One of our clients, a large non-profit, is going through a search for a new president. I was asked to develop a series of questions to address the topic of leadership. I was not asked to address finance, fundraising, planning, administration, and operations (though of course, the president has to exercise leadership in all of those).
Below are ten questions I came up with, along with notes about what I would listen for.
1. What do you see as the most important qualities of an effective leader?
- Note: I would want to hear the candidate talk about integrity, a passion for the work, humility and humor.
- I’d want to hear the candidate talk about the importance of getting the right people in the right roles and then empowering them, about leading through others.
- I’d want to hear a candidate talk about leading through inquiry rather than simply by directing people what to do.
2. What are examples of where you felt your leadership truly made a difference?
- Note: I’d look for stories of collaboration, working with others. Not doing it on their own.
- I would discount anyone who can’t provide at least two compelling examples.
3. What’s an example of where you feel you let people down in your leadership? What did you learn from the experience?
- Note: I’d discount anyone who isn’t able to recount at least one example.
4. Leaders often have to make tough choices, juggling competing interests and ideas. What are 1-2 examples of where you’ve had to do that?
- Note: I’d eliminate anyone who can’t tell a compelling story.
5. In retrospect, did you handle that situation (in #4) as well as you think you might have? What might you have done differently?
- Note: I’d discount anyone who thinks they handled it perfectly.
6. How do you develop an organizational culture? What are the techniques you’ve used?
- Note: I’d discount anyone who doesn’t talk about instilling trust, being clear about behavioral expectations, and modeling those behaviors.
7. How do you approach working with a board of directors? What techniques have you found work well? What have you learned doesn’t work so well?
- Note: I’d discount anyone who fails to mention clear roles and responsibilities, clear communication, regular discussion of goals and expectations, and clear delegations of authority.
8. What is your approach to managing conflict? Tell us some examples of managing conflict within your staff, with the Board, and with the broader community.
- Note: I’d listen for how comfortable they are talking about conflict. Do they distinguish between natural and unnatural conflict? Do they deal easily with conflict i.e. disagreements in opinion? Do they appear to be relaxed when talking about conflict?
9. It is said that great leaders are made, not born. What do you think contributed to the making of you as a leader? Who influenced you and what did you learn from them?
- Note: I’d discount a candidate who is unable to tell compelling stories of key influences in their lives e.g. parents, teachers, friends
10. Who is a leader alive today you admire? What specifically do you admire in them?
- Note: I’d discount a candidate who is unable to provide at least one good example and provide specifics about what they admire.
I think these are good questions – but certainly not the only questions. I’d like to hear your thoughts about other questions one could – and should – ask. Please email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.