This is a discussion we regularly have with the clients that we work with, when trying to identify leaders - will this person already be in a leadership or strategical position, or will they consider someone who has the potential to be a leader and has the ambition to take that next step.

Very often, the choice is for someone who has potential. Someone who shares the same values and ambitions as the client, who can immediately add value but also has the room to develop.

The challenge is knowing how to spot this potential, how to draw out this experience without leading the candidate. We are in a fortunate position, we build collaborative relationships with our clients, we learn together and we proactively make our processes bespoke to their needs.  So when we were recently asked by a global multibillion turnover organisation to help them find a technical leader we were not afraid to ask them how they make this judgement call, what is their line of questioning, what are the values that they look for and what makes a candidate stand out for them.

As a result we have been able to readjust our search and interviewing technique. Recently I asked one of our clients, a Senior Director of Engineering, how he looks for leadership qualities, here are some of the insights he shared;

  • A broader thinker will highlight or be able to speak to the system design that includes their part, how they helped others, drove aspects of the project/work or how it tied into the goals of the company.
  • If someone hasn’t led people and I think they’re focused on technology alone, then I’ll ask them to give an example of someone they mentored. This is where candidates often have trouble. They start to talk about the theory of mentoring and then go back to their specific contributions to a particular project. 
  • If someone has not led people I will ask for examples of mentoring...a leader or strategic thinker considers how their actions help to achieve the overall goal.
  • Another quality is experimentation in roles and contributions. A leader will try to experience various roles and responsibilities to broaden their understanding of the business with the intention of either learning about themselves or the intention of influencing more of the business and people over time. This might show up in an initiative started outside of their scope, a project management role for some time, leading different teams or getting involved with stakeholders outside of their group and normal role.

All really useful insights, and while they were particular to this project they can also be applied much more widely.

I have shared an article here which makes a few suggestions on how to spot a "superstar collaborator" and invaluable skill in a leadership role.