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10 Tips How to Evaluate Leadership Skills When Hiring

Juste Semetaite Juste Semetaite Last Updated:

What should you look for in a great leader?

Finding the right leader for your company is crucial. Whether it’s for the entire organization or a specific department, you need someone who can bring vision and drive results.

Accomplished leaders like Jack Ma, Satoru Iwata, Susan Wojcicki, and Whitney Wolfe Herd not only elevated their companies above their competitors but also created thousands of jobs while leaving a lasting impact on their industries.

But how do you ensure you find the next Steve Jobs instead of Elizabeth Holmes? 🙈

To help you assess leadership candidates more effectively, identify their strengths, and ensure you choose the right one to take your organization to new heights, let’s explore 10 tips to evaluate leadership skills when hiring.

TL;DR — Key Takeaways

  • Leadership skills are the abilities and qualities that enable individuals to guide and influence others to achieve common goals, regardless of their role in the organization.
  • Examples of key leadership skills center on important transferable soft skills, such as communication, decision-making, emotional intelligence, and influence.
  • Great leaders can have different leadership styles. They can be visionary or pragmatic while demonstrating strong ethical principles and the ability to build relationships.
  • When hiring great leaders, decide on the type of leader you’re looking for, test for key leadership skills like communication, collaboration, and decision-making, look for candidates with high EQ, and dig into their past experiences to understand their leadership style.
  • Use skill tests to measure and assess candidates’ suitability for leadership positions. Toggl Hire’s Test Library offers a wide range of pre-made assessments crafted by experts, or you can tailor the test to your exact needs.
skills-first hiring approach
Some of your current employees may already show valuable leadership skills – a quick assessment can help you discover employees with leadership potential.

What are leadership skills?

When we talk about leadership skills, we refer to a set of abilities and qualities that enable individuals to guide and influence others to achieve common goals for their organization. These key skills are not limited to specific role positions, making them highly transferable, and can be developed and utilized by individuals at various levels.

Key leadership skills include:

  • Vision and strategic thinking — Having a clear vision for the future, thinking strategically, and setting objectives.

  • Communication — Effectively conveying ideas, actively listening, and providing feedback through various mediums.

  • Decision-making — Making timely and informed decisions based on available information while considering the impact on the team and organization.

  • Emotional intelligence — Understanding and managing one’s emotions and empathizing with others.

  • Collaboration and team building — Promoting collaboration, fostering teamwork, and creating a positive work environment.

  • Motivation and inspiration — Inspiring and motivating others to achieve their best performance.

  • Adaptability and flexibility — Embracing change, remaining open to new ideas, and adapting strategies to meet evolving challenges.

  • Coaching and development — Investing in the growth and development of team members.

In short, leaders need to be masters of these soft skills that contribute to their overall effectiveness.

soft skills for leaders
Successful leaders are masters of soft skills, making skills testing an essential step in selecting top leaders.

What Does Being a “Great Leader” Mean?

Great leaders possess a compelling, inspiring vision of their goals and know how to communicate it to their team. Their strong ethical principles and sense of integrity enable them to create trustworthy relationships and a positive work environment.

Success in business requires both business acumen and strong leadership skills. A great business mind can have a brilliant idea, but they won’t ever become a great business leader if they lack the leadership skills to bring it to fruition.

Great business leaders know how to leverage their business knowledge to drive results and use their effective leadership skills to achieve success.

There is an argument to be made about great business minds versus great business leaders. For example, Elon Musk is one of the greatest business minds. He co-founded PayPal, founded Space-X, and was an angel investor in Tesla. However, his recent decision to fire 80% of Twitter’s workforce has raised some questions about his leadership skills.

elon musk is not a great leader
Great business minds are not necessarily great leaders.

On the other hand, the lesser-known fourth CEO of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata, cut his salary in half in 2011 and 2014, when both the 3DS and Wii U sales were not meeting the company’s expectations. Iwata oversaw the development of the Nintendo Switch, which would go on to sell over 125.62 million units and become one of the best-selling video game consoles in history—proving himself to be a great contemporary business leader.

