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Who is on the Leadership Team and what qualifies them for the role?

Not everyone on the agency staff or Board is a good candidate for membership on the Leadership Team, although most people think they would make effective Team members. For this reason, Team members are specifically recruited and not added on a volunteer basis. People are invited to join the Team, not simply asked to sign up. Below is a series of questions to use when screening potential Team members. As we decide who to recruit, keep in mind we are not recruiting sales people or cheerleaders. We are recruiting people who can establish meaningful, stable connections with stakeholders and who can sustain those connections over the long term. Sales people and agency cheerleaders may meet these requirements, but their success with sales or cheerleading does not necessarily mean they would be successful Leadership Team members. Similarly, a person’s position from the Management Perspective does not mean he (or she) would necessarily be an effective Leadership Team member. Successful leadership connections require a specific set of skills not distributed equally among those associated with the agency. – Here are the questions, with comments about each.

  1. Is he (or she) culturally competent? “Cultural Competence is the capacity to respond appropriately to the various cultural environments in which we may participate, enabling us to strengthen our relationships and accomplish our mutual purposes. Cultural competence is both a value and an essential set of skills in our mobile, fluid society.” (Homan, 2008, p. 14)
  2. Does he treat people the way we want agency stakeholders to be treated? Agency staff members treat clients and stakeholders about as well – or as badly – as they treat each other. Attention should be given to all of the potential Team member’s relationships with other staff. Even if all but one or two of those relationships are fine, attend closely to the one or two that are not. A good Team member has effective, acceptable relationships with everyone associated with the agency. For any potential Team member, use his (or her) worst relationships as the reference point. If this is how he relates with stakeholders, is it acceptable? If not, he is not a good candidate for Team membership.
  3. Is he consistent from relationship to relationship and situation to situation? Good Team members are consistent. Their behavior, attitudes, demeanor, and self-presentation change little from person to person, from situation to situation. They do not run hot and cold, on again – off again. They are predictably themselves most anywhere we encounter them.
  4. Is he friendly and interested in people? This does not mean all Team members are outgoing and extraverted. However, it does mean Team members are comfortable meeting new people and in being in new or somewhat novel situations. Also, they enjoy getting to know people and learning about their experiences and interests.
  5. Does he take his good manners along everywhere he goes? This is not a minor point. There is never a good excuse for bad manners and behaving rudely, inappropriately, or insensitively are guaranteed ways to offend or otherwise alienate stakeholders. Effective Team members exhibit their good manners with everyone, every time, wherever they are. If a potential Team member exhibits bad manners or inappropriate behavior with anyone, anywhere, assume they will probably behave similarly with stakeholders, sooner or later. This is a risk not to be taken.
  6. Is he helpful and cooperative? This too is not trivial. An important element of a leadership connection is the Team member’s being seen by the stakeholder as helpful and cooperative. A goal of the connection is to support the stakeholder’s success specifically as it relates to agency success but more generally as it relates to the stakeholder’s interests and personal priorities. If the potential Team member is not helpful and cooperative with others at work, he is unlikely to support an external stakeholder’s interests and priorities on a consistent basis.
  7. Does he take care of his responsibilities, including both personal and professional responsibilities? This is an obvious criterion for Team membership but deserves some extended attention. No one wants someone who is irresponsible on the Leadership Team; but if the candidate is actually irresponsible, he should not continue to be associated with the agency. Here, attention is on people who exhibit minor lapses or are not as responsible as they should be now and then. This includes both his professional and personal life. What he does on his own time matters and is the Leadership Team’s business. The team is limited to people who are responsible and who conduct themselves responsibly all the time, everywhere they are. A lesser criterion runs the risk the next small responsibility lapse or indiscretion will happen with a stakeholder or come to the attention of a stakeholder. Either way, it would represent a serious debit to the leadership account of the Team member and, by association, to the accounts of all Team members.
  8. Does he do what he agrees to do? Our assessment attention here is on important agreements and commitments but also on minor agreements and commitments. Team members are scrupulous about doing what they say they will do, with everyone, every time. The Leadership Team cannot afford to have any of its agreements or commitments disregarded or ignored, ever.

Does this mean a Team member is never unable to keep an agreement or honor a commitment? Although always keeping agreements and commitments is the goal, situations and circumstances infrequently preclude keeping agreements or meeting commitments. When this happens, the Team member lets the stakeholder know immediately, along with a sincere apology and an explanation about why the stakeholder’s expectations are not being met. Also, no matter how magnanimous the stakeholder is in accepting the apology and explanation, it is still a significant debit from the Team member’s account with the stakeholder. When assessing potential Team members, simply assume they will not be any more responsible with stakeholders than they are with everyone else.

