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How to pick a leader: The leadership selection criteria most organisations are getting wrong

We all know that the cost of poor leadership is staggering for businesses, so the pressure is on for those responsible for recruitment to successfully fill these all-important roles. It’s certainly not an easy task, especially when there’s a huge pool of potential candidates to assess (yes huge, don’t believe anyone who tells you differently), so businesses and their executive search agencies usually look to traditional leadership selection criteria when making their decisions. But are they looking at the right factors? A lot of the time, frankly no.

Assessing talent is much more complicated than simply looking for a candidate that ticks all the typical boxes, and often the best people are overlooked because they don’t meet these narrow expectations. That’s why here at Chemistry, our leadership selection methodology combines scientific data with human insights, offering a focused and unbiased approach to this process.

So, what are the three most common leadership selection criteria mistakes we have encountered, and what can Chemistry help you do to right these wrongs?

1. Similarity to outgoing leaders

What do lots of businesses do when they lose a leader? Easy — find a replacement who’s just like them. Which seems to make sense, but only if the previous person was a perfect fit for the role. And maybe they were, but what if they weren’t? What if the context of your business has changed? What if the whole world of business has? Even if there were no obvious issues with the predecessor, you still need to have an open mind to find a new leader impeccably suited to your organisation, with the skills and characteristics matching your requirements. You just need to objectively identify what to prioritise.

This is where Chemistry comes in. Our exclusive What Great Looks Like (WGLL™) process uses performance and psychometric data alongside human insights to define these traits for you. Everything is grounded in science and tailored specifically to the context of the leadership role and your workplace. Once we have helped you identify what you need, we can get to work selecting candidates who have the right traits for high performance. We do this using our Five Box Model, which involves mapping these traits against Intellect, Personality, Motivation, Behaviour and Experience so we can profile your ideal leader.

2. Past experience

When it comes to picking a leader, you’re probably assuming that the right person needs to have had a particular job title or held a specific degree of seniority. This may be true in certain cases (for example, technical roles where the requisite skills are only acquired with experience and responsibility), yet, even so, previous experience should never be the be-all and end-all. A candidate might have all the skills they need to succeed in your leadership role, but may simply not have had a chance to put them into practice. Just look at how few women hold senior roles, while black people are in just 1.5% of senior roles in the UK. Talented people don’t always get the breaks they deserve. You don’t want to risk skipping over a promising candidate just because they’re not right on paper.

At the end of the day, a job title isn’t going to tell you what you really need to know. That’s why we have adopted an entirely unbiased leadership selection methodology here at Chemistry. No names, no job titles, no CVs — just cold, hard data based on behavioural interviews and psychometric assessments. This enables us to identify the candidates with the skills and traits they need in a leadership role at your organisation, regardless of their current position.

3. Awards & public recognition

An award immediately suggests that a candidate is a high performer and helps them stand out among the competition. The same can be said of well-spun executive profiles in the press. However, going back to the importance of context, this shouldn’t really factor into your leadership selection criteria. You won’t know the specific circumstances surrounding an award winner’s success, so it’s dangerous to assume that they’ll be able to replicate this elsewhere. Similarly, we all know executive profiles are carefully crafted to make the subject appear as impressive as possible. It’s all too easy for a recruiter to be blinded by this positive public recognition and forget that no write-up tells the whole story, or indicates how successful an executive would be in the context of a particular organisation. This is also the reason that CVs are poor for leadership selection. What does it matter what they’ve done in the past? You want to know what they’re likely to do in the future.

Again, this is why you’re far more likely to find the best candidate with the Chemistry approach. As we’re guided entirely by data and objective criteria, a glossy award or a concerted personal PR campaign will make no difference if, despite the fact they performed well previously, the science says they aren’t going to do the same for your organisation.

Do you need help picking your next leader? Forget about typical leadership selection criteria and get in touch with Chemistry to see What Great Looks Like for you.

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