Beyond Skills: Reconsidering How to Hire Leaders | The Village Family Service Center

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Beyond Skills: Reconsidering How to Hire Leaders

Thursday, February 6, 2020
Selecting a leader based on technical skills may be detrimental to an organization's growth

By Robert Jones | EAP Trainer | The Village Business Institute

When I train companies and organizations on hiring the right people, I talk about hiring for fit rather than skills. I ask the question, “Is the best person on paper always the best employee?” Inevitably the overwhelming consensus is no. Hiring for fit is the one of the most important factors to consider when it comes to maintaining or strengthening culture. So why don’t organizations follow this mantra when hiring leaders?

Much of our understanding of leadership is rooted in the military experience. In the military there is a clear-cut delineation of leadership, and the person at the lower level of the hierarchy cannot question the higher-ranking individual. This approach to leadership has led to a modern conception of leadership based in power, experience, and technical skills. However, as technology advances and information, including self-understanding, becomes easier to access, we need to re-examine the way we view hiring leadership.

When I look at a job description for a leadership position, there is almost always a clause that states a person must have so many years of experience in the field. Recently, I have questioned whether experience in a field is needed to lead a group of people. The idea of experience from this perspective is nothing more than a learned skill, which is something that can be developed.

Of course, there is a need for skills in the workforce, and if you can find someone with relevant skills, that is certainly advantageous for your organization. But I tend to think a person with leadership skills is more valuable. There are several skills that I consider valuable when discussing leadership, such as communication, humility, the desire to learn, and dedication to self and the organization.

Let’s break these down to better understand how an individual with these skills can enhance an organization more than someone with technical skills.

Communication. This is the most valuable tool that any leader can have, because when done effectively, it allows for the establishment of trust, the free flow of information, and the development of a sense of belonging. We are all different based on the experiences that we have had throughout our lives. These differences can offer a group a different perspective which leads to innovation. If a leader utilizes the hierarchal form of communication, which does not allow for information to flow up, then we limit the levels of creativity and innovation.

Humility. A humble leader wants the members of the team to have more of the attention and the glory. Leadership that is rooted in titles is more focused on the accolades that they can receive than about setting aside their own agenda to grow a team member.

Desire to learn. A leader with advanced technical skills may come into the organization with the belief that they do not have anything to learn. This is almost always wrong, because any new leader needs to learn about their employees, the culture of the organization, and potentially new approaches to the technical aspects of the job.

When you have a leader who can effectively communicate, is humble and willing to learn, you have someone who is dedicated to learning about self, which in turn creates a level of dedication to the organization and to self. They recognize that there is value of developing self and others, which will strengthen the company.

Who should we hire?

Think about the people this leader will oversee. Do they need guidance, or do they need someone who is willing to support them? Do they need handholding or someone to develop them? Someone with fewer technical skills and better leadership skills may be a better choice for supporting and developing a team, because he or she will come in with a level of humility and learn the technical skills, allowing for a deeper introduction to their staff.

This leader is going to get out of the way of their employees and let them do what they are good at. They won’t change anything before gaining their trust and understanding, decreasing the need for authority and increasing buy-in both for the leader and their goals.

A leader with fewer technical skills who demonstrates that they value their staff will be able to apply their life experience and bring a new perspective, which will grow the company.

About the authorRobert Jones, Employee Assistance Program Trainer at The Village Business Institute
Robert Jones is an Employee Assistance Program Trainer with The Village Business Institute. Robert has a bachelor’s degree in History and a master’s degree in Education with an emphasis in counseling and leadership. He also has a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies, and recently began working on his Educational Doctorate in Leadership. Robert has nearly 20 years of experience in the hospitality field and has been doing freelance training for almost 10 years.