Last week was about searching for a leader. UCF was looking for its next president, and on a much lesser scale, we were looking for an academic leader for our Marketing Department. There are a lot of ways in which these searches differed, but one way they were the same: it wasn’t really about the people we interviewed. Rather it was about us.
When organizations search for talent at this level, all of the candidates are “qualified” in the sense that they have many accomplishments on their resumes, they have led people and they are insightful. So the key differentiator isn’t so much them as it is us. These type of searches are really about clarifying what we think we need, the values we want to project and the path we think lies ahead. We then choose among these highly talented people whom we think fits our needs best.
There is an important lesson here for aspiring leaders. Most young leaders think leading is about them — their skills, their experiences, their values and views. But these are just things you need to carefully craft in your professional career to get you to the point where you might be ready to lead. But who you lead, how you lead them and where you take them, depends on them, not you. If you are fortunate enough to be selected, it was because they judged you a good match for them. After you get the job, it would be wise to remember why they chose you and that, in many ways, they choose whether or not you continue to be their leader every day.