A great leader can inspire others to believe in and work on their vision.
A great leader can inspire others to believe in and work on their vision.

What Are the Different Leadership Styles?

The best leadership style for a particular team or organization will depend on many factors, including the size and structure of the organization, the nature of the work, and the personality and preferences of the employees.

Leadership styles vary, and different situations call for different approaches. Some common leadership styles include:

Leadership StyleDescription
AutocraticLeaders make decisions independently without much input from others.
BureaucraticListens to the employees’ input but may reject it if it doesn’t align with company policy or past practices.
CoachingFocuses on identifying the individual strengths of each team member and emphasizes individual employees’ success.
Democratic/ParticipativeInvolves team in decisions and seeks input and feedback, effectively building trust and engagement.
Laissez-faire/DelegativeGives team autonomy and minimal guidance. This works with skilled and motivated teams.
Authoritative/TransformationalInspires and motivates the team with vision and goals to develop members and drive change.
TransactionalRewards or punishes based on performance. Effective in motivating employees to meet goals.
ServantPrioritizes team needs and supports and develops team members.
CharismaticInspires and motivates with personality and charm to build strong emotional connections with the team.
SituationalAdapts style to situation and team needs; they effectively respond to changing circumstances.
StrategicUses vision, competitive awareness, and adaptability to manage teams and achieve business goals.
PacesettingPacesetting leaders set high standards and expect employees to meet them. They may step in to ensure things are done correctly and on time.

Great leaders understand the strengths and limitations of each style and can adapt their approach based on the needs of their team and organization.

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Leaders can be found anywhere

10 tips on what to look for when hiring great leaders

Let’s be real: finding the next Rosalind Brewer or Ray Kroc is next to impossible. These people – titans who changed the business landscape – are always self-starters and incredibly rare. However, you can find future employees who have founder-like qualities.

You’ll get an inkling of who is right because they will display strong leadership skills. Let’s run through the top tips and skills to look out for and how to best evaluate them when hiring.

1. Decide if you need a visionary or a pragmatic

When hiring for leadership positions, it’s crucial to determine whether a candidate possesses a visionary or pragmatic leadership style. Each style brings its own strengths and approaches to the table.

Visionary leaders

Visionary leaders have the ability to see the big picture and create a compelling vision for the future. They are often known for their creativity, innovation, and willingness to take risks. A notable example of a visionary leader is Steve Jobs, who recognized the potential of personal computers and iPhones.

Pragmatic leaders

On the other hand, pragmatic leaders are more focused on the business’s day-to-day operations. They excel at problem-solving and making sound decisions, ensuring the effective execution of plans. Warren Buffett serves as a famous example of a pragmatic leader who has successfully built an investment firm over many years.

To assess whether a candidate aligns with a visionary or pragmatic leadership style, pre-recorded video or one-on-one interviews can help evaluate the candidate’s abilities in line with visionary or pragmatic leadership characteristics.

Consider asking questions such as “What is your vision for the future of the company?” or “Can you provide examples of times when you took risks and effectively managed them?

🔥 For more leadership questions, see our article: 20 Steal-worthy Interview Questions for Managers.

2. Dissect their communication style

Influential leaders can communicate their vision and ideas clearly and concisely. They are also skilled at active listening and understanding the needs of others.

To assess a candidate’s communication skills beyond the interview, consider skills testing and homework assignments:

  • Skills tests can help identify the candidate’s abilities in active listening, communication, observation, and feedback.
  • Homework assignments, like asking the candidate to give a presentation on a topic of their choice, offer the chance to observe how they interact with others in a group setting.

Oprah Winfrey is a prime example of a gifted communicator who can tell stories and connect with people from all walks of life.

