How to recruit great leaders

Author: Alex Shteingardt, MD, Hays Russia

As a business leader, when recruiting for your senior management team, it’s crucially important that you are able to proactively identify exceptional leaders during the interview process. After all, recruiting talented leaders into your business is critical to its future success.

8 attributes of top leaders and how to spot them during the interview process

We all want leaders in our businesses who are able to not just replicate, but to create; who can innovate and drive our businesses forward. But, unfortunately these truly great leaders can be extremely hard to come by.

I’ve therefore outlined for you what I think are the main characteristics of strong leaders, along with some helpful pointers to help you identify these traits during the interview process.

1. Is the candidate professional?

Above all else, all exceptional leaders are professional. Apart from having the reputation of undisputable experts in their field, they always do the basics well: show up on time, help, mentor and support others, take pride in their work and appearance, have a positive attitude and so on. A leader’s professionalism sets a strong example to their team, who in turn replicate this behaviour.

During the interview process, look out for candidates who dress professionally, those who are clear, coherent and confident in their answers, who take notes and demonstrate engaging and open body language.

2. Is the candidate results-orientated?

A strong leader will work in a methodical and strategic way, focusing on the highest value tasks first, and encouraging their colleagues to do the same. They constantly strive to deliver the tasks which will have the biggest and best impact on the business.

During the interview process, ask questions to find examples of how the candidate has delivered value and results in their previous or current role: e.g. what initiatives did they implement which drove value, how did they acquire new clients and foster relationships etc.? This information will tell you a lot about a candidate’s ability and focus on achieving results.

3. Is the candidate inspirational?

Great leaders are superb motivators and are seen as an inspirational figure by their teams and wider network. They have an innate ability to get the best out of everyone, inspiring the team to strive towards collective achievement. They do this by understanding individual needs and ambitions and masterly bringing them all along to a common goal in a win/win manner. These leaders understand that no two people are the same and so it takes something different to rouse each employee.

During the interview process, ask the candidate how their current employees and direct reports would describe their leadership style and ask them to provide an example of how they have inspired a team member.

4. Is the candidate accountable?

It’s important that the successful candidate is able to take responsibility for their words and actions. Being able to recognise their own flaws and mistakes helps endear leaders to the rest of their team, and fosters a greater sense of collective responsibility. Top leaders don’t waste their time creating a façade of infallibility. By recognising exactly what they’re lacking, leaders will be able to build a team of individuals who complement one another.

During the interview process, ask the candidate to describe a time when they failed in a leadership role, and how they managed the situation. Another great way to assess accountability is to ask the candidate to explains which of their skillsets and competencies need improvement.

5. Is the candidate influential?

Leaders can’t be expected to individually influence every member within their team if their team is made up of tens, hundreds or even thousands of people. This is why true leadership is about being able to influence a large quantity of people at the same time. If a leader is able to instil a set of common goals and principles in their team then the business will always be able to grow a lot quicker.

During the interview process, ask the candidate to provide an example of how they have influenced a large number of people to achieve a common goal whilst in a leadership position.

6. Is the candidate intuitive?

Exceptional leaders have the ability and confidence to make intuitive, and sometimes risky decisions. Sometimes remarkable decisions happen as a result of gut instinct, and happen regardless of reams of reporting and analytics. This intuition is almost always acquired through years of experience and cannot be taught. Arguably, it`s an innate ability.

During the interview process, ask the candidate to describe a time when they took a risky decision that paid off and how exactly they were taking it. You could also ask the candidate which types of decisions they find the hardest to make, or to explain a time when they had to make a decision based on little information.

7. Is the candidate emotionally intelligent?

A genuine leader doesn’t regard their people as empty suits which generate revenue but as unique and complex individuals which require investment (both time and effort). They’re able to understand their team’s individual personalities and emotions, knowing and willing to offer their care, attention, guidance, support time and so on when necessary.

During the interview process, ask the candidate to provide an example of when they built a solid and professional friendship at work – this is a key indicator of their ability to build and nurture relationships.

8. Is the candidate a big picture thinker?

Brilliant leaders are able to make everything work effectively without interfering in every minute detail. They allow their team members to grow by taking more responsibility, permitting them to become more independent and productive in the process. Our CEO Alistair Cox has advice on encouraging ‘big picture thinking’ in this LinkedIn Influencer blog.

During the interview process, ask the candidate how they stay focused on the bigger picture, and ensure they continually communicate this down to their teams.

Find the evidence

If you’re feeling uncertain about the conclusions you’ve drawn about an interviewee then collect as many references from their previous colleagues and employers as possible. I also strongly recommend supplementing your interview process with psychometric questionnaires and tests which can help to further evidence and solidify assessments you have made during the interview process.

Hiring the best leaders into your business is so important, after all, we all know how costly a bad hire can be. I hope you will find the above list of attributes helpful in finding the right people to drive your business forward.

I hope you found this blog valuable. For more advice and insight into the world of work, visit our dedicated blog page here or click on one of the links below.