The Art of Hiring Great Leaders

Hiring a staff member can be stressful.

It’s a big decision, and you never know for certain how it will work out.

Smart leaders will do everything possible to make a wise choice when hiring, not the fast choice.

When it comes to hiring, fast seems expedient, but more often than not, it’s expensive in the end.

It’s been my responsibility as an Executive Pastor for many years to make good hires and to lead a team that makes good hiring choices. 

I’ll admit that on occasion, this process keeps me awake at night. It matters that much. Building a great team is an art. You will make mistakes, I have, but there is much you can do that will help you choose wisely.

Of course, there is much more to it, but if you are on the go today, here are eight Quick Tips that will help keep you out of hot water when hiring.

8 Quick Tips For Smart Hiring:

1) Know what you want.

When I’m coaching leaders in hiring, I hear this phrase far too often. “I’ll know the right person when I meet them.”

That may indicate good instincts, but it’s not a good strategy. At best, you’ll bat about .500 trusting only your gut.

Be very clear on what you are looking for before you begin your search. Always start with a written job description that is agreed upon by the team.

If you don’t know exactly what you want when hiring, you’ll be tempted to change your mind in the moment based on emotion.

2) Stick to your hiring criteria.

When it comes to hiring, never lower your standards.

It’s easy to lower your standards when you are under pressure and need some help. But hold steady and wait for the right leader.

It’s better to continue with an unfilled position, even with some extra work to do, than to make the wrong hire.

After you write a clear, concise bullet point job description, write a list of criteria (standards).

Here’s an abbreviated example: 7 years experience, at least 2 years in a church of 500 or more, college degree, carried primary responsibility for a minimum of 40 volunteers, strong people skills, etc. Write down what you desire and stick to it.

That doesn’t mean that your approach is rigid and inflexible, or that the Holy Spirit can’t interrupt the process. It means that you hire on purpose with intentionality.

3) Always make team-based hires.

Hiring staff was never meant to be a solo endeavor.

We all have blind spots, personal biases, and favor certain personalities. For example, with me, if you love the Beatles, you are pretty much guaranteed to get hired.

OK, seriously, we really do all have biases that can get us in trouble. We like who we like!

You can easily remedy personal bents and hiring biases by working with a team of 3-5 people who will do all the interviews. Each person then interviews the candidate with a specific set of questions.

The essential element is that the group meets together after the interviews are completed to process a decision.

4) Always interview more than one good candidate.

A good rule of thumb for smart hiring is make it a goal to have at least three viable candidates to interview.

By viable, I mean leaders that you would seriously consider hiring. Not one sharp leader and two that you would never consider.

This practice dramatically enhances your process because with three great candidates, you quickly see which one is best for your team.

Be thorough and consistent in your process. This is something Barb, our wonderful HR Director, continually emphasizes with us.

When you “jump process,” you are asking for problems.

Make your reference calls. I know not all reference calls are fruitful, but make them anyway — touch base with friends who might know the candidate. 

Sometimes that one call can seal the deal or save you from great heartache.

Use personality testing. There is no need to bombard your candidates with several tests, but one or two is a wise practice.

5) Invest maximum effort in matching people to your staff culture.

You can’t overestimate the significance of team culture when hiring a new staff member.

Whether your staff culture is cultivated intentionally or what you have is a result of what you’ve allowed, you have a distinct culture. Every organization does.

The candidate may be a sharp leader and have an amazing track record, but that doesn’t mean they will be successful on your team.

How do they fit in? Are they comfortable with your team? Does the chemistry work? Do your values match their values, and do they love your purpose and vision?

Take plenty of time to get to know them as a person and a human being, not just someone filling a position.

6) Don’t sell the virtues of your organization.

When hiring, don’t sell the virtues of your church team, just live them, the candidate will pick them up quickly.

Of course, you can speak favorably about your staff team and the culture you enjoy, but you must be honest about the shortcomings that need improvement.

The important thing is, to be honest. That connects. That’s real.

I’m always open about our flaws and stuff we want to improve. Who has ever worked for a perfect organization?

We always want to innovate ministries and get better at everything we do, and healthy teams are open about that.

I love to tell the candidate a couple of things we are working on and ask, “How could you help us get better?” Or, “If you joined our team, how would you make us better in that area?”

That’s why we hire sharp leaders, people who want to help a great organization get better.

7) Be direct and very candid in your interviews.

When you interview a potential staff member, don’t hold back. Ask candid questions. Ask the tough questions.

This isn’t the time to be polite and reserved. Kind and respectful, yes, but don’t take an easy and surface approach.

As you consider hiring someone, you need to really know this person, and they need to know the real you.

You both will find out soon enough, so why not before they are on the team?!

Avoid questions that can be answered in yes and no responses.

Ask for stories, examples, and their experiences. Give them “case studies” and ask what they would do? Don’t settle for success stories only. Stories of struggle, mistakes, and even failures give you much more insight into the real person.

And of course, train those who are on the interview team on what the Federal Equal Opportunity Laws are. A church can ask about an applicant’s religion but must follow all the other laws on hiring. See

8) Pray and trust the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

It’s OK to trust your gut, but as I mentioned earlier, that’s not enough. You need a process and a team. And equally, if not more so, you need to pray and seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

God cares about who you hire; it’s His church. Ask Him who He wants on your team!

4 thoughts on “The Art of Hiring Great Leaders”

  1. Gerald Polmateer

    I like what you wrote “The candidate may be a sharp leader and have an amazing track record, but that doesn’t mean they will be successful on your team.” It seems to be so true that the culture will speak louder than anything written or what people say they do. While the leadership may say one thing, the culture may loudly speak something else and that may be something very different.

  2. Dan, thank you again for dropping such good wisdom on us!! You are a gift to the Kingdom! Do you by any chance have some standard questions you or someone on your team asks when you call a potential hire’s references?

    1. Andrew,

      Thanks for your comment and I’m sorry for a delay in responding, I missed these comments! Years ago, we would have a few standard reference questions, but culture has changed so much and HR rules and regulations have also changed. Many organizations including churches are fearful to even answer any questions. We tend to leave it a little more open ended and say something like: “What can you tell me about ‘Bob’ who has listed you as a reference?”

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