In today’s business environment, one of the biggest recruitment challenges is hiring team leaders.

In the last few years, organizational hierarchies have shifted in response to new business pressures. Teams, rather than departments or other business functions, have become the new fuel cells powering innovation and productivity.

Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2016 report notes that over 80% of respondents are either currently restructuring their organization or have already done so. Rigid hierarchies are being decentralized and replaced with smaller, nimbler teams designed to solve specific business challenges and to keep pace with unpredictable global markets.

But a team—no matter how cooperative and self-reliant—still needs a leader. Every organizational unit needs someone who can coordinate, coach, prioritize, and make tough decisions. This is why team leaders are quickly becoming one of the most important roles in any organization. What should you look for when finding and assessing team leaders?

Conductors, not virtuosos

Although teams are often focused on specialized or technical areas, don’t get caught up in selecting a team leader with technical brilliance in that area. Beyond having enough subject-matter expertise to guide the process, a team leader’s value comes from coordinating efforts, cultivating collaboration, and creating synergy. Like an orchestra conductor brings all the instruments together, a team leader brings team members’ skills together. Instead of hiring team leaders for technical proficiency alone, look for competencies such as facilitating, decision-making, and managing conflicts.

Supporters, not superstars

The larger-than-life personal brands of CEOs such as Richard Branson and Donald Trump may have raised the profiles—and profits—of their respective companies, but there’s no room for big personalities and self-promotion among team-leaders. The best team leaders keep a low profile and focus on helping other team members to shine. Meta-analytic studies have shown that transformational and empowering leadership, in which the leader frequently asks for input rather than imposing his or her own ideas, results in better outcomes and performance.

Open-minded, not single-minded

Does a team leader need to be unwavering and laser-focused? Research suggests otherwise. In fact, being open to a range of ideas and perspectives is the hallmark of an effective team leader. A study from EY, m for example, identified the ability to create an open and inclusive team culture as one of four essential team-leading attributes. Additionally, fostering diversity and inclusiveness enhances profitability and innovation. A McKinsey and Company report showed that companies with a diverse executive board have a 95% higher return on equity.

Tools for identifying great team leaders

Because an effective team leader possesses many different skills, evaluating candidates can be challenging. Online skills assessments for team leaders can be invaluable in narrowing the list of candidates to those who have the requisite technical knowledge and are capable in areas such as leadership, management, and business communication.

Also useful is this series of context-based questions that talent specialist Lou Adler created for interviewing team leaders. According to Adler, these questions will uncover the candidates who have successfully assumed leadership roles with progressive responsibilities within teams. These are:

  1. What’s your most significant team accomplishment?
  2. What role did you play? Why were you assigned that role?
  3. What were the team’s objectives? Did the team meet them?
  4. What was your biggest contribution? How was it recognized?
  5. What was the biggest team problem you faced? How did you handle it?

As teams become increasingly integral to business performance, interviewing team leaders and identifying candidates with the unique mix of skills for success is essential. By knowing the attributes to look for, the skills to assess, and the questions to ask, you’ll be equipped to hire team leaders who will succeed in this critical role.

Want to use skills tests to identify employees who need training? Watch our video to learn how you can.

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Kelly Painter

Kelly Painter is the Vice President of Sales of eSkill Corporation. She has over 12 years of experience working in talent management. Kelly has a broad background in scoping talent solutions, implementation planning, delivery of services, and strategic planning on behalf of her clients. As a talent management solution provider, she has delivered real business results to her customers, while leading and developing a high-performing team of sales and service professionals.


  • Avatar Anthony H. says:

    I completely agree with your article. The qualities a person needs to possess in order to have the potential to be a great leader are more important than technical skills, which can be learned in time. 

  • Avatar Sally F. says:

    There are a lot of managers who think the best people at their specific job will also be great team leaders and that often proves to be a costly mistake. The trend is to have teams with team leaders in order to grow a business, and to build those teams, we have to hire correctly. 

  • Avatar Adana N. says:

    As a team leader, you will be expected to know how to deal with a broad range of problems that are not technical, but rather problems of leadership. That is why recruiters have to hire the best person for this job. Your article gives us an accurate list of qualities that a team leader must possess.

  • Avatar Patrice Levin Kell says:

    GREA T questions 0 would luv to be a fly on the wall and hear the answers!

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