Leaders, and How to Find Them

With a heavy heart, but with a profound hope for the future of our country, I write this article about leaders. While we have a special need for them at this difficult time, leaders are the ones who make a difference in any time or circumstance. Accountants or engineers, sales managers or firemen, a mayor or president ? the traits of the best are there to see if you know how to look. When interviewing candidates, look for three qualities: competency, capacity and desire. It takes all three to make a potential leader. Most interviewers stop at one, a few make it to two, but the best consider each quality in turn. Collectively, these qualities describe the measure of the person. Understanding them all first requires an understanding of each one individually. Competency Competency is about skills and abilities. Creating an Excel model, designing a circuit, using solution selling, repairing a car and doing consumer market research are typical examples. Competencies can be learned. I’m in a small minority, but in my opinion we spend too much time focusing on competencies. As a result, we ignore the real traits of success ? and the real traits of leaders. Quite often, the most competent people in the world can’t deliver the desired results, especially in a moment of crisis. Capacity Capacity is about the ability to deliver current and future results. It’s how a person uses his or her competencies in a specific situation to make things happen. It could be designing a new product without all the tools in a very short time under tremendous pressure, or it could be organizing a team of workers to reestablish the nation’s financial infrastructure in five days. Capacity is about understanding what the future holds, what resources are available, what needs to get done, and then how to do it. While experience can help accelerate its development, I don’t think capacity can be learned. This is the internal makeup of the person. It incorporates potential, excellence, intelligence, the ability to inspire others, flexibility, creativity, and character. Desire Desire is about motivation. Without it, all the competency and personal capacity in the world sits idle. You have to want to do the work or it won’t get done, no matter how good you are at doing it. Getting up every day and putting extra effort into a job takes work. Persuading others, especially if they don’t work for you, to put in an extra effort to meet a deadline takes even more work. It doesn’t matter where it came from or how it got there: evidence of desire is everywhere. It’s seen in projects that get completed sooner, in one more review of a complex contract, a few extra calls made every day, going out of the way to teach someone else to use Word macros, going back into a burning building to rescue someone, or just doing an extra special job on that homework assignment because you wanted to. Desire ebbs and flows. For some, it’s just getting the job. This is the end of their ordeal. Now, showing up becomes all that matters ? being competent. For others, getting the job is only the beginning. It’s a place where desires can be fulfilled. Learning new skills takes precedence over mere competency. Applying these skills in new ways to improve and change everything is what excites a person about a new job. This is an enormous source of energy. The best managers and leaders know how to tap into this to get people to excel in any circumstances. The desire to grow and change ? yourself, others, and your company ? is the essence of the best in any field. Desire can’t be taught, but it can be found. In every interview, make sure to get examples of major accomplishments ? situations where candidates went the extra mile, and how difficulties were handled. Then discover why. You’ll see the qualities of a leader emerge. People shine when stretched. It’s how desire is created. The best managers need to motivate others by tapping into their capacity and desire, not by emphasizing competency. How many of us are motivated to do the same work over and over again? Aren’t we more likely to put in that extra effort because the project is critical to the company’s success or critical to our own growth? Being part of something special is important. Even if your company is not the employer of choice, create a job of choice. Describe how the job will impact the company’s success. Clarify what the person will do, learn and become. Minimize competency as much as possible. Emphasize excellence. Incorporate competency into the desired results, but don’t lead with it. If you need to achieve immediate results, then experience and competencies will naturally become more critical. But start with the desired and necessary required results. When you focus on the future rather than the past, you’ll be able to build a bigger pool of top candidates ? those with just enough competency to tap into their capacity and desire to succeed. Search for leaders. We all need them. When things get tough, this will be the group you’ll count on to grow your company. Don’t stop at competency. It takes just enough, plus lots of capacity and desire, to achieve anything significant. The more competency you request, the less you’ll obtain in the long run. Without desire, you have nothing. Without capacity, you have no future. Without competency, all you lose is a little time. Let’s help rebuild our nation by finding more leaders. Our country needs them everywhere.

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Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).

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