“Leadership” is a broad term. The CEO of a globally recognized corporation is a leader. The construction manager at a build site is a leader. The owner of a three-person insurance agency is a leader. Some leadership roles emphasize strategic planning, while others call for a focus on operational oversight. No two leadership roles are the same.
When hiring leaders, many companies over-emphasize the technical or industry-specific qualifications of management candidates, though they are hardly to blame for doing so; on what else can they base the decision?
It’s much easier to measure performance directly in other types of jobs. For sales, you can look at revenue generation as well as closing ratio and client retention. In customer-service positions, there’s call volume, percentage of tickets/cases resolved, and customer-survey results. The same applies to individual-contributor roles in manufacturing/production, food service, retail, and other common functions across the major industries.
But in management, it’s not always easy to connect A and B. Is the team productive? Are people engaged? Are good decisions being made? Is the company moving in the right direction? As you follow this line of questions, you can see they get harder and harder to connect directly to measurable performance. Yet, when you have good managers in place, you know the answer to all these questions is “yes.”
The solution to hiring the best manager is to find the person who best exhibits the intrinsic qualities associated with good leadership. Though responsibilities and expectations vary from manager position to manager position, decades of personality data show that the candidates who possess the following attributes are more likely to succeed in any type of leadership role:
1. Good leaders communicate effectively – On the most basic level, a leader needs to state expectations clearly and let staff members know what they need to do to fulfill job requirements satisfactorily. Doing so means delegating responsibilities and holding people accountable in a way that is consistent and constructive. Good communication also means navigating organizational levels and knowing how to tailor one’s message so that it resonates with difference audiences, whether dealing with executives, peers, general staff, new hires, business partners, or customers.
2. Good leaders listen and remain open to possibilities – Managers who impatiently bark orders, or who push people out of the way and do the work themselves, tend to be the ones who think they know everything. In actuality, this approach points to a lack of adaptability and limited learning agility. A closed thinking system, just like a closed energy system, leads to entropy and decay. That’s bad for business! Especially nowadays, when the rate of change across all industries is only accelerating.
By listening attentively with the goal of learning and understanding, leaders can not only acquire new ideas and methods, they can uncover the interests, motivations, and concerns of their team members and other stakeholders and provide more appropriate and targeted responses.
3. Good leaders understand the importance of staff engagement and development – When managers take an active interest in the careers and coaching needs of their staff members and empower them with new responsibilities and challenges, those employees feel more valued, engaged, and committed. In turn, engaged employees are more productive and loyal to the company. The return on investment is three-fold: better relationships between employees and managers, better business results, and a reduction in costly turnover.
4. Good leaders are resilient and show composure – There are many hidden stresses for managers. They have to deal with a variety of personalities on their team, some challenging. They frequently find themselves mediating conflict. They are often caught between upper management/shareholders and the team members they are trying to keep satisfied. They are expected to put on a brave face during stressful periods when business is down or when new threats emerge.
Honestly, it’s what people sign up for when they take a management job. However, the good leaders are those who avoid personalizing complaints and criticism and, instead, use their listening skills to understand where the other person is coming from. Good leaders know that staff members are looking to them for guidance in difficult times, and the best way to get people to follow them through tumultuous change is to maintain calm and display positivity and confidence.
5. Good leaders make balanced decisions – Indecisive leaders are ineffective leaders. In avoiding making choices, the indecisive manager allows problems to escalate, looks weak to staff members, and ultimately lets competitors gain ground on the company.
At the same time, rushing decisions and acting impulsively can send the organization down the wrong path and cause problems that are only evident after it’s too late to fix them. It’s also lazy and shows a lack of leadership maturity.
A good leader makes balanced decisions by gathering insights from trusted advisors and doing the necessary research to make sure decisions are viable and feasible. At the same time, the good leader doesn’t become bogged down in analysis or fear commitment. Business decisions should reflect an understanding of what’s important in the here-and-now as well as what will matter over the long term. The good leader must be willing to make tough choices that cause a little pain, if the ultimate outcome benefits the company and the people who work there.
6. Good leaders follow though – Once a leader clarifies short- and long-term goals and expectations for staff performance, it’s critical to follow through. Whether the scenario is rolling out an initiative or program, implementing new systems, or managing through change, a leader has to make sure people have the tools they need and are positioned for success. This could involve training, team building, setting attainable but competitive deadlines, and providing feedback. Leaders should always set the right example, not by offering platitudes or showing naïve hopefulness but by delivering consistently on promises and seeing things through.
Since not all leadership roles are the same, it’s important to fine-tune the leader profile before looking at candidates. For example, it makes sense to place greater emphasis on strategic thinking and decision making when hiring an executive-level leader in a large company, while good process management and hands-on qualities are typically more significant for a leader who directs and works alongside individual contributors on a production floor. With those factors in consideration, companies of any size would be wise to use the success profile described above as a foundation for hiring, promoting, and developing leaders.