Selecting Leaders: 10 Questions to Ask

Posted on August 2, 2008

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Author’s note: This piece was originally written for The John Maxwell Leadership Summit, held in Manila on July 10, 2008, and first posted on the Young Public Servants (YPS) website.


You may be in the process of hiring a key leader for your organization, or you already may be thinking about your choices for 2010. Wherever you may need the crucial skills, qualities, and characteristics of a leader, consider asking these 10 questions to assess your candidates:

1. Does the candidate possess the right character for leadership?

Leadership guru John Maxwell in Manila

Leadership guru John Maxwell stresses the need to consider character above all else. “Serious character flaws cannot be ignored. They will eventually make a leader ineffective—every time… Any person that you hire who has character flaws will be the weak link in your organization.” Look for a leader who demonstrates honesty, integrity, self-discipline, teachability, dependability, perseverance, conscientiousness, and a strong work ethic. Stay away from someone who fails to meet deadlines, fulfill obligations and promises, or take responsibility for his actions or circumstances.

2. How much influence does the leader have—and who influences him?

“Leadership is influence,” Maxwell points out. However, he also says that it’s important to look at the leader’s own circle of influence. “Are his followers positive producers or a bunch of mediocre yes-men? Every leader must know where he is going. And every follower had better be sure he’s behind a leader who knows what he’s doing.” If your candidate looks like a puppet for someone else, steer clear of him.

3. Does the candidate possess the right attitude?

Maxwell observes that when leaders possess a positive attitude, “they are able to go places where others can’t. They do things others can’t. They are not restricted by self-imposed limitations.” This is particularly important for organizations (or nations) that need to stretch their capacities in order to move forward or achieve a demanding goal. The right leader will inspire everyone in her team to do the right things—and to do things right—for progress.

4. Does your potential leader have excellent people skills?

It’s all very simple: “A leader without people skills soon has no followers,” Maxwell points out. The right people skills involve “a genuine concern for others, the ability to understand people, and the decision to make positive interaction with others a primary concern.” Inspiring leaders are those who make us feel good about ourselves and the team—not someone who makes each interaction with them feel like punishment.

5. Does the candidate have the right gifts, skills, and attitude for the position?

There are people who possess the right raw qualities for leadership but must still be molded, trained, and directed properly to become effective leaders. Based on Maxwell’s observation, a good leader is someone who “has the drive to be the person she was created to be.” She possesses the natural “ingredients” for leadership and will do what it takes to maximize it—in the right organization, within the appropriate role.

6. Does the candidate have a proven track record?

Maxwell quotes management expert Robert Townsend, who once said: “The true leader can be recognized because somehow or other, his people consistently turn in superior performances.” A real leader is someone who can inspire excellence in himself and in other wherever he is placed. When deciding on your presidentiable for 2010, for instance, take a look at candidates’ track records throughout their entire career—not just during their most recent post.

7. Does your potential leader possess and inspire confidence?

It is easy to be confident when times are easy, but does your candidate inspire confidence even when the going gets rough? Maxwell reminds us: “Confidence is not simply for show. Confidence empowers… A great leader has the ability to instill within his people confidence within themselves.” One true characteristic of leadership is that it builds up others so that they are less dependent on the leader and more confident in their own chances for success.

8. Does the candidate possess a healthy dose of self-discipline?

“Great leaders always have self-discipline—without exception,” says Maxwell. “They [have to be] willing to pay the price of great leadership.” According to him, two areas of self-discipline to look for in potential leaders are their ability to handle their own emotions and their ability to maximize and manage their time. He points out further: “Disciplined people are always growing, always striving for improvement, and they maximize the use of their time.”

9. Can the candidate effectively communicate with others?

A leader is able to lead because he is able to paint a picture of a compelling vision and rally others’ support behind it. It is never about intimidation or force. According to Maxwell, communication is “positive interaction.” A great leader always has genuine concern for the people she’s talking to, is able to focus on others and read body language, and they can always look you in the eye and give you a warm, sincere smile.

10. Is the potential leader willing to be different and take risks?

A leader must be discontent with the status quo, Maxwell says, but it doesn’t mean that he grumbles or has a negative attitude. He points out: “To be leading, by definition, is to be in front, breaking new ground, conquering new worlds, moving away from the status quo.” If your candidate is either complacent or just promising more of the same, then he is not a real leader. Maxwell adds: “When seeking potential leaders, seek people who seek solutions.”


Copyright © 2008 Niña Terol

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Posted in: Leadership