Hiring Leaders: How to Choose a Leader, Not a Boss

When your organisation is hiring leaders—whether it’s a small team’s manager or the CEO—is the process as thorough and painstaking as it should be?

“Relentlessly attracting, empowering, and engaging the best people is the most important thing we can do for our business,” says Ben Peterson, CEO and cofounder of BambooHR. Ken Sundheim, CEO and founder of KAS Placement, puts it more bluntly: “A firm lives and dies by its ability to attract leaders.”

Yet Gallup reports that companies don’t hire the right manager for the job 82 percent of the time, instead choosing candidates who lack key managerial skills. How can you avoid this common and costly mistake? All it takes is incorporating the right leadership hiring strategies.

This article will help you identify exceptional candidates who have an advantage that many others lack: the ability to be a great leader—not just a boss.

Bossing vs. Leadership

“Wait,” you might say. “Aren’t a boss and a leader the same thing? They both tell you what to do.”

Not quite. Here’s the difference in a nutshell: A boss can make you do it, but a leader can make you want to do it.

Being a boss means having the authority to make decisions and the power to enforce them. But a boss can misuse that authority and power in ways that employees don’t like, such as barking out orders, setting unreasonable expectations, and waiting impatiently on the sidelines for results. Even if a boss manages to get decent short-term results by controlling employees with such a heavy hand, it’s easy to see how that kind of behaviour would erode employee morale and company culture in the long run.

In contrast, a leader has more than just the power and authority of their position. Leaders also have great character, coupled with a superior ability to guide and motivate people in positive, compelling ways. Here are some examples of how leaders put these attributes to good use:

  • Inspiring others – motivating them to do great work
  • Leading by example – fuelling a vibrant company culture by living its best principles every day
  • Empowering team members – providing the tools, training, and guidance they need to succeed
  • Collaborating – working side by side with team members to set lofty goals and achieve them
  • Earning trust – building a caring relationship with each team member by applauding their successes, listening to their suggestions and concerns, clearing their work obstacles, and helping them advance in their career
  • Fostering innovation – Constantly seeking better ways to do things, spurring team members to do likewise
  • Praising and rewarding – Always giving their group credit for a job well done instead of hogging the limelight

Employees notice and respond to this kind of leadership. It motivates them to do their best by creating a bond with someone they genuinely like and want to please. In turn, that leads to important business benefits beyond those we’voe already mentioned.

Related: Employee Engagement Checklist

The Benefits of Hiring Great Leaders

Hiring leaders can fuel the success of an organisation in ways that hiring bosses never will.
Ken Sundheim said, “For any organisation, staffing effective managers can dramatically increase productivity, heighten employee morale, and grow a firm’s competitive advantage.” He also said greater customer satisfaction and employee retention will result.

The list doesn’t end there. Hiring leaders creates an environment where engaged employees thrive, and that is likely to have positive effects on a wide variety of business metrics. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) describes it as “fostering a climate that motivates high performance across the organisation.”

How to Recruit Leadership

Now that you know why hiring leaders, and not just bosses, is so important, let’s discuss how the leadership hiring process works.

A well-built leadership hiring strategy includes the basic best hiring practises, like evaluating relevant experience and culture fit, but goes beyond these to determine whether a candidate has the skills and character attributes to be a leader. When you’re filling a manager or executive position, look for key personality traits that will spark the positive leader behaviours listed above. Hays names eight good ones:

  • Always professional in demeanour and actions
  • Focused on results
  • Inspiring to others
  • Takes responsibility for their own words and actions
  • Able to influence a large number of people to work toward common goals
  • Possesses intuition that helps them make difficult decisions wisely
  • Has emotional intelligence that helps them nurture relationships with team members
  • Concentrates on the big picture while trusting team members to handle details

These traits are worth looking for when hiring all kinds of leaders. But in some ways, hiring a manager is different than hiring an executive, and there are different leadership hiring strategies for each of them.

Tips for Hiring a Manager

According to The Management Centre, “What’s different for managers is that they have to get work done through other people. That means managers also must have the interpersonal and communication skills to influence others.”

To learn whether manager candidates have the right stuff, ask detailed questions about their experience, such as:

  • Techniques they have used to motivate people
  • The steps they took to form a successful project team
  • How they created and ran a key project from start to finish
  • How they have handled obstacles or made a difficult decision
  • How they have dealt with performance issues in a direct report

The idaea is to ask questions (and follow-up questions) that will help you predict how candidates would respond to similar situations in your organisation. If they don’t have manager experience, adapt your questions to learn whether they have shown similar abilities in other jobs they have held.

Related: 15 Interview Questions to Ensure Candidate Quality

Tips for Hiring an Executive

Filling executive positions requires the most thorough and careful vetting of all, because their actions affect the entire organisation and shape its future. Executive candidates need to demonstrate their abilities to set the right goals for the entire organisation, foster a great company culture, adapt their strategies to changing conditions, and deliver winning results.

Finding such people isn’t easy because the talent pool is smaller than it is for lower-level positions. That’s why Staffing Advisors says it typically takes four to eight months to fill a CEO or executive director position—three times as long as it takes to fill the average senior position. Here are key steps that can help you find the best candidate efficiently:

Do deep research to carefully define the role and the type of candidate most suitable for it before you start the recruiting process.

When feasible, hire from within. Research shows that internal candidates consistently perform better.

Still, leave no stone unturned in your search for external candidates. Ask your firm’s leaders, board members, investors, advisors, and employees to scour their networks for leads. (And don’t overlook leaders who are currently employed; many are interested in new offers.)

Choose the right tools to assess candidates’ most relevant leadership qualities. Go beyond standard interviews and resume reviews and include such things as personality evaluations, cognitive tests, and work simulations to help predict success.

Whether you’re hiring a manager or an executive, whenever you’re recruiting leadership the future of your organisation is at stake. Don’t settle for a boss; keep searching until you find a leader. The extra effort will pay dividends for years to come.

Kent Peterson is a writer at BambooHR, the leading human resources software solution for small and medium businesses. He has also created award-winning work in television and radio.

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