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The search for future leaders should begin now

Bill Lee sales & operations

Owners and managers cannot always predict when they will have an opening for a key leadership position. The managers who currently serve in these positions may be a long way from retirement, but most of us learned the hard way that openings for key personnel can come open when you least expect it.

Talented and experienced managers who have the right chemistry to fit into your organization don’t grow on trees. The majority of them are not looking to make a change; and their families have often times have never dreamed about moving across town, much less halfway across the country. This is why I have found recruiting to be a continuous process and a top priority for an effective executive.

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I recommend my clients write down the behavioral characteristics they believe would make the best fit for their organization. It’s alright to include age, years of experience, educational level, etc., but it has been my experience that those criteria can’t compare with behavior. It’s also a good idea to include behavior you don’t want to hire.

Next, put together these criteria for easy reference when you run across a manager you wish to possibly consider down the road when you have an opening.

The single most difficult task for an owner or manager is to drop what he or she is doing and conduct an executive search; driving a large percentage of executives to make the difficult decision to invest sometimes up to $50,000 in an executive recruiter. If most high-level managers had a choice, they would rather have the attributes of several candidates with the right stuff written down and organized than pay a professional recruiter to bring them strangers to consider.

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In my corporate life, I once met a young man at a trade show whose demeanor, image, and confidence level impressed me enough to ask him for a business card so I could find him down the road if I ever had a position I wanted to consider him to fill. On that same page, I listed as many of his attributes that impressed me as I could remember so months or years down the road, I could remind myself of why I had decided to put him in my binder. I included his university degree, his position at the time, his behavioral characteristics, anything I learned about his ambition level, his goals and objectives, how he goes about solving problems, etc.

Of most importance is to stay in touch with the prospects you meet. If my travels happen to take me within a half-hour to an hour’s drive from one of my candidates, I’ll call ahead and ask if I can stop by and say hello. I also periodically pick up the telephone and ask questions like: How is life treating you there at         company? How have you dealt with your customers who refuse to plan ahead in a market like we’re in right now? Have you discovered any innovative ways to get favorable treatment from your suppliers in an emergency situation? Have you come up with any ideas on how to protect your people from being hired away by competitors? I also try to share an idea or two of my own that might help my candidate.

I guess I average a group of six or eight candidates in my binder at any given time. After building a relationship with these candidates over a reasonable period, I feel more comfortable about discussing a job opportunity with one of the candidates in my binder.

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The most critical asset we all need is people! The above is one idea that has worked for me. Give it a try, I believe it will work for you, too.

Bill Lee is a respected sales and business consultant in the LBM industry. For more information, contact Bill at

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