I found a great interview where Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines explains some of their thinking behind leadership and culture. Here’s what he says about hiring leaders:
For our interviewing in general and looking for leadership in particular, we use model employees to do it. We bring in our mechanics to interview mechanics, pilots to interview pilots, flight attendants to interview flight attendants, etc. We want their insights. They’re out in the field, they know the kinds of people we want and so we involve them in the hiring process. And of course they can give us some pretty good insight. Most of our pilots have a fairly keen sense of humor. One day a bunch of applicants thought one of our pilots was also an applicant and sat down and started discussing things very frankly and two or three of them eliminated themselves from consideration by their comments. We also watch applicants when they go to the cafeteria and watch how they relate to our people while they’re up there.
So it’s not just a question of sitting down with them and asking, “Are you a good person? Do you have great leadership qualities???? We try to put them in situations and have conversations where this naturally comes out.
This is a fine application of Southwest’s “hire for attitude, train for skill” principle. When you put people skills and being a nice person first when hiring or promoting leaders, you get waaaaay better leaders. And waaaaay better employees!
UPDATE: And this is what happens in real life, when you hire your employees that way (a great story about Soutwhest from Church of the customer).