Frank Johnson was an experienced recruiter who had worked for two previous companies. He had recently started as a technical recruiter for a fairly large, high-tech firm in Silicon Valley. Frank had developed a recruiting process that worked well for him. He was an excellent sourcer, and he found talented candidates even when other recruiters struggled. That was the primary reason he had been hired. The director of staffing had heard about his sourcing skills and wanted him to teach the other recruiters some of his techniques. Frank was excited to work for a well-known organization and have the opportunity to recruit top-notch people.
But, Frank was also very good at closing candidates and had been the top recruiter for his previous employers. He started this new position in the hope that he would be challenged by a more experienced and qualified leader and that he would have a shot at the director job at some point. But, in little less than three months, Frank was ready to quit. His manager was demanding and expected detailed accounting of the time Frank spent on each assignment and what he did each day. He was expected to handle more than 25 requisitions as well as spend a significant amount of time coaching and teaching his fellow recruiters. On top of that, he was learning to use the talent management system and the other tools that were necessary for communicating with candidates and hiring managers and for reporting. Frank’s boss also had difficulty making decisions, and this was driving Frank crazy. One day, the boss would agree to something and promise to get it done and then come back a few days later and say he had changed his mind. During his negotiations for the position, Frank had been promised more freedom and fewer requisitions; he had not gotten any inkling that his boss was such a micromanager or had such a hard time sticking to a decision.
This is a classic situation: A good recruiter with a strong record of achievement runs into a manager who is insecure and is most likely struggling to keep his own job. Frank’s options within the organization are limited, but he should have little problem finding a better position elsewhere. Inside this organization, Frank can wait it out and hope that his current manager quits, gets promoted, or moves on. He can try to negotiate for more room to do things his way, perhaps by getting the boss to agree to some measurable objectives or mutually agreed upon outcomes. He can just ignore the boss and see if his skill and success will cause the manager to ease off on the requirements. But, any of these strategies are risky and unpleasant.
Hundreds of books are written on leadership every year, and leadership training programs are ubiquitous. Almost everyone who has worked for a large organization and has a leadership role has taken a class or two (or three) in management fundamentals or leadership. Yet, many recruiting functions lack good leadership. And, when that is the case, the best recruiters – those like Frank – tend to quickly leave. I define good leadership as the ability to build and maintain a group that performs well against its competition. If you can hire and motivate a team of people to consistently outperform everyone else, then you’re a good leader. Leadership is not about knowing what everyone is doing all the time, nor is leadership about giving orders or directing work. Those might be useful skills for a manufacturing supervisor, but they are much less useful in a recruiting environment. The four themes that I present below are found in almost all the literature about leadership, even though they sometimes have different names. Good leaders strive to get consistent results through their people by practicing the following:
Effective leaders keep their word and fulfill their promises. In Frank’s case, the manager did not follow through on what he had said in the interview, nor did he and Frank have the same expectations about the job. Without integrity there is no trust, and without trust there can be no real security or commitment. If you make a promise to one of your recruiters, keep it or carefully explain why you can’t. Don’t commit if you cannot deliver.
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Decisiveness is about making prompt decisions, and about making tough decisions which you back up and enforce. Waffling, changing your mind, and switching back and forth between possible solutions are the elements for failure as a leader. One of the things that I hear frequently in my consulting work is that the leader takes too long to make a decision or changes his mind partway through a project without an explanation. Often, the indecisiveness is caused by internal politics or the manager’s own lack of confidence in what his leadership will do, but it doesn’t change the need. Frank’s manager failed here as well, and couldn’t even stick with what he had promised in the interview.
Leaders do not have to be an expert in everything, and usually cannot be. But they do need to have a basic level of expertise and enough wisdom or experience so that they can evaluate issues and make informed decisions. This is why experts are often promoted into leadership positions, but, by itself, it is not enough to make a good leader. We don’t really know the background of Frank’s manager, but he seems to lack wisdom in making decisions and in talking to Frank.
Perhaps the most important of all these is the ability to explain the purpose, meaning, and significance of an undertaking; to generate enthusiasm and excitement; and to build a team with a vision of where it is headed. Frank was looking for someone to challenge and excite him, not someone to watch every move he made. We all want to be motivated to do more and to beat the competition. Without leadership willing to help create this excitement, not much gets done. If you are a recruiting leader or want to be one, these are good themes to incorporate into your daily life. You will find your retention rates go up, your recruiters will be more engaged and committed, and you will make much better hires.