So, You’re a Leader? Try This On For Size.

By: Ron Venckus
Contributing Editor:  Fred Coon

There is little doubt of the role that behavioral competencies play in our lives, whether it is our personal lives or the public persona we wish others to see. Over the last 7 years or so, my work at Stewart, Cooper & Coon has required working face-to-face with senior level executives and reading hundreds of resumes.

I can truthfully say that 98% of those candidates put the word “leadership” as one of their core competencies or skills. Other major skills the majority of these clients stated they possessed were: Team Leadership; Organizational Leadership; Strategic Leadership and Visionary Leadership.

Obviously, leadership comes in many forms and is an important competency to sell. It is a competency that also has many descriptions. However, my observation during the thousands of interviews I have conducted over the last 40+ years is that many executives have not thought through – nor can they actually explain – what makes them exceptional leaders.

Wikipedia describes leadership as a process of social influence used to enlist the support of others to accomplish a task. It further states that a leader cannot lead if he/she is not able to understand what motivations drive others, and does not have a clear understanding of what others are communicating through their words and actions. In fact, if an interviewer asked you the following question, what would you say?

Why do people follow you?

I have no idea how many leadership questions I have asked during clients’ behavioral interview practice sessions at Stewart, Cooper & Coon, but it is surely in excess of 500. However, the truth is that I can count on both hands the number of times I heard an executive use the words influence, persuade, or understanding others’ motivations as a reasons why they are an effective leader.

As was stated by Mary Loftus in Psychology Today, in a world of near constant change, all assumptions about traits (behavioral competencies) must be regularly re-examined. Therefore, as a “leader” I would suggest that you ask the following question of yourself:  “Why am I an effective Leader and what can I say to clearly demonstrate to a company that I have the ability to influence, persuade or guide the motivations of others to achieve company objectives?”

Fred Coon, founder and CEO of  Stewart, Cooper & Coon, often asks clients, “Do you play well with others?” Consider the strength your answer has when you showcase your ability to influence and persuade others.

For practice, tie that thought into answering this interview probe: “Tell us of a specific situation in which your ability to understand a group’s motivation was the cause of your achieving a goal in a record time.” Another way to get at this is to ask this question, “Tell me of a specific vision you had and the motivational actions you used to get a group in line with your thinking.”

If you cannot answer these questions clearly and concisely and complete your answer within 45 seconds, then you need to reconsider your interviewing skills. Remember, one is not a leader because they have a “C” in their job title!