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3. Understand how they make decisions

Effective leaders possess the skill to make well-informed decisions – quickly. They carefully consider and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of various options before selecting the optimal course of action for the organization.

Jeff Bezos is widely recognized as a successful leader for his capability to make decisive decisions swiftly.

“As a senior executive, you get paid to make a small number of high-quality decisions. If I make, like, three good decisions a day, that’s enough. And they should be as high quality as I can make them.”

Jeff Bezos | Source

To gain insights into potential candidates’ thinking processes, problem-solving capabilities, and work ethic, try employing behavioral-based interview questions.

Incorporate these example questions into your interviews:

  • Could you share your typical approach to tackling new tasks or projects?
  • How do you evaluate and manage risks when making decisions?
  • Describe a situation where you successfully facilitated a win-win outcome for a client and your previous company.

4. Look for high Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a vital trait for effective leaders as it involves understanding and managing one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. Leaders with high emotional intelligence can build strong relationships and relate to their employees.

When evaluating emotional intelligence, consider the following factors:

  • Self-awareness — entails understanding one’s own emotions, recognizing strengths and weaknesses, and comprehending personal motivations and drives.
  • Self-management — The ability to think before acting, keeping negative emotions in check, and ensuring that immediate reactions do not control the situation.
  • Social awareness — Being aware of the feelings and actions of others, empathizing with their perspectives, and establishing trust in various situations.
  • Relationship management — Going beyond social awareness, this involves taking responsibility for oneself and creating a positive work environment.

Successful leaders have high emotional intelligence and understand organizational goals." />
Successful leaders have high emotional intelligence and understand organizational goals. | Source

Political leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and Winston Churchill are common examples of individuals with high emotional intelligence, sensitive to the emotions of their countries, and dedicated their lives to their cause.

During interviews, you can ask candidates questions like “Who inspires you and why?” or present hypothetical scenarios to assess how they would handle negative feedback on their job performance.

5. Test how they collaborate and work in a team

Effective leaders possess the ability to bring people together and foster a sense of collaboration toward a common goal. They are skilled at building trust and rapport with their team members.

Walt Disney was known for his ability to create a sense of community and belonging among his employees. He also very successfully fostered a culture of innovation and creativity within his organization.

To this day, Disney is one of the best examples of brands that get creative collaboration.

When assessing candidates’ collaboration and team-building skills, consider the following factors:

  • Teamwork skills — Can the candidate work effectively with others and contribute to a harmonious team environment?
  • Communication skills — Can the candidate communicate their ideas and instructions clearly to ensure effective collaboration?
  • Leadership skills — Can the candidate motivate and inspire others to work together towards a common goal?

To assess these skills, you can implement mock group tests and skills tests and observe how candidates interact with others during video calls or interviews.

6. Ask them about their past projects and People Management Skills

One key aspect of being a good people manager is the ability to motivate team members. This involves understanding their individual needs and finding ways to inspire and drive their performance. Effective communication is also crucial, as leaders must clearly convey goals and expectations, provide feedback, and actively listen to their team’s concerns and ideas.

Accountability, the practice of taking responsibility, is another fundamental quality of a strong people manager. Leaders should lead by example, demonstrating integrity and accountability in their actions.

A notable example of a leader exemplifying exceptional people management skills is Jason Fried, Basecamp co-founder and CEO of 37signal. Through his approach to leadership, he showcases effective communication, responsibility, and the ability to motivate and inspire his team.

CEO Jason Fried frequently expresses his views on people management, standing up for his employees, while motivating them to deliver. " />
CEO Jason Fried frequently expresses his views on people management, standing up for his employees while motivating them to deliver. | Source

When assessing candidates for their people management skills, ask questions that evaluate their past experiences, such as:

  • Can you provide an example of a time when you successfully motivated your team through effective communication?

  • How do you handle challenges when it comes to meeting deadlines and expectations?

