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September 18, 2017


Guest Writer: Lexie Kier @


As leaders we all want to hire people who we can train to be future leaders. How do you identify that X factor or "it" during the hiring process?  What questions or techniques have you felt were successful?

Running AOK Group, my strategic consulting company, I am often tasked with guiding the hiring process for my clients as they grow and scale. I always look for a culture fit first because skills can be learned. I would sooner hire a skilled but very self-aware candidate who’s passionate about the company than a wildly talented but less eager candidate. Fire to learn and enthusiasm is what makes future leaders great, not being a 100% resume fit. The best account management person I ever hired was a recent grad who had only worked in food service. What surprises me is that so many people focus on exact or similar experience vs getting to know a person and letting them tell you who they want to become.

Instead of asking, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?" – which doesn't yield much fresh insight; I ask: "What qualities do you consider to be remarkable in you? What makes you proud? What motivates or interests you? Also, tell me about a time you fell out of love with a job or company and why?" 

It shocks me to say this but these days, my X factor is accountability. When hiring, I always ask about a scenario that is all too common in startups and tech. I made it up based on the late delivery of a holiday retail project years ago for a huge e-commerce client from my former agency.

It goes something like this: "Let's say you are [fill in the blank: account mgmt / creative / tech/ strategy] lead on a project that was due December 15th for the holidays but today is December 1st. There are critical flaws with the build and delivery as milestones are passing by. If it is late or doesn't work, the client will suffer publicly from angry customers and our agency may lose the business. How do you handle it? Do you tell the client upfront about the issue? How would you de-escalate the situation? How would you prevent it in the future? Tell me how you think through triage mode? I have never hired for a role (from copy editor to QA to graphic designer to strategist) where this question doesn't illuminate something typically undiscovered until a new hire has been working for a while. It gets to the heart of that X factor.

How do you engage and motivate your whole team when your team is split across the spectrum of high achievers and low achievers?
I am for less meetings, more stand-ups / "all hands" for a quick 10-30 min "Here's what's happening" and then breakout one-on-ones. Meeting overkill can be oppressive  when the team has a wide variety of needs. Individual attention works better for teams in this situation. I always get "individualistic" as one of my top 5 on my Strengths Finder test! I deeply believe knowing what incentivizes each team member and igniting them personally beats meetings where folks get discouraged and dissociate from the goal.

Let's look at an example on a current client project where the team is divided on a core leadership decision  and  then lets look at team reactions (names changed)

  • Sakeena (high achiever) only needs to hear about desired KPIs to run and excel. She simply wants to do what she's been asked to the letter. She's highly motivated and very reliable. Knowing that she questions herself a lot and really thrives with constructive feedback and affirmation, we set up frequent check-ins to keep her feeling strong and on track and to empower her as a supervisor.

  • Stephen (inconsistent but very talented) needs to be creatively engaged with vision ownership and be given opportunities to express himself. He needs the 'boring stuff' minimized and the artistic challenge used as bait. Since he's starved for attention, we set up an internal review with the team for him to show his work to them. This motivates him to get the boring stuff off the list so he can focus on the fun stuff.

  • Sunil (low achiever) needs someone to project manage him as he is not effective and very green. Sakeena is a perfect buddy for him.

  • Sarah (moderate achiever but major critic) disagrees with the leadership decision and is disenfranchised as a result. We brainstorm a bit together to find an alternative aspect within the project she is excited about and then she can start from there!

How to lead your employees when you are having a bad day!
I really struggle here but try to compartmentalize. Sometimes time blocking does the trick -- knowing I have 30 minutes to myself in the afternoon can be a golden carrot to get me through lots of meetings. Other times, I have to take a walk or spend 3 minutes journaling and listening to music to get what I'm feeling out of my system. Music is my everything and Spotify is one of the best mood stabilizers!


How do I get someone to respect me as a leader? 
It’s trite, but under promise and over deliver. Go the extra mile and be patient even when it’s hard. I like to document successes. I focus on doing the job well which then makes those around you aware of how you're leading. Once you've been doing it for a while and have lots of wins, it's hard for anyone to deny your leadership.


To learn more about Lexie and the AOK Group visit her website:

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