality
When you lead your team, there are times when things don’t go well. Maybe there is a conflict on your team or maybe one of your employees is under-performing. A good leader’s job is to create a trusting environment and address the issue. Ask questions and listen to the answers you’re getting. If more people are involved, ask them as well; be diligent in discovering the whole story and listen to all involved.
Sometimes a person in trouble is having a personal problem that needs an empathetic response and support, and sometimes there is a wrong value fit and the situation will only get worse.
It’s important that the leader leads with questions, not answers, by engaging in a dialogue and being open to the perspectives of others.
A leader needs to be able to assess the situation and come up with the solution instead of avoiding the problem and hoping that it will go away. It never does.
There are many books written about the concept of keeping the wrong employees and losing your A-players as a result. Like in life, not making a decision is making a decision by not acting. A leader who doesn’t act is losing the respect of their team members because they usually already have an opinion about what is the right thing to do. Eventually, it’s the leader’s job to review all the facts and data and make a judgment call.
5. Avoiding is never the answer; make the difficult decisions
Sometimes the leader needs to make a difficult decision, and that is often connected to letting someone go. No matter how much experience you have, it is never an easy decision nor an easy one to execute. Even if you personally don’t like the person, it’s never easy to let someone go.
I like to think that there is a gift in a situation like this. If a person is not performing, usually it means the environment is not right for them or that they are not passionate about that particular job, but because of the fear of unemployment people stay in a job that makes them unhappy.
Looking at the bigger picture, it might be a blessing in disguise to be let go of a job that is unfulfilling, ‘forced’ to find another more rewarding job. We all have one life and should make the best of it.
One of my colleagues used to say “Run to the problem”, which became a popular saying. It basically means that you should not avoid the issues and simply face them.
Before deciding to let someone go, make sure to check everything that can be checked. Go through the peer reviews, providing feedback and engaging in the coaching process with the employee. Apply clear communication throughout the process. No one should be surprised that they are being fired, so ensure that you have provided proper warning with clear expectations for improvement. Document it all through a performance review process to avoid any misunderstandings.
If you are still hesitant, ask yourself these two questions:
“If you were about to hire this person again today, would you do that?”
“If they left today, would you be disappointed or relieved?”
The answers to these questions will bring you the clarity you need. Once you know the right decision, you need to connect with your courage and do what is right — no one will do it for you. You are the leader!
6. Create and cultivate a High-Performance Culture
When leading your team on a day-to-day basis, it’s important to set clear expectations for the team and communicate the expectations often. A good leader has a vision for the company or the department, sets goals that are aligned with that vision, and protects the company’s culture by honouring the values set forth.
Creating a trusting environment where everyone feels good is a foundation for teamwork and the team’s development. Being able to encourage your team to share their ideas openly and provide constructive feedback to you or other team members can be as good as gold.
Just like in sports, discipline and responsibility are great values in business. A good leader creates a culture of discipline and creates a structure that supports that. Weekly team meetings or Key Performance Indicators (KPI) / OKR review may be a good way to ensure progress.
Dealing with humans is what makes being a leader a very special job — connection and engagement will take you far. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
To create a connected team, get personal. Connect with each and every one of your team members; be real and genuine and open up first. Transparency in leadership is highly valued. No matter what job or industry you are in, you deal with people. People want connection and appreciation. Give it to them and to yourself, and you will love your team forever.
This last part of the article is a call to action! I know, I get it, you may not want to do anything. Maybe you feel like reading this article was enough. That’s cool. Don’t force it. However, if you want to take it one step further, here’s what I would love for you to do.
Where are you on your leadership journey to excellence? Rate yourself on a scale from 1 to 10.
Now, look at the score you gave yourself and think about how you feel about that rating. Are you happy and proud of yourself, or judgmental?
Well, don’t judge yourself — no one is perfect, and it’s a journey. Give yourself a pat on the back for reading this article and showing up to learn something new. I’m proud of you!
Now, what is the one thing you want to change by the end of the year? And where would you like to be in five years?
Picture yourself as this next-level leader and step into it. How does it feel? What is possible for you to create from this space? Stepping up as a leader, who are you now? What impact would you like to create?
Having this clarity, ask yourself, what is the one brutal fact you are avoiding to see right now? What is the right thing to do? Will you do it?
What would you do if you were 10 times more courageous? How would you lead your life?
Today is your day. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. You create your reality — step into it and claim your purpose!
A gift to the readers — recommended materials:
- Good to Great by Jim Collins
- The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni
- Start With Why by Simon Sinek
- Good Leaders Ask Great Questions by John C. Maxwell
- The Culture Map by Erin Meyer
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
- Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
- Thinking Fast & Slow by Daniel Kahneman
- Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss
- Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
- Positive Intelligence by Shirzad Chamine
- Radical Candor by Kim Scott
This article is a collaboration between Veronica Guguian from Spin Ideas and Paulina Stankiewicz from Coaching Affair, to provide our readers with the right tools to grow their businesses.
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