Hire a Strong Leader and Watch Your Organization Grow

An executive director comes into work and is immediately faced with a slew of obstacles and challenges, including:

  • The program officer of XYZ Foundation is upset about the most recent grant report.
  • A client and her family are in crisis and need immediate assistance.
  • Board Member Richard has a “great” idea for a new initiative, but it's quite costly and unrealistic to implement.

By the end of this action-packed day, the executive director has been so busy tending to small problems that she has accomplished little to move the organization forward.

If this daily scenario continues all year, the organization will inevitably begin to suffer from a lack of focused direction. If it proceeds for several years, the organization will be in the midst of a downward spiral. To prevent this situation, a leader must focus on the bigger picture. He or she must concentrate on the long-term goals often overshadowed by the constant barrage of smaller obstacles. If your organization wants to hire a leader with the vision of an eagle rather than the narrow scope of a mouse, here are some steps to consider:

Prepare Your Organization
Take the time to focus on your organization and set goals before looking to hire a leader. Know what will work best for your situation and apply that to your hiring. Communicate with your staff and make sure they are ready for the inevitable changes that occur when a new leader is hired. Most great leaders make changes and challenge the status quo. If your staff is not prepared, a new leader's intentions may be misunderstood. A good outside facilitator can help your organization decide what traits a candidate must have to meet your objectives.

Probe the Track Record
Take a detailed look at what your candidate accomplished at her previous organization. Examine the funding, staffing, new programs and increases in services she implemented. Were they successful? Also, look for innovative solutions she may have created, such as streamlining services or collaborating with other organizations. A resume which describes specific successes rather than vague areas of responsibility is the sign of a focused leader.

Understand Interpersonal Skills
A candidate with a particularly strong sense of vision may lack the interpersonal skills it takes to put that vision into place. If possible, ask for references from the candidate's supervisor as well as those who reported to him. Their responses will verify his efficiency, tact and diplomacy. If the candidate has changed jobs frequently, it may be an indication that his interpersonal skills need some work.

Conduct a Meaningful Interview
You're hiring this person to focus on the big picture, so during the interview ask big picture questions. What are her suggestions for some of your most overriding issues? Does she focus on the small details of the problem or is she thinking more expansively? How a candidate approaches a problem in an interview is a good indication of how she will tackle it on the job.

Look for Delegation Skills
Often leaders stay focused on the most important goals by assigning other urgent matters to staff members. Ask the candidate what his philosophy is on delegating tasks. Have him explain how he handled a crisis or divided job responsibilities in previous situations. If he is a perfectionist who must handle every task alone, it will be hard for him to stay focused on the most important goals.

Sum it Up
After you've described your organization and your challenges, ask the candidate to summarize, verbally or in writing, what she learned about your organization. This will ensure she understands your situation and can apply broad problem-solving skills to reach your goals. In other words, make sure the candidate gets it.

Remember, your hiring decision will substantially impact the future growth of your organization.

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