Whether you are about to start a new job or have been working at the same place for a long time, being aware of the skills and effectiveness of your company’s leadership or executive team is important. While it might seem like you don’t have any control over the people who, well, run the company, as an employee, you can be in control at determining whether or not you want to work for those leaders.
If you’re evaluating the leadership at your current or potential company, we spoke with Carol Bowser, President of Conflict Management Strategies Inc., to learn about what job seekers should look for in a leadership team, how to evaluate a leadership team, and what red flags to keep an eye out for.
The number one attribute to look for
This could vary depending on what type of worker you are and how you like to be manages, but for the average employee, Bowser says the number one attribute to look for in a leadership team is that they possesses a cohesive and clear message.
“While we may want our leaders to be visible and accessible, many times the leaders are serving as the face of the organization,” she explains. “Their focus may be external, thus not just down the hall for you to pop in. Consequently, how well the leadership or executive team can consistently and clearly communicate what needs to be done and what they are looking for to demonstrate success is important.”
What to ask during your interview
Though not every job seeker has access to his or her senior leaders, how well the executive team functions has a huge impact on the rest of the company, so when they fail to be transparent or if they have poor communication, it creates a negative working environment and causes employees to feel resentment for the company.
To avoid that scenario, Bowser suggests that job seekers ask about the managerial styles of their leaders during the interview.
Questions to ask during the interview: Are the leaders hands off or more involved with the daily operations of the department? Do the leaders provide updates or communication to the employees often? What are the values of the leadership team? What are the critical factors that the leadership is concerned about? How does the job impact those areas of focus? Do leaders often make time to meet with employees? How much turnover is there in the upper levels of the company?
What to ask your company’s leaders
If you are already working somewhere and are wondering how to evaluate your current leadership team, the same advice applies to you: ask questions.
“Ask questions that come from a place of curiosity, not judgment,” advises Bowser. “You are being hired for your brain and ability to execute tasks. Ask about the interplay between the position you are interviewing for and the leadership team. Will there be interactions? Will your manager be a gatekeeper? How will you and your team be viewed as successful by the leadership team?”
Moreover, as an employee, you must remember that there is a fine line between complaining about a leader and gossiping. One effective way to evaluate your executive team is to share concerns and seek advice from other employees in a way that is productive, as opposed to just venting with each other.
“Complaining about someone without bringing forward your concerns to the person directly is usually labeled as “passive-aggressive.” A warning here, word gets around workplaces,” says Bowser. “Someone may overhear your conversation and share what they think is going on with others. This is how problems can really escalate.”
Red flags to look out for
When it comes to evaluating a leadership team, there are a few red flags you want to keep an eye out for that signal the company might not be a good place to work. The first big red flag? Leaders that are stressed out. If your leadership team consists of people who don’t know how to handle their stress, it’s likely they don’t know how to manage others well and the workplace environment probably feels very micro-managed and stressful. If your leaders are stressed out – it means you would probably also be very stressed out working under them.
Secondly, Bowser says a big red flag are leaders who preach work-life balance, but then really value those employees who always seem to be at work. You don’t want to work for a leader who presents the company as one that gives employees a lot of time off and says they value employee happiness – only to be over-worked or not seen as a team player if you take time off when everyone else is working.
“Do some investigation – does there seem to be churn at the top or churn underneath?” says Bowser. “An organization that cannot keep good people because the senior people have poor skills is a big red flag.”
Now that you know what to look for, consider evaluating your leadership or executive team at your company to see if their skill level, values and attitudes line up with yours. Hopefully you will find that you are working a company that truly knows how to lead.