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shared by mentors, clients and friends with me relative to question, “what specific questions or approaches have you utilized in your own career when interviewing candidates to really dig in and gain insights on their “leadership potential?” in preparing for my role on the selection committee. Advice is to ask "what thet have DONE" Not what they "SAY they will do" 1. How well do the individuals understand themselves? Can they articulate their passions and strengths at a level of detail and with enough examples that suggests that they really know what motivates them. 2. To what extent have they shown a capacity to renew themselves? How resilient are they? For example, how have they responded when they faced considerable obstacles (not just run-of -the mill stuff)? Have they shown an ability to adapt to these situations and find new opportunities in spite of obstacles? 3. How have they inspired others? To what extent have these individuals shown themselves to be selfless, generous, and focused on the success of others, not themselves? 4. How are the situations that they are pursuing going to allow them to build on or demonstrate their strengths? How will they inspire others through their proposed plans? Tell me about a time when you played a leadership role in an effort that accomplished something impt. What did you do? What did you do next? What were you thinking?
What is your professional calling? How has it developed? How has your leadership mattered to a community? What road blocks did you encounter? How did you move beyond them? How do you ‐‐ through personal, self‐care practices ‐‐ nurture your ability to provide leadership? What do you notice about the impact of doing /not doing these things? What are the parts of your self which 'get in the way' of leading effectively? How do you work with them?
How candidates answer as well as what they answer. Have they been active parties in their own learning, taking ownership of both failures and successes they’ve experienced. Whether they have had the ability to create the conditions for success to occur, regardless of the environment in which they have found themselves. Even if they don’t meet my expectations right now (it’s potential, after all), I am satisfied that they have clarity about their world and how they see themselves in it (doesn’t have to even be a world that I believe in, I just want them to believe it) The ability to recover from mistakes and overcome barriers and challenges to their core values and professional competency. In other words, some form of resilience that makes them bounce back with optimism despite setbacks in their daily work. I worry less about their style of presentation and more so whether they are able to share core ideas and I integrate information that I give them quickly.
First, experiential questions that dig into when a candidate was faced with a challenge or opportunity – what did the person do, what did the person learn from it, how would it inform next steps/future approaches. Second, for the Bush Fellows, it might be fun to ask about their vision for their community or the world – what needs to be addressed, how could it be addressed, what resources or collaborations are needed to maximize progress. And, finally, how would their Bush Fellowship help them bite off a piece of the challenge and make a difference. My overwhelming thought relative to the Bush program, in particular, is that the mission underlying this foundation is 'being a catalyst' for community well‐being. SO: I think exploring not just a candidate's desire/willingness to step up and into leadership roles, but their capacity to understand how they might/could fit into a larger context of service to their communities (i.e., I'd be less interested in someone who has a passion to pursue their vision of how to solve a particular community issue ‐‐ and more interested in someone who's approach is collaborative, leveraging other community assets ‐‐ even if the former candidate's idea was really cool); The other thing I remember being wowed by a few times: the capacity for some of these candidates to be both brutally frank about the problems their communities are facing AND inspiringly optimistic at the same time. In these cynical times in which we live, it is common to see leaders being less than fully frank about the size/scope of a challenge, in order to keep folks from losing faith in the leaders. Very courageous leaders are what we need to find, nurture and celebrate.
What is the problem in your community that you want to solve? Describe your connections to the community. Describe how you will mobilize community action to discover and implement a solution. Describe the conflicts inherent in finding a solution and your leadership role in managing those conflicts. Describe what difference this fellowship will make to enhancing your leadership effectiveness and mobilizing your community.
I know I can teach someone how to perform a task, you can't teach drive and ambition. Generally, I liked to find something unique about a person and ask about that situation, even if it has nothing to do with the position at hand, i.e. I was a Russian Linguist, someone lived a year in Kenya, they collect cookie jars (not sure why that would be on a resume or application). I think the standard questions, get you standard, canned answers and you see more about someone in the offbeat times.
As I reviewed the Bush Foundation link, I was reminded how HARD community based leadership is. A great community leader has a long list of positive attributes: optimistic; high emotional IQ; great communication skills (in all size groups); listening skills; stamina; openness to new ideas and new people. Project management is also important. I am not talking about micromanagement, but about being able to lay out a clear beginning, middle and end, then communicate it and hold people accountable.
Leadership happens through a combination of vision and example. Can these candidates demonstrate either?
1) Ask the candidate to describe what leadership means to them. Anytime they use the word “I” it should be taken as a danger sign. Leadership is all about “we.” 2) Describe their community engagement in terms of sustainability. Far to many projects are consequences of passionate leadership, but when the leadership ends, the project becomes something very different (and normally less productive). I’d like to hear a candidate describe what the project will be like after they are gone, not while they are doing it. This is an important leadership objective. 3) Ask the candidates to examine their reflective behavior. To be a better leader, to create a better community, the candidate should be able to demonstrate reflective behavior on multiple levels. How do they ask themselves what they have learned? How do they ask themselves how they lead multi‐cultural teams? Where do they see opportunities to add to their leadership behavior set?
