By Derek R. Pangelinan
Leadership is a skill set that can be taught. You can read about how to develop leaders in the Fall 2019 edition of Opportunity magazine in the column I wrote called “Avoiding Organizational Quicksand.” But you will certainly have an easier time developing a leader if you select the best person for the job—a task often mishandled by business owners.
There are a number of reasons business owners select the wrong person for leadership. They can mostly be reduced to biases in our thinking.
Because I have taught leaders how to execute the interview and selection process, I have seen and heard more than my fair share of biased thinking by untrained business owners and organizational leaders.
Many biases can affect a business owner’s ability to select the right person for a position. Here are a few I have encountered while working with clients. Do any of them seem familiar?
- A candidate walks into the interview in University of Oregon Ducks gear, knowing that the business owner is a Ducks fan. The business owner wanted to select that individual until a review of the finer details of interviews with all of the applicants revealed a stronger candidate, someone who came to the interview dressed in business casual. (This represents a bias toward selecting those in similar social circles.)
- “He looks like he could be in charge; I like him.” (This is a bias where people attribute “looks” as having an impact on skills.)
- “She doesn’t pull any punches. I’m tough on my employees and I want someone else who will be tough on my employees like me.” (This is a bias where interviewers select people who are similar to themselves.)
- “She’s really nice, I think she will do a good job.” This candidate was inexperienced and had little knowledge of the procedures they would be supervising. (This represents a bias where people tend to ignore negative attributes because of a prominent positive attribute.)
- “I don’t want to select him; he was late to work last Tuesday.” This was said without regard to any other evidence of the candidate’s suitability. (This represents a type of bias where people tend ignore positives because of a prominent negative.)
- “Let’s pick her. She’s the smartest engineer we have.” This candidate had minimal supervisory experience or knowledge of supervisory skills. (This bias is where one attribute is treated as more important when it may not actually be more important.)
Another issue that causes business owners and organizational leaders to make a poor decision in hiring a supervisor is desperation. “I just need someone now,” they say as they select a person who, while the best candidate available at the time, is wildly underqualified for the position that needs to be filled. But this often results in damage to business operations, service, and workplace culture and morale.
To select the right person for a leadership position, you just need to take a handful of critical steps:
- Work with a professional interviewer if you have not gone through adequate training related to hiring. Outsourced human resources services can be hired for exactly this challenge. This will help you avoid bias and also protect you from possible discrimination lawsuits. The cost will outweigh the loss of a bad hire.
- Remember that leadership is a skill set. During the interview, ask questions about how candidates have demonstrated leadership skills in the past as well as questions about their skills and knowledge in the work to be done.
- Remind yourself that you are likely to have biases. Protect yourself against those biases by using a strong selection process designed by human resources professionals who are experienced.
- Do not settle for the best candidate if the best candidate isn’t good enough. Avoid this by setting a leadership standard and finding someone who meets it.
- Select someone who wants to be a leader. Leadership isn’t for everyone; just because someone can do the job, it doesn’t mean they will do the job.
Approach hiring a supervisor and leader as one of the biggest and most financially impactful bets you’re ever going to make in your business. Do everything you can to make this the best possible bet you can make.
Derek Pangelinan owns Derek Rey Consulting LLC. He is a management/leadership coach for small and medium business owners in Oregon and Southwest Washington, and runs a variety of workshops to help them build their teams and improve communication and commitment in the workplace.