How Founders can Hire Leaders


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As your startup scales, you’re going to need to hand over control of certain aspects of the business to other leaders. As talented as you may be in many areas, you simply can’t take on the role of running every single operation your business undertakes. It’s also extremely likely that your skills are strongest in one area and you could use some backup in others. There’s no shame in being a brilliant CEO who couldn’t figure out how to run human resources programs for any amount of money. To an extent, that’s what founders hire high-level employees to do – provide support in areas they can no longer handle solo.

Once you’ve come to terms with not running everything at your company all the time, you’re going to need to devote a lot of time and energy to the hiring process. While it’s always important to get the best employees possible, people with responsibility over others need to stand out in particular. Here are some tips to get the best leaders possible – and to recognize them when you meet them:

Get a Handle on What You Need

Before you start to create a free job posting for your brand new leadership role, you should consider exactly what you’ll need the new hire to do. If you’ve been acting as the de facto head of every department, it can be easy to forget a few details of what you do here and there.

It may be a good idea to take about a month to observe what you really do in terms of leading a specific part of the company’s operations. Make sure to write down everything you have to supervise, submit and so on – this will help in making a job description. If your leadership activities bleed over between departments, it’s time to exercise some discretion. Will your new hire be expected and reasonably able to take on tasks that are a little out of the traditional realm of the department he or she will lead? This can also be a question you answer a bit after the new employee has adjusted at work and you’ve gotten to know him or her.

Remember the point of hiring a leader is to take work off of you so you have more time to focus on scaling your business, and anything you feel one person can comfortably handle should be on the table as a duty.

Look for Experience

Although it’s often a good idea to open a position to as many people as possible, leadership positions are more likely to require a certain amount of experience. What you’re looking for isn’t necessarily an identical position in a candidate’s background, but some experience leading people in a work environment. The skills necessary to manage staff and resources may transfer very well, but it’s unlikely you have the time to train someone who is entirely new to the task.

According to Inc. magazine, a good way to gauge how well candidates have learned from experience in a leadership role is to ask them how the last firing they were responsible for happened. It’s important to listen to this answer. Someone who’s never fired anyone may either have a short tenure as a leader or a reluctance to implement difficult changes, neither of which are positive signs. If the last person a candidate fired was surprised about the decision, the applicant may not be very good at communicating. There’s a lot you can learn from this question, and it has the benefit of inquiring about a specific situation and particular actions. While people may not be objective about their own traits and hindrances, they’re usually straightforward about actions they have in fact taken. This can help you understand which candidates have what it takes to be a good leader and which may need more experience elsewhere before they’re ready to join a company like yours.

Seek Out Input from Other Employees

Even if you’re hiring someone who will be supervising many of your current employees, you should ask the person’s future subordinates for their opinion. Hiring a leader who fits into the culture of your company is important, and part of that is getting along with the team already assembled at your company. Friction between managers and their staff can be toxic to a work environment as well as to productivity. That’s the last thing you want from a hire meant to take work off your shoulders, so it’s a good idea to take what employees say about your candidates seriously.

When you get to the last round of interviews, make sure employees meet the candidates. It’s also a good idea to bring in mentors, business connections or investors to meet the candidates at the final stage of the process. You want as many opinions as possible when you’re hiring someone whose job is to lead others, and any opinion you respect can be a useful one.

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