MCD Partners

Memphis Daily News
Focus On Qualities When Hiring Leaders
February 11, 2016
By Dr. Mary C. McDonald

If you know what you’re searching for, then look where you’re most likely to find it. That sounds too simple to be good advice, but it is.

When something is that simple, instead of just doing it, sometimes we want to complicate it, make it more difficult, or just plain mess it up by looking everywhere. I see it all the time when it comes to executive searches, especially those “national” ones.

As soon as there is an announcement about a vacancy in a leadership position, the company announces that a national search will be conducted in an effort to leave no stone unturned in finding the right person for the job.

This could be a good strategy for a company with a national presence or national clientele, but not always a good idea for local companies or institutions that are enmeshed in the local scene and culture with a strong local market.

What are they searching for nationally? Is it the wise men or women from the East, as if geography ensures wisdom? Is quality guaranteed by being from somewhere else? It might sound exotic, but not often realistic, and more often than not, the best choice is locally grown.

It’s more about succession planning than searching. Succession planning does not mean that your organization or institution has a certain person named in the “will” of the departing leader. Succession planning means that you know what you are looking for in that next leader.

Whether you use a search firm or have an internal process, your first question should be, “What qualities and qualifications do we need in the next leader that will position us for success, sustainability and future growth at our next level?” The focus should not be on geography, but on answering that question.

Searching for the next right person for your company should first focus on developing a pool of potential candidates. Development of that pool is an ongoing process that involves the identification of emerging leaders and ongoing leadership training for those in the internal population.

A path to upward mobility in an organization is a value that promotes loyalty and achievement. Expanding that pool to include the larger community or a broader base of potential hires from the area of expertise can be accomplished by involvement in professional and community organizations, and then expanded to associations at the regional and national levels.

The national search is only successful if you can be certain that the baggage a national hire brings is only the clothes in the suitcase. I have seen companies spend more time in justifying their national hire than they did checking out the new hire’s paper trail. This can be true for all hires, but a component of executive searches, particularly national searches, should be a strong vetting of candidates, and no surprises.

It has been my experience in conducting and participating in executive searches that the best hires are the ones are who are the most qualified and a best fit for both the position, regardless of geography.

Contact Dr. Mary C. McDonald, a national education consultant, at 574-2956 or visit

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