For this post, I asked a number or prominent leadership experts the following question:
If you were hiring someone you hoped to groom for a leadership position, what key things would you look for?
Below you will find their insightful answers along with some comments of my own.
I would look for someone willing to take risks. Fail often, fail fast, fail cheap. I would look for someone who wants to learn and who is coachable. I would look for someone who is willing to serve those they lead. I would look for someone who is willing to take a stand. Someone with vision. Someone who can simplify and clarify thoughts.
Jim Estill from Time Leadership – CEO Blog
Risk taking isn’t always the first thing people think of looking for in a new leader, but Jim makes a good point that you want someone who knows how to take and learn from small risks so they can grow quickly with minimal negative consequences from mistakes.
Willingness to connect with others based on strengths and a commitment to both results and relationships in all situations at all times.
David Zinger from Employee Engagement
A leader who is unable to deeply connect with others is unlikely to get any real followers other than people who are just coming along for the pay check.
Intellectual horsepower, creativity, strategic agility, results orientation and the ability to stay calm and composed under pressure. I would ask questions which invite the potential leader to tell me stories about a time of inspiration, a time of crisis and a time when results were improved.
Bea Fields from Five Star Leader.com
Asking people to tell you about times of crisis and when things have gone wrong is an excellent idea. You want a leader who learns from mistakes. If they haven’t made any mistakes, they probably aren’t really leadership material–at least not yet.
Initiative, self respect, respect for others, optimism and character.
Jim Cathcart from Cathcart Institute, Inc
Character is often something people overlook in cultures that are very results oriented, but a lack of character usually comes back to bite you at the worst possible moment.
Desire to learn. Work ethic. Honesty. Communication skills. Ability to encourage and unite others. Positive Energy.
Jon Gordon from www.JonGordon.com
Honesty is very important, not only from the “people don’t like to be lied to” standpoint, but also because a dishonest person is likely to lie to themselves. You don’t want a leader who is going to take everyone down with the ship just because he/she is unwilling to admit a mistake.
Good people skills, technical competence, a positive attitude
Bussta Brown from Leadership Cultivation
There are lots of people with technical competence, but whose negative attitude prevents them from being successful in any type of leadership position.
- A keen interest in the success of others.
- A desire to learn new things – new points of view and to be able to incorporate those points of view into their own thinking.
- The ability to communicate complex ideas simply.
- A natural tendency for excellence in all things.
- Adaptability – the knowledge that nothing stays the same. For anything to grow it must change. What was done yesterday may not need to be done (or should be done) tomorrow.
Paul Hebert from Incentive Intelligence
The “natural tendency for excellence” is an interesting thought. Some people simply have higher standards for themselves and their work than others. While you want someone with excellence, you need someone who understands the balance between excellence and efficiency as it relates to your organization.
Attitude and Ambition of the person would be the key attributes that I would look out for, far beyond all other credentials like education and IQ. I have seen it repeatedly that good leaders are the ones, who possess a good attitude towards learning and correction at the same time remaining ambitious about their goals.
Sangeeth Varghese from LeadCap: Building a nation of leaders
It is interesting how many very high IQ people are complete failures. I think people who have found everything in life easy are ill prepared for succeeding when something is hard. A less intelligent, but more motivated person can easily succeed just because they have built up the stamina over the years necessary to press through.
A love of leading people. Most great leaders that I have met love leading people. They have a desire to inspire others – and a willingness to make others ‘winners’. Achievement is all about ‘me’ – leadership is all about ‘them’.
Marshall Goldsmith from Marshall Goldsmith Library
I think part of this comes down to wanting to see others around you succeed.
- Passion- Good leaders are in it for more than a paycheck.
- Humility- Good leaders treat the janitor the same as the CEO
- Emotional Intelligence – This relatively new field of study provides a wealth of insight into how leadership works. A great starting point is the book Primal Leadership by Goleman and Boyatzis.
Tad Thompson from Total Leadership
The point about humility really stands out to me–primarily because it is a trait many leaders lack and it often becomes the root of embarrassing failures of integrity.
I would look for intelligence. There is no substitute for broad intelligence that includes a balance of intuition, common sense, and logical thinking. This combination is quite rare but is absolutely essential, especially for senior leaders.
Will Marre from Will Marre’s Blog Site
This is somewhat in contrast to Sangeeth Varghese’s suggestion, but there is definitely room for a focus on both.
Intelligence, thoughtfulness, and a willingness to act independently. Little else matters.
Carmine Coyote from Slow Leadership
Interesting perspective on the most important aspects of leadership.
Insight, Influence, Integrity, Wanting to make a difference through the growth and development of others.
Shelley Holmes from Leadership and Motivation Training
The ability to see others as people to be developed rather than used is an important part of being a leader rather than just a manager.
A leader needs two basic skills: to see the future and to persuade others to follow her/him. I’d look for the basics ingredients for these, such as curiosity, a passion for learning, care and concern for others, reliability, honesty, organisation. Seeing the future also needs some indefinables like ‘business nous’ and a deep understanding of the market and its dynamics.
David Straker from Changing Minds
David’s suggestions come down to having a vision and being able to sell others on that vision. Without these two skills, a leader will not be able to attract followers, which of course is the very definition of being a leader.
Vision, balance, and honesty.
- Vision to look ahead, to see solutions, anticipate concerns, and view issues from the perspective of others.
- Balance in life and work, recognizing the importance of diversity and understanding that the opinion of other is important.
