Cutting-Edge Leadership

The best in current leadership research and theory, from cultivating charisma to transforming your organization

Looking for Leaders: 4 Pivotal Insights on How to Hire Good

How to hire the best leaders

Today's guest blogger is Brendan Cruickshank, who is an expert on job search and employee recruiting.

When I was young, my uncle would always take me to harness races. Although not a big gambler, he was a big racing fan and actually enjoyed the sporting aspects of the race, which he would talk about incessantly. He taught me a lot about the sport, but I will never forget one particular observation he made during a race in which a certain horse had a huge lead over the pack. Pointing to the lead horse with its cart and driver in tow, my uncle called my attention to the fact that even though the horse was the one out front, the real leader of the team was the driver sitting in the rear.

The lesson I learned that day stuck with me: The most important individuals in an organization are not always those who are up front. Sometimes the most important leaders are those who are further back. In a truly successful organization, leadership comes from every position and very often leadership in the seemingly less significant organizational layers can be just as critical as leadership at the senior level. In fact, the bulk of leadership in most good organizations comes not from the top rungs, but from the middle. This is because there are many different functions that define the fabric of an organization: administrative functions, technical functions, support functions, human resource functions, even custodial functions. And if any of these functions don't get done, even the seemingly unimportant ones, then the entire organization suffers. Most if not all of an organization's functions are carried out by a team of workers and each team needs a leader. This is why leadership is needed at all levels, not just at the top.

So how do successful organizations go about looking for and identifying leaders when they do their hiring? Although there is no magic formula that will guarantee how effective someone will turn out to be as a leader, here are a few insights on techniques that can help an organization gain a reliable prognosis of leadership potential in prospective hires:

1. Use a candidate's background to assess leadership impact: Find out the specific nature of the achievements the person was responsible for causing to happen in his career, and how much of an impact he or she had in making them happen. Keep in mind that a true leader is someone who is capable of making an imprint. Also, find out things like how many people were led and how well resources were managed. An important technique here is to drill down in the interview and get specifics! Find out details, and the more the better. Specifically, ask what aspects of the candidate's achievements were most enjoyable or satisfying. This could provide clues not only about the candidate's interests, but also about his own motivation and ability to motivate others. You are trying to find is a pattern of recurring behavior that will give you valuable insight on how effectively the candidate will lead in your organization.

2. Focus on vision: Do the candidate's past achievements show any evidence of being visionary or proactive? If the candidate's background doesn't provide enough insight, then some creative questioning may be in order. In what direction does the candidate feel the business function needs to go? How does the candidate perceive the future? What does she see as the best way forward? A good leader is capable of articulating a clear and compelling vision which others can buy into. Is this candidate forward-looking and understanding of the business function well enough to develop and articulate that vision?

3. Simulate a leadership environment: A very effective way of getting a feel for how people are likely to perform as leaders is to project them into realistic job environments that allow you to observe how they act. Set up a scenario where future leaders are required to interact with potential fellow employees and work together with them in teams. In general, see how potential leaders behave in situations that require leadership skills.

4. Grow your own leaders: In reality, the best way an organization can acquire its leaders is to build them from the bottom up. A creative company can plant the seeds for internal leader growth by instituting leadership training and development programs and making them widely available to people throughout the organization. Another effective policy is to openly share corporate information with employees at all levels to the greatest practical extent. Letting employees in on business results and corporate strategy will go a long way towards fostering a shared sense of mission and direction and will breed a culture that values and embraces leadership at all levels.

Brendan Cruickshank (Vice President of Client Services) - Brendan is a veteran of the online job search and recruiting industry, having spent the past 8 years in senior client services roles with major sites like and He is quoted regularly as an expert in employment and jobs trends in major media outlets like the Washington Post, US News & World Report, and Forbes and has spoken at recruiting industry events such as Onrec and Kennedy Information’s Corporate Recruiting Conference.

Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., is the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College.


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