  1. Does he do things on time? This is a sub-element with being responsible but warrants specific attention. Stakeholders should and do expect things to happen when they expect them, when the Team member says they will happen, and so on. For the Team member, this means being sure he is where he is expected when he is expected. It means activities and events occur when they are scheduled to occur. It means stakeholders get information or feedback when they expect to get them. It also means phone calls or emails are returned the same day, every time. Time matters and being on time is essential. Any successful candidate for the Leadership Team takes being on time very seriously, with everything, with everyone, every time.
  2. Does he stay calm when he is dealing with important issues or having a serious conversation? This is especially important when dealing with difficult issues or when having conversations where emotions may run high. This does not mean Team members are emotionally flat or do not have strong feelings about some things now and then. In fact, a lack of observable feeling and emotion is easily mistaken for indifference and not caring. We are focusing here primarily on moderate to intense negative emotion, especially anger and frustration. Expressing anger and frustration directly with a stakeholder is most always counterproductive. The point sometimes missed is sharing angry feelings and frustrations about someone else with a stakeholder is also inappropriate and counterproductive, even if the stakeholder shares their similar feelings with the Team member. People who hope to join the Leadership Team must be skilled emotional Managers who have a demonstrated ability to stay calm under stressful circumstances and when people’s choices and behavior are quite contrary to their expectations and preferences. The best Team members are rarely to never overtly, negatively reactive to people and circumstances.
  3. Is he energetic and positive? This assessment criterion does not need much comment. People who seem tired, disinterested, and detached are not good Team members. People who are critical and negative are not good Team members. People whose energy and enthusiasm seem artificial or forced are also not good Team members. The need is for Team members who manage everything they do with an appropriate level of energy, engagement, interest, and positive demeanor. Assess candidates for the Leadership Team over time and in all areas of their work life. Assume if they occasionally seem tired, negative, and less than fully involved, they will occasionally behave the same way with stakeholders. This can quickly lead to debits in their leadership accounts with those stakeholders.
  4. Is he a hard worker? A reality understood but seldom acknowledged is if people associated with the agency were to only do what they are required to do and only do it when they are required to do it, few agencies would operate smoothly and none would excel. It takes the little extra from those people who go beyond what is required for the agency to run smoothly and especially for the agency to excel. These people are good candidates for the Leadership Team. If they also do what is required when it is required, keep their work current, and consistently meet all of the expectations for their positions, they meet the hard worker criterion referred to here.
  5. Does he make good choices? This assessment criterion applies to the work life of anyone who wants to join the Leadership Team but also extends to his personal life. If someone makes bad choices anywhere, he is more likely to make bad choices with stakeholders than someone who has no history of making bad choices. Additionally, stakeholders are more likely to learn about bad choices made by him than by others who have no record of bad choices. The connections with stakeholders enable those stakeholders to trust the judgments and choices made by Team members and any history of bad choices works against this outcome. Included here are choices affecting other people negatively, jeopardizing agency or service outcomes, or leading to private or public censure. Also, choices related to personal appearance, dress, choice of associates and activities and such are also considered. Be sure Leadership Team members consistently make choices and decisions in their professional and personal lives not reflecting negatively or adversely on the Team or on the agency.
  6. Is he accepting and tolerant with others? Any indication of overt prejudice, cultural insensitivity, sexist views, or other behavior suggesting a negative, indifferent, or superior orientation to any particular group of people are unacceptable. People with such tendencies and inclinations should not be associated with the agency in the first place. We may assume agency Management has already dealt with them and they are no longer with the agency. Our attention here is on more subtle issues. We can pick up on these issues by watching how an individual relates to and interacts with various groups of people. Does he (or she) interact differently with men and women, children and adults, young people and older people, agency clients and staff, people in Management and those who are not, and so on? Good candidates for the Leadership Team relate to and interact with everyone in very similar ways. There is no sign of non-acceptance or intolerance. They interact with and relate to people based on each person’s merits and not on his (or her) membership in a particular group, class, or status. – It is worth noting this level of non-judgmental behavior is considerably less common than one might expect.
  7. Is he assertive without being demanding, confrontational, or pushy? Leadership Team members are able to comfortably and clearly present agency interests and priorities, suggest ways in which stakeholders may support those priorities and interests, and convey their points of view to stakeholders. Additionally, they initiate contacts and interactions and actively pursue connections with stakeholders. They also are skilled in managing those times when they disagree with stakeholders, think stakeholders may be acting in ways contrary to agency interests, or have to take action not supporting stakeholders’ interests or priorities. There are also those times when stakeholders have to simply be told no. Diplomacy is fairly easy when everyone agrees and is headed in the same direction. When people disagree or are heading in divergent directions, maintaining leadership connections is much more challenging. Leadership Team members are skilled at managing these challenging times assertively while avoiding the natural tendency to become demanding, confrontational, pushy, or – what is just as bad – the tendency to avoid the people and situations all together.
  8. Is he considerate? Excluded here are people who are sycophantic or excessively deferential. They do not make good Leadership Team members. However, adjusting to or accommodating to the special situations, preferences, beliefs, values, or difficulties of people are to be expected with considerate people. There is nothing artificial or self-serving about their behavior. They are consistently and somewhat automatically considerate with everyone in most any situation. They are what we simply call genuinely nice people. Leadership Team membership is limited to genuinely nice people, people who seem to be naturally considerate.
  9. Is he dependable? The notion here is somewhat more complex than it may at first seem. It means Team members do what they are expected to do when they are expected to do it, are where they are expected to be when they are expected to be there, and produce the results they are expected to produce when they are expected to produce them. Beyond these important areas of dependability, successful candidates for the Leadership Team demonstrate additional areas of dependability. These areas are reflected in the questions in this assessment. Consider each question and ask if the Team can depend on the candidate to continue behaving and performing consistently with respect to the expectation suggested by the question. For example, can the Team depend on the candidate to continue treating everyone the way it wants agency stakeholders to be treated? Look at each assessment question and consider whether the candidate can sustain the expectation. Only those people who can be depended on to meet those expectations over the long term are good candidates for the Leadership Team.
  10. Is he a good listener? This question incorporates a notion a little beyond what may be obvious. Along with attentively hearing what is said, the Team member also asks appropriate questions and for necessary clarification so he understands what is being said. This understanding includes insight into the motivations and interests of the person talking. Once the Team member understands, he remembers what was said and takes appropriate action based on the communication. Taking appropriate action is, then, the evidence of having listened. The appropriate action might be a verbal response or some other action in the future. Whatever the action is, it lets the stakeholder and others know the Team member did indeed listen. People being seriously considered for the Team demonstrate good listening skills in all areas of their professional and personal lives.

