A group of senior leaders from several different organizations gathered together for a discussion. As time went on, the conversation turned to the criteria used to select candidates for leadership roles. While formal interviews were important, the leaders felt additional strategies were needed to gain insight into candidates.

How to Identify a Strong Leader

""The leaders explained how they created candidate interaction situations. All their team members were given roles. Every interaction, from the initial scheduling phone call, to the final farewell at the door of the building, was evaluated and weighed during the selection process.

The leaders spoke with depth and seriousness, affirming the importance such a decision holds for organizations with a clear vision for future success.

Each of the leaders took note when a creative tactic or strategy was shared that might enhance their hiring process. Questions went back and forth about who within an organization would be the best person to interact with candidates at specific times. Then, they discussed how interview sessions should be constructed and how additional observations could be obtained. Finally, they wondered how best the body of information obtained throughout the process could be successfully collated and debriefed.

As the conversation neared its conclusion, one of the senior leaders, a CEO, asked if anyone would like to hear his final and most important evaluation criteria. The other leaders reacted with enthusiasm, encouraging him to share.

The CEO became very serious and said, “It’s the view through the back window that will tell you everything you need to know.”

A Bellwether Indicator

The group shared perplexed glances and asked him what he meant. The CEO explained how important it was, to him and the members of the senior leadership team, that those entering leadership roles shared their commitment to excellence, in all facets of the job and, hopefully, in their lives. He elaborated on the importance of personal organization and attention to detail. He emphasized that it was key for a leader to anticipate the needs of those around them and anticipate the perceptions caused by unintended actions.

""In addition to gathering the perceptions of every office assistant, custodian, lunch canteen worker, and interviewer, the CEO also sent a team member out to the parking lot to take a look at the car the candidate drove to the interview.

The CEO was not interested in the year, make, or model of the car. What he was interested in was whether the candidate had taken time to wash and clean the car, inside and out, before driving it to the interview. Had they anticipated that the vehicle they brought might be scrutinized as a factor in how they conducted themselves professionally?

If the car was a mess, the interior soiled and filled with empty beverage containers, it was a reliable indicator of how that person would conduct themselves as a leader. Attention to detail and anticipation of potential issues were foundational skills, ones a successful leader must possess and demonstrate with regularity. Assuming no one would notice a filthy car in the parking lot was a bellwether sign that a person had not developed them.

What the View Really Reveals

Some of the group found the story humorous. Others felt it might go a step too far. Yet, after a few moments, they considered the potential value of such scrutiny.

How many times had they seen an office that looked like an abandoned vehicle? Often the leaders who did not make a connection between the state of their office and their leadership foundered in their roles.

""The CEO explained that the view through the back window was actually a look into many of the key indicators all senior leaders value when considering a person for a leadership role. A clean car shows consideration and a willingness to deal with small tasks in a timely manner. It demonstrates personal commitment to organizations and systems that serve more than an individual’s immediate needs. And, it’s an expression of self-discipline and commitment to established values and norms.

You Can’t Afford to Be Careless

When I exited the meeting, I considered how aspiring leaders must be aware that every interaction and potential interaction is part of an interview. Each kindness, gesture, greeting, and expression of appreciation might be highly scrutinized. Paperwork, appearance, and speech all count.

A leader should instill in their team the impression that they will be successful in taking care of their needs, no matter how big or small. An aspiring leader must demonstrate this capability in every part of the interview process. That includes making certain their car is a reflection of the type of leader they wish to be.

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