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How to Hire Strong Leaders

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: We really need to hire people who have strong leadership skills, but we're not finding them, or maybe we're not asking the right questions. Any advice?

A: Any successful organization needs leaders, people others want to follow because of their vision or because they inspire others to be better than they think they are. Leaders make their followers feel valued and appreciated. They live their values. They behave in an ethical fashion and are caring and compassionate while demanding the best from their people.

People with leadership skills are not always easy to find. You may be right that you're not asking the right questions, so let's look at how you can spot leadership potential in an interview.

When true leaders talk about their accomplishments, they use "we" a lot more than "I."

Right off the bat, you don't want to simply ask, "Are you a leader?" Any intelligent applicant is going to reply "yes," and taking that at face value is potentially a huge mistake. Instead, ask a series of well-crafted behavioral questions to get to the information you need. Here are a few to consider asking:

  • Can you tell me three values you think you demonstrate as a leader?
  • How do you build support for a new initiative or project when there is resistance in the organization?
  • Describe an instance when you failed in your career. What happened? What did you learn from it?
  • In what ways does the role of a leader differ from the role of a manager?
  • What's the most important trait of a leader? Give an example of a time when you demonstrated that trait.
  • Recount a time when you had to make a difficult or unpopular decision that affected others. How did you communicate the decision? What was the outcome?

As you listen to the candidate's responses, ask for elaboration where it would be helpful. For example:

  • How did you do that?
  • What was the result of your action?
  • What did you learn?
  • Can you tell me more about X?

If you ask the right questions and listen carefully to the responses, you should be able to spot someone with strong leadership skills. When true leaders talk about their accomplishments, they use "we" a lot more than "I." They know their success is due not only to their own abilities but to their skill at bringing out the best in others. That's the kind of leader that will move your organization in the right direction.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you'd like her to answer in "Ask the Expert"? Send it to achq@asaecenter.org.

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