Leading Your Business to Success: Tips for Hiring Great Leaders over Great Managers

Hiring Great Leaders Over Great Managers

Leading Your Business to Success: Tips for Hiring Great Leaders over Great Managers

Every business needs great leaders if it wants to rise above the competition and achieve its goals. Leaders inspire others to achieve a vision. They help other employees reach their full creative and productive capability, which in turn helps the company reach its full potential.

Leaders versus Managers

For the purposes of this article, we’ll define a leader as someone who, independent of their actual role or job title, looks at the big picture and is more concerned with the why of a project or a goal than the what. Under this definition, the lowest income employee within a company can be a leader. Leaders have a vision—either self-chosen or created by those above them—and they work with others to accomplish mutual goals.

Managers, on the other hand, are defined by their ability to carry out orders, direct others, and make sure things run the way they should. Managers are concerned with the what and the how. Great managers help a business run efficiently and smoothly. But if a company were to hire great leaders for all of its positions—no matter how small—no one would ever need to be managed.

If you’re looking to hire great leaders rather than just great managers, there are certain traits you should look for in your potential employees.

Telltale Signs of a Leader

Team player

According to Linda Hill, professor of business administration at Cambridge University, great leaders are great team players. Pixar, she says, is an example of a company with excellent team-player leadership.

Pixar is all about innovation, and innovation, Hill says, takes a village. To achieve innovation, the higher-ups at Pixar foster a social setting where people feel like they belong, where they collaborate on ideas, and where even the lowest-rung employee can give notes to the director. Everyone is part of the team and the executives are not there to dictate or even to create a vision; they are there to work with their team and let the vision and creativity take care of itself. This approach is an integral part of Pixar’s outstanding success.

To find out if a potential employee is a good team player, learn about a time when they had to work with a group. Ask them to tell you about a situation where they worked with a team, to describe their role on that team, or to describe their idea of a perfect team. Pay attention to whether they sound like a take-charge, a sit-back-and-watch, or an everybody-works-together type.

Willingness to take risks

Leaders not only talk about taking risks, they take them. They know that avoiding risks limits creativity and innovation.

Steve Jobs, whose vision of creating a superior computing experience led to the creation of Apple, took risks like dropping out of college to build computers in his parents’ garage. He encouraged following your heart, even when the end result isn’t clear.

When interviewing, ask questions that will show you whether the applicant will take calculated risks. Present a typical challenge faced in your company, ask the interviewee for some possible solutions, and note how much risk they are willing to take in finding a solution. Also consider asking, “When was the last time you made a decision without being sure of the outcome? What led you to make that decision and what was the outcome?”

People skills

Great leaders are often charismatic. Their charm draws others to them and helps them inspire people, encourage others to action, and even help others see the world in a different way.

Pay attention to your interviewee’s interaction with those around them. Are they aware of others? Do they smile, open doors for others, and look others in the eye? Are they friendly?

If an applicant is not incredibly personable, don’t immediately write them off; not all leaders seem amiable at first. Gandhi, for example, was very shy and sometimes came off as rude. But when he spoke to crowds, he had an innate ability to rally the people. He became charismatic because of his enthusiasm. Pay attention to how your applicant comes across when they talk about their passions.


True leaders are driven not by money, position, or power, but by their passion. They believe strongly in something, and they are willing to fight for it. As a result, they might get argumentative if their ideals are challenged. Winston Churchill, for example, never surrendered in an argument when he thought he was right.

Constructive arguments are good, Dr. Hill says. They lead to creativity and solutions. In your interviews, try presenting a controversial question to your applicant (a work-appropriate one, like proper uses of work time). Ask their opinion, and challenge their answer. See if they are willing to back up what they say and argue productively and respectfully.

Also ask what they like to do in their free time. Find out what their hobbies are, and see if they get excited as they tell you about them. If so, they will likely bring that passion to the workplace.


Leaders accept criticism because they know that’s the only way to improve, and their vision is more important to them than their ego.

Great leaders are not always born humble. Both George Washington and Benjamin Franklin struggled with pride for much of their lives. But they recognized their need for humility, and they actively worked on developing this attribute. As a result, both were exceptionally effective and beloved leaders.

Ask your interviewee about a time when they made a mistake at work and ask them to tell you how they corrected their error. Pay attention to their attitude when describing the incident. Taking responsibility shows humility; blaming others shows pride.

Also look for someone who asks questions about the company. Asking questions shows that the applicant has done their homework and they want to know more and engage with the company’s vision. Someone who adopts the vision won’t just be counting down the hours each day; they’ll be invested in their work.

Why hire leaders?

As mentioned before, the leadership in your company directly impacts the success of your business. Great leaders will help you cultivate an environment that stimulates innovation and creativity: two key elements to any successful business.

Beyond that, your willingness to hire great leaders will demonstrate your own capabilities as a leader. A great leader is humble enough to hire other great leaders and seek out people who are smarter than they are and who think differently than they do.

What attributes have you found in the great leaders in your company? How do you ensure that you hire leaders instead of managers?

Lauren Truman
[email protected]