- Honesty about weaknesses and strengths. Willing to be accountable and to take ownership.
Don Frederiksen from Lead Quietly
The skill of balance is an interesting thought–something I don’t think anyone else mentioned.
I look for things that we can’t train people in. You either show up with them or not. Here are the big four things that you should bring to a leadership job.
- Willingness to pitch in. Leadership is hard work and a person won’t suddenly develop a taste for hard work. A lazy boss kills morale and productivity.
- Willingness to talk to others about performance and behavior. If you can’t do this, you can’t correct performance or help people grow and you can’t get rid of people who are poisoning your team and wrecking performance.
- Willingness to decide. This is another key part of a leader’s job. You won’t succeed if you waffle back and forth or pass every decision up to your boss.
- Joy in helping others succeed. When you become a leader your jobs are to accomplish the mission and care for the people. Leaders who love helping others succeed find that they succeed along with their team.
Wally Bock from Three Star Leadership
Looking for the attributes that you can’t teach to an up and coming leader is a very wise approach.
- The genuine desire to communicate and connect with others (you can’t fake it) and the capacity to develop that skill,
- The ability to see the unique distinctions in seemingly small ideas, ideas the rest of us tend to ignore, skip, or gloss over as we are looking for the next big thing, often not seeing what is right in front of us. Leaders are intensely curious.
- Bravery without impulsiveness or hurtful carelessness
- Impatience without tunnel vision or arrogance
- An absolute refusal to accept “yeah, but” “can’t” or “won’t” Leaders are constantly asking “Why not?” (Their impatience in #4 is with those who love the status quo and prefer to stay beneath the radar)
Rosa Say from Talking Story
I like Rosa’s point about bravery and it is similar to Jim Estill’s point about taking risks. You won’t often see “bravery” listed on a job description, but it is very important for leadership roles.
Someone who does what they say they’re going to do. Someone who tackles bad news or difficult problems head-on rather than avoiding them. Someone who knows how to make other people want to work on their team.
Alison Green from Ask a Manager
A lack of follow through is the downfall of many people and it generally is something that is hard to teach. If someone doesn’t innately have follow through as part of their character, it is difficult to get them to just “switch it on.”
Self-belief that is based on reality rather than delusion, combined with a track record of delivery. In your early years, that is going to be all about having responsibility but no authority. Anyone who can consistently deliver under those circumstances is usually worth having a conversation with.
Rowan Manahan from Fortify Your Oasis
I think a lot of this comes down to being honest as a leader–both with others and with yourself.
Passion for learning. Fearlessness. The unrelenting belief that change is constant and that I will embrace change and thrive amongst the opportunities that it provides.
Dan Naden from Naden’s Corner
Without learning the person who is successful today will be a failure tomorrow.
A personal and well-integrated view of what Leadership is; proof of helping to make changes (big or small) and whatever the opposition; and proof of being able to successfully develop others.
Mick Yates from LeaderValues
This comes down to having real life experience doing the things that makes people leaders–regardless of one’s position on the organizational chart.
I would want someone that had the ability to hear others and could collaborate with others effectively. This would also need to be coupled with the ability to get things done. A great leader can’t just listen, but needs to be able to corral these ideas and thoughts into action. We need to be wary of others that have all of the answers, because someone who has all the answers doesn’t need anybody else and will never be effective in leading others.
Laura Lopez from Laura Lopez and Company
This means finding someone who has enough intelligence to understand what they do not know and enough self confidence to admit it.
- Their core values-honesty and integrity-will they do the right thing even when it’s difficult?
- an ability to influence people effectively on a team or other non-hierarchical environment
- a personal drive for excellence coupled with intellectual curiosity and on-going learning; a willingness to make mistakes and learn from them
- energy and enthusiasm
- a willingness to take responsibility
- the ability to hold themselves accountable for results
- a sense of humor
Sean Ryan from WhiteWater Consulting Group
I like point number two because it recognizes that someone with true leadership skills is going to lead regardless of their title and position.
What projects they have led and the learning from those projects. Whether they are currently meeting their goals in the current position. How they treat conflicting objectives from different departments. How they would approach rating people upon meeting or not meeting goals.
Scot Herrick from Career Management for Cubicle Warriors
Evaluating what someone has learned from their past experience is a very good way to determine how they are likely to grow in the future.
First I look for energy. I ask, does this person have the energy to take on the responsibilities of their job, plus a little bit more? Do they have enough to be able to inspire those around them? Can they manage the burden of leadership with a smile-helping people up instead of bringing them down? Will they be the sort of person that others will want to be around? Leadership is difficult. Does the candidate have the spark that suggests they are ready?
Next, I look to see if the person has the skills for the job. Do they have the technical background for the position and are they good at it? The bottom line is if we can find people whose skills (what they are good at) intersect with their passions (what they are fired up about), then we can work with them! They’ll be fine.
Lastly, I look for someone who is committed to learning. I always ask this question at interviews: What is your greatest failure, and what did you learn from it? It is amazing how many people cannot think of any failure. I always infer that the candidate is unwilling to take chances, afraid to go after the fruit on the higher branches. To me, that is where learning takes place. After training military units and their leaders at the Army’s National Training Center, I am convinced that people learn infinitely more from failure and setbacks than they do from success. Those that fail and learn are welcome on my team. Those who fail to learn are not!
Thomas Magness from Leader Business
This is an excellent point about looking for an intersection between their skills, their passions and the needs of the job. There are a lot of people whose technical skills no longer intersect with what they are really passionate about doing.