Mon, Aug 15, 2011
There they are again, as much a part of resumes as contact information…if you’re a recruiter or hiring manager, or anyone who has to look at hundreds of resumes, you know what I’m talking about. That laundry list of cliches and aphorisms, trying to convey glory from something that, on a resume at least, seems anything but glorious. More like ‘ubiquitous.’
Because in the grand majority of resumes every recruiter receives, perhaps 80% or so, it’s almost a guarantee that, centered somewhere underneath work experience, is the dreadful heading: Leadership Activities’ (or some similarly nebulous, and often ridiculous) phrase.
Of course, the problem with resumes is that they, more or less, tend to accurately convey someone’s experience (albeit with varying degrees of hyperbole), and in that same document where someone claims years of leadership or organization experience, they also reveal that their “leadership” credentials were picked up from some fancy title in some student organizations, or in a professional or voluntary association, or, most commonly, in those little contributions at work that fit the dictionary definition of leadership.
But leadership, in business at least, is a concept that transcends the dictionary. The world of work is not defined by Webster’s, but rather, on the ground, on the front lines, where, like in war, leaders are forged in the heat of battle, be that the war for talent or beyond.
The truth is, ‘leadership,’ as a concept and as a buzzword, has been seen for over a decade as the magic salve for resumes and ultimately successful job searches, with more and more people self-identifying as “leaders,” (on a resume at least) due to its perceived appeal to employers and hiring managers, therefore saturating – and diminishing - the marketability of this work. How follower-like of them.
Of course, soft skills are hard to vet on paper, so occasionally, recruiters get suckered into sitting down with these would-be Jack Welches and really drilling deeper. That’s the point of the interview and selection process, and perhaps no behavioral based interview for a leadership or executive position is complete without the question: “Tell me about the time you successfully lead a team.”
In most cases, the answer is pretty clear: they did all the work themselves (leading a project or initiative is completely different than leading people, who tend to be much more volatile and demanding), or even worse, micr0-managing an entire process or department or delegating all their responsibilities to others. Remember: delegation is part of leadership, but too much delegation means a lack of accountability that, when absent, means that the leadership isn’t really leading at all.
So, before submitting your next resume replete with “5 years of leadership” experience or apply for a job whose description specifically mandates extensive leadership experience, remember this time-tested truth: almost everyone identifies themselves as a leader, but in the end, that’s an entirely different concept than managing.
And while really anyone could manage (although not, necessarily, manage well), finding true, effective leaders is finding, in effect, a diamond in the rough. Few truly lead. The reason? Leadership is tough. It’s about motivating and making those around you better; it’s about getting the job done and done well, about engaging the heart, mind and vision of those stakeholders inside the company and beyond.
A Leader, unlike a ‘manager,’ isn’t a title on an org chart: it’s a skill that can manifest itself across all levels of the organization – from the front line employee making direct contact with customers all the way up to the C-Suite (although even there, the presence of true leadership is far from guaranteed).
So, obviously, leadership is hard to define, much less identify. So how can talent organizations, recruiters and hiring managers attract and retain leaders? First and foremost, it’s necessary to look beyond the bullet points and resume cliches and consider these four tips when looking for leadership:
There are thought, servant, transactional, intentional, transformational, tribal, situational, and collaborative leaders—to name a few. It’s enough to make your head hurt (you may in fact need a leader just to keep all the other leaders in check).
Entering a conversation with this in mind can help you detect the traits and characteristics of the leader you want from the hire who just happens to be overly charismatic.
2. When asking for references, request people who are colleagues or direct reports (or preferably, both):
The common practice is to ask for a supervisor as a reference. However, a colleague or a direct report can provide just as valuable a recommendation for—as well as vital information on—a candidate, and often presents such information in a non-political nature. To get a perspective from all levels showcases how people lead. Call it a mini-360 degree assessment.
3. Notice the level of involvement:
If your candidate is participating in professional associations, how are they contributing? How would you even know? Well, if sourcing is part of your job, you can often determine how much they provide advice and contribute to discussion boards. Are their contributions merely reactionary or are they adding thought and value to the conversations?
Also, how many connections/Twitter followers/Facebook friends, etc. do they have? Do these acquaintances come from multiple disciplines? This is often an indication of their ability to speak different languages and connect with others.
4. Consider more pointed leadership interview questions:
Instead of asking for one example when someone was a leader of a group, ask for three. Inquire about the candidate’s leadership philosophy and how they incorporate it into the workplace. Ask them what three characteristics they look for in a leader, and then, once they give their answer, tell them to expand on how they use all three qualities in their surroundings.
From research to questions to references, there are many strategies you can use to determine if the candidate is the right leader for your organization.
The difference could be as dramatic as finding your company’s next leader or its next employee relations nightmare.