I’m in the fortunate position to work in a job where I have the opportunity to meet and interview a wide range of people every day, and a topic that often comes up is leadership.  What’s it all about?

On one hand, I interview people who are looking for their next job, most of whom are seeking a leadership role with responsibility for a team, a division or an entire business.

On the other hand, I meet regularly with employers who task me with recruiting leaders for their organisation.  Some roles are more ‘hands on’ than others, but a common denominator in every leadership job brief is the expectation of leading the team to meet its objectives.

So what have I discovered?

Leadership is about giving

Effective leadership requires the ability to help others through coaching, mentoring and performance management.

The most effective leaders I’ve worked with and seen are generous people.  They’re givers.

These people give you their time by listening, observing, guiding, directing and instructing.  They share advice, challenge your viewpoint, and encourage you, all whilst providing fierce protection.  And of critical importance, effective leaders share feedback.  They don’t sugar coat the message, they deliver ‘real’ feedback because they genuinely want to see you develop and they know that feedback goes hand in hand with experiential learning.  Learning from your mistakes is powerful, especially if you have a leader around to see through the clutter and help you see the core issue, rather than the ‘white noise’.  They give you honesty. 

Intertwined destiny

The destiny of the leader is tied to that of the team. A common set of goals or big picture objectives, determine the symbiotic relationship between the leader and the team.  This drives a selflessness in the leader that ensures everyone works together for a shared purpose. I’ve seen no more powerful image of this than AFL Premiership coach of the Western Bulldogs, Luke Beveridge, handing over his winning medal to the team’s injured Captain Bob Murphy who missed playing the game through injury.  Watching on television, this was one of those “wow” moments in life that are so rare… and so powerful.  The next day, Murphy returned the medal to his coach and thanked him for the gesture.  Yet Beveridge was not finished, he then went on to say “the medal will go in the Western Bulldogs museum as a symbol of the camaraderie and respect that Bob has fostered over the course of his career at the Western Bulldogs.”  For this, he was awarded the Australian Sports Hall of Fame Spirit of Sport Award.  Beveridge’s gesture to one person in his team, transcended beyond one club and one sport, to become widely recognised by news and media outlets around the globe.

Leaders demand results and effective teams achieve them because they respond positively to the generosity afforded to them and they pay it forward.

How to hire great leaders – ask these questions

When interviewing candidates for leadership positions I often ask these questions to uncover leadership traits.  If you are a leader, ask yourself these also.

  • Describe your most significant accomplishment as a leader. Listen carefully to the answer to determine how much emphasis is on them helping others succeed, rather than individual achievement.  “We” vs “me”.
  • If I had your current and previous team members here with us now, what common themes would I hear about you? This question can be followed up by requesting the contact details of two or three previous staff to provide a reference, to validate the leader’s self-awareness.
  • What’s the single most important goal for your team? If I asked any of your staff would I get the same answer?  This question challenges how clearly the leader understands his/her mandate and how effectively they have communicated this to their team.

Then pick a couple of specific questions that directly relate to the next role.

  •  In this role, you will inherit a great team of people who are currently underperforming. How will you tackle this? 
  • This role will involve driving growth and building a high performing team. What will you do in the first 90 days to set up for success?

Answering these job-related questions requires future predictions, so you will gain insight into the interviewee’s ability to plan for the future and their approach to overcoming team-related challenges.

There are many scholarly articles on leadership, but to me, it’s pretty simple.  Leadership is about giving.

About the Author

Ben Walsh – General Manager; Recruitment

Ben has proudly been with Optimum since our inception in 2003. As General Manager – Recruitment, he is responsible for leading a team of recruitment and resourcing specialists across the executive, accounting, financial services, sales and marketing, information technology, and engineering disciplines.