Date: December 8, 2009

Author: JT

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Comments Off on How to Evaluate a New Leadership Role

How to Evaluate a New Leadership Role

This is a topic I expect to revisit over time, likely more than once. Today’s trigger was a discussion with a friend considering a new leadership role.

Beyond the job description, she had already started looking at structural considerations, like compensation, reported corporate finances, and what she knew of the corporate culture. She just didn’t feel like she’d covered all the bases though. It helped I could relate some of my own lessons learned. There is a range of other, sometimes intangible, things to dig into.

Your personal network of colleagues, friends, and family, can provide invaluable feedback. In one past role, reaching out to folks in my LinkedIn network, I received a number of responses. Comments about past leadership successes, or failures, can arm you with poignant questions to ask hiring managers. Aside from making you look like you’re knowledgeable and prepared, it reminds them they need to sell themselves to you, as well.

Assuming you have the opportunity (create it, ask), listen to hallway discussions as you walk through the facility. In one case, I had been brought in to do some consulting. It was moderately long hike through cube-central to get to my host’s office. Along the way, I overheard a discussion about expense reimbursements taking a long time and concern about timeliness of the next payday. While making note of the comments I quickly forgot about them, until…

About six months later, the same company wanted to hire me and asked me in for an interview. The prior comments came back to mind along with a rather uncompetitive offer. I wish I could say the prior comments helped me make my decision. However the big picture came into sharp focus when the company was quickly bought out just a few months later…reportedly just before having to file for bankruptcy.

Hallway discussions, don’t dismiss them.

Be sure to take a look in the News. There’s no excuse not to research an organization nowadays. With services like Twitter Search you can see what’s going on right now. Certainly with Google, Yahoo!, and Bing, there’s no reason not to see what’s happened from the time history began all the way up until a couple days ago. Even if you’re researching a small company, there’s a good chance there’s something you may find of value.

Also think to ask about information not openly offered during your interview(s). For instance, some organizations will readily show you their org chart (or their part of one) so you understand the environment you’re contributing to. If they don’t show you an org chart, ask for one.

Being a trade secret is not an acceptable reason for not being able to at least show you what their organization looks like. Some reasons I’ve heard include being a competitive secret (really?); being too much of a fast-changing, nimble organization for one to be kept current; or, ‘the CEO (or his/her executive admin) hasn’t finished it yet.

In these cases, what I have generally found is that lack of an org chart can reflect management not being sufficiently self-aware (or worse, arrogant); a lack of effective leadership; which, in turn leads to a rudderless ship. Does this seem a lot to interpret just because someone will not, or cannot, show you an organization chart? Perhaps. But ask yourself: If yours is an organization of any significant size (say, more than you can count up with just your fingers), how do you effectively communicate intent throughout the organization—let alone to a new hire?

* Photo credit: Ivan Petrov

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