Ask These Questions Before Accepting a Leadership Mandate

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Do you have a career change on the horizon? Have you asked the right questions? As a young person, I found myself very eager to jump into the arms of a new challenge without asking many questions. Shored up by my own confidence and enthusiasm, I focused on whether or not I was ready for the job. But one of the most important questions is whether or not the organization is ready for you.

Human brain and colorful question mark

One of the most important aspects of an interview process is the part where the company pitches you on why you should work there. This is your chance to test whether or not you want to join the organization to be a part of its mission. There will be numerous opportunities to ask questions. And you will want to sprinkle the right questions in at the right times.

The first opportunity is a pre-interview or coffee with the hiring manager. Good companies recruit candidates before and during recruitment processes to ensure they get a competitive pool of talent from which to choose. At this opportunity, focus your questions on the role and its mission in order to understand if it is a match for your talents. You can also ask questions about the scope and scale of responsibility, the number of employees and its place in the organization. All of this information will help you to prepare for your interview.

The next opportunity will be at your formal interview. A typical interview will end with an opportunity to ask questions. At this point in the interview process, you might find yourself asking the questions you could have asked at a pre-interview if you didn't get one. If you did have one, you can start asking questions about the company's vision, mission, values and approach to leadership. It is also appropriate to ask when they expect to make their decision. Avoid asking questions that seem small, like the availability of parking and the hours of work. You can deal with those at a more strategic moment.

The third opportunity to ask questions is when you get that job offer. Here are some areas of questioning to consider before you accept.

Vision & Mission

Find out what the organization aspires to and how it plans to get there. Most companies will have a documented vision and mission. Ask why they do what they do and let your gut help you find out whether there is a genuine leadership mission. Be curious about whether the call-to-action inspires your leadership drive.

Values

Values are another key area of importance. Again, most companies will have documented values. Focus on how the organization espouses those values every day in the way people are recognized and rewarded, how decisions are made and the way people interact with each other. Simply ask, how do you see your corporate values in action on a typical day?

Leadership

Ask your new boss about his or her leadership style and what that looks like over the course of the year. This will give you a sense of compatibility as well as a chance to evaluate the leader's self-awareness, intentional leadership practices, communication style and approach to employees.

Also find out if you can get to know each other by having lunch or coffee. This will be the most significant relationship in your work day and you will need to make sure to the extent possible that you are a good match.

Governance

One of the most important questions to ask is how decisions are made in the organization. You will want to see if you can gauge if there is a good process in place and whether it is actually used. There can be big differences between the way an organization claims to make decisions and the way it actually makes decisions.

Does the organization make decisions in a way that supports its vision, mission and values, or does it make decisions in a way that slows and limits progress toward its targets?

You can find this out by asking what the process is and how long it typically takes to make a decision. You can also inquire about the organization's track record in delivering projects against scope, time and budget.

Your New Colleagues

There are two good ways to find out about the people you will be working with. First, ask for a copy of the company's most recent employee engagement survey results. This will help you to validate much of what you have been told about why and how the organization pursues its mandate, and how the employees feel about that.

The second part is asking for a tour of the operations and the chance to meet your potential colleagues and staff. When you meet people, pay attention to body language, voice and energy levels to see what the over-arching mood and morale are like. You can rely on your own signals to see whether or not it felt good to be there or not.

Why You?

Be sure to ask the hiring manager why they have chosen  you. This isn't about hearing them stroke your ego. It will help you understand whether they have accurately assessed your capability to contribute. Whether or not you are a fit for the organization and the organization is a fit for you -- this is the most important question!

Information

While you are considering your offer, ask for access to any documents that would be useful to you in making your decision. This could include a strategic plan, balanced scorecard, that employee engagement survey, any evaluations or research studies conducted, HR manual, and so on.

This is also your chance to ask any logistical questions about hours of work, compensation, flexibility, parking, vacation time, etc.


The most important thing to remember is that good, talented people are the most valuable asset to any organization. With humility, take the extra time to find out if the value proposition of an opportunity is favorable before you leap in. You want to find a place to work that is as genuine as you are to make a difference in this world.