To get at actual behavior/experience, I like to go very deep on a specific experience. I would typically say something like, "I want to talk with you about a time where you think you exhibited significant leadership. To get us started, can you first describe the situation itself". The trick here is to limit ten to just describing the situation, not going into lots of detail out of the chute. My goal is to get them to be really introspective about the experience. Next I would replay the situation in my own words and ask them, "to tell me what elements of leadership do you think you demonstrated...not HOW, just WHAT". Gives me an idea of what they think the elements of leadership are. Then I would pick one and say, "now I'd like you to tell me IN DETAIL how you think you demonstrated this element of leadership". For these kind of questions I like to get them to be really specific, asking things like, "walk me through the specific conversation" or "tell me how you thought about the pros and cons of that." To me this kind of digging gets them beyond their rehearsed “stories” and into what really happened and how they thought about what they did. They also really get at selfawareness and introspection, two things I think are critical to good leadership. Along the way, I would ask lots of “why” questions to really get them to articulate their thought processes, their motivations, etc. Can they actually reflect and articulate an explanation for what they did? I also like to ask them about how they perceived the actions/reactions of others by asking questions like, “so what do you think XYZ was thinking at that point” or “why do you think they did/said that”? This gets at their empathy as well as their ability to understand the motivations of others, another critical element of leadership. Finally, I like to finish these kind of questions with something like, “so if you had it to do over again, what would you do differently” AND/OR “so what did you learn from this experience that you’ve applied (or will apply) to other”. Again, trying to get at self-awareness and introspection. Are they learning from their experiences, can they critically assess their own choices/behavior? When we do these kind of interviews, this can take a good 20-30 minutes to really work through effectively. Curiosity is another element of leadership that I find to be present in most great leaders I know. They tend to have pretty wide ranging interests, they read extensively, they take lessons or ideas from a wide variety of sources, etc. To get at someone’s curiosity, I would typically ask something like, “tell me about an idea you’ve seen or heard recently that you thought was really cool (or scary or interesting, etc.)”. I’d probably follow up with a “where did you learn this” and “how did you come across this” to understand what kind of things they do to find new information. Then I would start in with the “why” questions to understand why they thought it was interesting. I would also ask what about the idea they thought might impact their work, their life, etc. Depending on how much time I had, I might follow up with a “OK, what else?”. I’m pretty sure I could play that game with an interviewer for at least an hour, but 2-3 examples would probably give you some idea about the breadth of their curiosity. Another way to get at this would be to ask, “tell me a magazine, website, or book that
you think is really interesting/fascinating/cool that I should know about”. I once asked someone applying for a web strategy job at Thrivent that question (website specific) and they literally couldn’t come up with one other than LinkedIn and Facebook…can you imagine? Needless to say, they didn’t get the job. You might also ask them to name a person they think is doing something really interesting and then dig in there. I can think of a couple of folks that I think are doing amazing things that I would love to talk about and relate lessons I’ve learned from their experience. Finally, I think I would try and understand whether they are truly passionate about making a difference in the lives of others as a leader. When I talk to folks I want to understand what makes them do what they do, why they get up in the morning, etc. I would typically ask questions like, “why do work at XYZ?” Then I would dig into the why’s to understand more and make them reveal more than their prepared answers. Another way to get at the same thing would be to ask, “when you think about the dream job you might have 20+ years from now, what would it be”. A final way I’ve asked it that gets some really interesting (and sometimes revealing) answers is, “so if you woke up one morning and realized you needed 3-4 hours less sleep per day, what would you do with your extra 21-28 hours per day”. What I have found over the years is that asking questions about what they have done in the past in their lives when they faced specific circumstances (obstacles, opportunities, difficult people, budget shortfalls, new information that suggests a new direction, etc…) and why, usually gives me good insight into their true thinking and behavior. I ask specifically about failures and lessons. I have found that if I just ask hypotheticals, I get “the right answers.” And often I am not looking for good test takers, but creative, problem solving leaders. 1. Focus less about what they think or even the result they are seeking through their project, and more about how they think and whether they can put a creative approach on whatever the topic or project. 2. I would try to flush out whether they are able to creatively connect issues, thoughts, information to truly transform whatever project or issue they are working on into something different than what others might do. Connecting the dots differently than others is a talent that we need to cultivate. More people need to be advanced who think critically and uniquely about the problems at hand.
I think it's important to assess what impact a person hopes to achieve at the organization/in their role, what their plans are for bringing about those results, their style of working, how they assess their performance and that of the organization, what strategies they've found have worked in the past and what haven't worked, mistakes they've made and how they've learned from them. What do they hope to get out of it? What are their 2 or 3 top line ideas about how this will change them, change their work? What would they like to see different in themselves or what they are doing 3, 5, 10 years out? What do they most want from the other fellows? What do they think they can offer the other fellows? Who do they identify with as leaders? Who are their professional mentors? How did those relationships happen? Who do they mentor and how did those relationships happen? Who is their favorite historical "leader" and what were the biggest obstacles they faced? Which obstacles did they fail to overcome and why? Best advice I can give in response to your query is something I know you already know‐‐focus on lived experiences and storytelling. I think that knowing WHAT and knowing WHEN are leadership practices that are best assessed in an interview by simply asking the candidate to tell stories about their own lived experiences‐‐and then asking them to reflect on the lessons learned in that lived experience.
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