Over the holidays a friend wrote me asking my advice in developing interview questions for an operating executive to be her #2. “Managing the vacancy is better than managing someone wrong for the job”. Good point and good question.
Aside from the obvious (basic education, relevant work experience, professional credentials, prior career success, etc) this is what I’d really want to figure out:
— is this a person who wants to “operate”? What makes them feel successful? How do they engage problems? Do they celebrate making the trains run on time? As a leader, how do they feel about failure? Operations leadership is part engagement and part dysfunction elimination. Problems are inevitable so I want to find a person that just likes to calmly and quickly “work the problem” and move on.
— is this person “adaptable”? Do they like to learn? Do they have “outside in” radar (i.e., can they see the big picture quickly)? How do they identify problems? Can they be happy leaving things alone? How do they draw the line between “good enough” and “must be better”? Operations leadership demands knowing what needs to be left alone, fixed and or dismantled/rebuilt. Managing all this requires high adaptability.
— is this leadership candidate “transparent”? I usually test this by asking what they really suck at — a question that on first blush looks like an ego/fakeness test but is really me just giving them a change to be spontaneously transparent. I want to hear something that strikes me as truthful and insightful. Operations leadership requires transparency — is this candidate?
— will this person be a reliable internal ally in the greater causes and battles? This is about managing confrontation and resolving disagreements without losing sight of the greater missions. How do they successfully resolve internal intra-squad conflict? How do they build trust? Drill them through some specific examples. I need my #2 to be “fire and forget” and I can’t waste time watching by back or keeping up with teammates who constantly leave the reservation.
— does this candidate’s background demonstrate success in developing deep understandings of their prior businesses? Ask questions about their prior work and then find items where you can drill in on some part of how their business really operated and made things happen. Can they seamlessly do this? Successful operations leaders must have a passion for the details and for getting muddy when the situation demands it. Operations leadership involves managing rapid change — and you can’t change what you don’t understand.
— has this candidate been successful in building and maintaining their work “people network”? As an operations leader you don’t personally shovel much coal but instead you rely on your people and relationship skills to achieve results through others. Leaders who are great at this tend to invest, develop and then maintain deep networks of other successful peers and subordinates. Probe how well the candidate has kept up with their people network.
— how well do they manage stress? Ask them what they do for fun. I want to hear something candid and lively. Running stuff and fixing stuff is hard work and I want insight into how they “balance”. Personally, I prefer “work hard play hard” candidates as I want my #2 to be an energy source for me and the rest of the team.
Good luck! Cheers DC