7. Dig into their mentorship experience and style

Leaders who adopt the coaching and development style focus on nurturing and guiding their team members to reach their full potential. They provide support, feedback, and resources to help individuals develop their skills and grow professionally.

Leaders who invest in their team’s growth and development create a positive, empowering work environment that fosters continuous improvement. Great leaders start developing leadership skills early in younger members of staff.

Anthony Jay Robbins, or Tony Robbins, has created a successful career by coaching people to become their best.

The best way to assess their coaching and development abilities is to test their emotional intelligence and soft skills and have one-on-one interviews.

Mentoring is one of the most important leadership skills. | Source

8. How well do they Persuade and Influence?

A successful leader possesses the ability to effectively persuade others and influence them towards a desired outcome. They are skilled at building consensus and rallying individuals around a shared vision or goal.

A good example of this is Ray Kroc, who turned McDonald’s into the most successful fast-food franchise in the world. Kroc was impressed by the original owners of McDonald’s, brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald, and how they had vastly improved other restaurants’ efficiency. He convinced the two to allow him to franchise the concept, consequently building it into a multi-billion dollar company.

To assess a candidate’s persuasion and influence capabilities, examine their:

  • Communication skills — Can the candidate articulate their ideas clearly and convincingly to diverse audiences?
  • Negotiation skills — Can the candidate find common ground, resolve conflicts, and reach mutually beneficial agreements?
  • Ability to build relationships — Can the candidate establish rapport and trust with others, facilitating their influence over decision-making processes?

During the interview process, you can ask candidates behavioral-based questions like:

  • Describe a situation where you successfully persuaded others to adopt your proposed solution.

  • Provide an example of a negotiation where all parties involved reached a win-win outcome.

9. Assess their Adaptability and Flexibility

In today’s dynamic and ever-changing business landscape, leaders must possess adaptability and flexibility to navigate uncertainty and drive success. They need to embrace new ideas, adjust to shifting circumstances, and proactively seek growth opportunities.

Steve Jobs was renowned for his adaptability as a business leader. He navigated changing market conditions, introduced transformative products and strategies, and made bold decisions that revitalized Apple and established the company as a leader in innovation.

During interviews, ask candidates about situations where they had to adapt to change or navigate unforeseen challenges. Inquire about how they have demonstrated flexibility in their previous roles and how they stay up to date with industry trends.

Leaders with adaptability and flexibility are better equipped to lead their teams through uncertainty and drive innovation within their organizations.

10. What degree is Toughness and Resilience required for the role?

Leaders who possess toughness and resilience are composed under pressure, maintain a positive attitude, and motivate their team to overcome obstacles. These leaders are adept at bouncing back from adversity, learning from failures, and using setbacks as opportunities for growth.

Nelson Mandela was the first black president of South Africa. He spent 27 years in prison for his political activism but never gave up hope for a better future for his country. After his release from prison, Mandela led the negotiations that ended apartheid and brought about democracy in South Africa.

A strategy for resilient leaders to sustain their energy and build a legacy. | Source

By embodying toughness and resilience, leaders inspire confidence and foster a culture of perseverance within their teams. They lead by example, demonstrating that setbacks are temporary and can be overcome through determination, adaptability, and a growth mindset.

Toughness and resilience can be delved into by asking the candidate about their past experiences.

Screen for leadership skills in hiring with skills testing

Your future leader needs to have the skill set to match their position, which is where skill tests come in. With Toggl Hire’s Test Library, you can pick from hundreds of pre-made assessments from experts and add your own questions.

In addition to skills testing, you can also ask candidates to provide a video intro. This is a short video where the candidate introduces themselves and discusses their leadership skills and experience. Video intros can be a great way to get to know a candidate and assess their communication skills.

Find and hire highly capable leaders with Toggl Hire!

Juste Semetaite

Juste loves investigating through writing. A copywriter by trade, she spent the last ten years in startups, telling stories and building marketing teams. She works at Toggl Hire and writes about how businesses can recruit really great people.

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