Recruiting Leaders 101: Prioritize Soft Skills and Fit
Nothing has a greater impact on your organization than the leaders who steer it. For the professionals tasked with recruiting them, you have two equally important dimensions to your search: you are looking for a candidate who has the credentials to get the job done plus the charisma and the likability–the fit–to get your colleagues’ buy-in.
Education and experience–a candidate’s professional background–is fairly straightforward and easy to gleen from their resumes. But the other set of skills, a candidate’s potential to fit with your corporate culture, is more abstract and elusive.
The Versatility of Soft Skills
Change breeds uneasiness, especially in the workplace. Leadership transitions can be particularly complicated to weather, but a good leader is up for the challenge and brings confidence and clarity in uncertain times.
While their past experience gives those in leadership roles some of the necessary background to succeed, soft skills like emotional intelligence, flexibility and communication skills are equally valuable. Although these qualities may be more difficult to tease out on paper, they are vital skills for a candidate to exhibit. These qualities define the essence of a leader.
Although difficult to demonstrate, once one has soft skills they are transferable. They make for a versatile leader who is able to acclimate to a variety of cultures. Soft skills are about understanding people, anticipating their needs, putting them at ease and communicating with them on an emotional level. If candidates have these skills, they will understand how to fit into the culture comfortably and add to it without making it look like they are dominating it or trying to redefine it too quickly in a way that makes staff feel as though they are losing their place.
In an article published in Harvard Business Review Jean Martin notes that fit is even more important than other skills that a candidate brings to the table. She captures the alarming failure rates of leaders unable to achieve fit: “Astoundingly, C-suite executives report that only one out of five executives hired from outside are viewed as high performers at the end of their first year in house. And ultimately, of the 40 percent of leaders who are hired from outside each year, nearly half fail within the first 18 months. The direct and indirect costs of the failures are staggering, far exceeding the cost of the search that found the executive.”
Pursue Soft Skills
So how do you find a candidate who will integrate successfully into your professional culture? How do you find the candidate who will be the right fit? It starts with the job description and extends through the interview process.
According to Simply Hired data, the most commonly used words in the job descriptions that recruit leaders tend to be categorical or focus more on skills than on fit. These terms most commonly appear:
- Strategic thinker
- Effective communicator
While these qualities speak to the hard skills associated with leadership, they don’t specifically explore the skills that foster fit. Enhancing position posting to include discussions about the psychology of leadership starts this conversation, which can then continue in the interview. Isolating what makes a candidate successful when assuming a new leadership role and then pursuing those qualities sets the search up for a greater chance of success.
Clearly Communicate What your Organization Needs in a Leader
Ask for what you want. Position descriptions for leadership roles come in an array of shapes and sizes. Positions at nonprofit organizations, for example, tend to explore expectations about soft skills, citing mission statements that shape expectations throughout the posting. While posting for leadership jobs in engineering firms, for example, often focus largely on credentials citing the leadership components of the roles as more secondary, less defined qualities.
While credentials and experience are undoubtedly important in all leadership hires, the psychological dimension of the job can’t be ignored. It’s a defining feature of the job.
Here are some examples of language that can bolster job postings to recruit candidates who possess soft skills:
- Values creativity and flexibility
- Facilitates constructive and productive communication
- Fosters a culture that recognizes talents and strength of each member of the team
- Embraces change
- Well-developed interpersonal and relationship-building skills
Challenge existing job posting. See if there is room to enhance them to outline more specific expectations about the leadership candidates they attract. Simply Hired is an excellent tool to use to review other postings and see what language other companies use to define the soft skills they require in the leaders they recruit.
Once you have solidified your search team’s values, carry those through the interview process. Gearing interviews to discuss instances where candidates successfully employed soft skills will yield useful results supporting fit; for example:
- Have you found yourself in a leadership role during a difficult time–perhaps a time when layoffs or downsizing were taking place? How did you communicate with your colleagues to minimize the stress of this and to keep morale as high as possible? How did you support your colleagues through this difficult time?
- What are some of your strategies for creating a culture that facilitates professional development and fosters staff retention?
- If hired, how do you plan to integrate your expertise into this professional culture? How has this gone for you in the past? How do you achieve the balance of making staff comfortable with change on the one hand and ushering them into a new era of leadership on the other hand?
Make your recruitment plan a clear and focused package that aims to attract and capture candidates who have both the hard and the softs skills and ultimately the fit that your company needs.
Reward Flexibility with Flexibility
Preparing an attractive compensation package may require listening to your candidates and identifying what forms of currency they most value. Compensation is so much more than financial in today’s workplace. Increased flexibility including opportunities to work remotely are gaining ground while increased paid time off is rounding out many compensation packages. This trend will increase as more Millennials assume leadership roles, so exercise your own soft skills and be prepared to be flexible.
Create a Culture that Incubates Leadership
It’s no surprise that all executive positions have a leadership dimension, but leadership is important in other roles as well; 52% of middle management jobs and 25% of junior level roles include leadership responsibilities as well.
While soft skills can be innate, they can also be taught and refined. Providing training to hone these skills in an excellent way to support leadership development on all levels.
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