Everyone has experienced during his/her career good and bad leaders, leaders skilled on technologies and/or concerned projects/business and leaders who would only care about people management, relying on their subordinates for competences and problem solving. Of course, it’s not easy to find the best trade-off between hard and soft skills, but recent studies could help on seek for certain characteristics or at least to slightly shift certain priorities when hiring or selecting a new leader.
What normally happens in most of the organizations when a new team leader is required for a certain project is:
- Among members of the concerned team, seniority in the company or in the project is chosen as selection criteria: the more you worked on a certain project or with a certain team, the more you know about it, supposedly able to face unexpected issues, people and responsibilities, hence reliable for the organization and probably trusted by other team members.
- Among members of the concerned team, technical skills become the selection criteria: the more you are skilled on concerned technologies and business, the more you are supposed to know everything about project and deliverables and thus able to deal with problems, aware of technical debts and future improvements.
- Among members of the concerned team, the organization decides that no one would be eligible to lead the team as a different decision could create misunderstandings and disappointments (for not having been the chosen one or disagreeing with the choice), affecting productivity and team mood. In such a case an external resource would be chosen, within the organization or through a new hiring process, looking for candidates with at least few years of experience in team management.
Well, any of the options above could be the right one. However, it could also be the wrong one especially because traditionally organizations forget (or ignore) to evaluate the most important characteristics of a leader. Let’s analyze why:
- Indeed seniority may sound the right choice: a well known member of the project, in touch with people and skilled on business and relevant scenarios would certainly already be familiar to procedures and activities and ready to coordinate them to the right direction. However, seniority may not be enough if not supported by vision, the ability of understanding expectations and hopes and trying to spread a certain vision among team members.
- Often organizations think about benefits and deliveries and the most skilled person would certainly master technologies and business and face daily challenges or help others on related activities, trying to fill the required role in. However, technical competences may not be enough if not supported by compassion, the ability to create trust, to care about others, opening yourself and taking care of your team.
- Experience may then look like the definitive solution, but just think about that: experience could come from the two points above and hence it would – again – not be enough. Moreover experience may not concern mindfulness, the attitude to mind the others, to inspire others by creating and maintaining resonance, feeling part of the team, being “awake and aware”.
That’s what makes an effective leader: hope, compassion and mindfulness. But that’s also what more often organizations and HR officers do not evaluate on candidates, thinking about seniority, competences or experience, which of course are necessary but complementary (and – yes I know, it might sound exaggerated – less important).
Refactoring ideas, once again, thanks to neuroscience this time, because it has already been proved that the human brain has an open loop system, able to catch others emotions (emotions are contagious) and that is why the leader’s mood and behaviors drive the moods and behaviors of everyone else, creating a certain culture or work environment in which information sharing, trust, healthy risk-taking and learning flourish, with consequent benefit for the concerned project and business.
People chosen because of their seniority will probably try to keep the same environment in which they have been working for a long time; super technical people often show a lack of compassion because too much focused on the problem and not on the others, often turning in a task allocator and not a leader; experienced leaders would not suddenly apply these patterns if the candidate was not aware of them. For these reason, recently researchers and experts (just look for articles of prof. Richard Boyatzis, for instance, or writer Annie McKee) have combined neuroscience and psychology to stress the importance of empathy on team management and how it could dramatically affect people and company results. That’s why a leader could have seniority, competences and experience and be a good leader, but he/she would never be as much as effective and resonant as someone else having the same characteristics with the addition of hope, compassion and mindfulness.