A related point is important here. Along with accurately and carefully listening, Team members have to also communicate accurately and carefully. Is the candidate consistently understood correctly and completely or do people occasionally misunderstand or misinterpret his (or her) meaning or intent? The Leadership Team cannot afford to have its messages and intentions misunderstood. The ability to communicate clearly and appropriately with everyone with whom the candidate interacts is an essential prerequisite for Team membership.

  1. Is he patient? We have all heard patience is a virtue; and from the Leadership Perspective, this aphorism is definitely true. Leadership connections do not develop quickly and usually not without a fair measure of ups-and-downs in the process. As the Leadership Team assesses people who may join the Team, the Team is patient, not rushing the selection process or shortcutting it. They also limit their selections to people who are patient – patient with them and patient with other people. Select people who will be patient with stakeholders, who are comfortable with leadership connections developing on stakeholder time.
  2. Does he understand and support the agency’s interests and priorities? It is not uncommon to talk with someone who has leadership responsibilities with an agency and hear him (or her) say he does not understand or agree with something the agency is doing or with some action the agency did or did not take. Through his behavior, he either explicitly or implicitly makes it clear he disapproves and perhaps thinks the agency’s choice was somewhere from ill-advised to stupid. Suffice it to note this is behavior never seen in successful Leadership Team members. There are appropriate opportunities within the agency to pursue such differences and disagreements, but sharing them with stakeholders and potential stakeholders – which includes almost everyone – is not appropriate. People who are being considered for Team membership are screened very carefully to be sure they do understand and support the agency’s interests and priorities. A mistake here can lead to the person’s doing more damage to the agency’s reputation than the Team can ever expect to fully repair.
  3. Is he someone who you want to be a primary agency representative? This is the bottom line. Will the person be invited to join the Leadership Team or not? As the decision is being made, understand this person will represent the agency, its staff, its clients, and everyone else associated with the agency. Stakeholders and others will fairly assume everyone associated with the agency is like this person, strengths, shortcomings, and all. As a Team member, are you comfortable with others judging you based on their perceptions of this person? If so and if he has done well with the other assessment questions, he will likely be a good Team member. If not, be slow to select this person even if he has done well with the other assessment questions. Just know the future success of the agency depends, in part, on getting this decision right.

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