How to hire team leaders – conversation with James Adonis

Armed with a sharp focus (team leader recruitment) and a brilliant marketing strategy, we thought is a breath of fresh air. Recently, we broke bread with James Adonis, co-founder/director of and international expert on employee engagement, and he sheds some light on his background, company and how to find ‘good team leaders’.

James can be reached at or + 61 402 334 987

DT. James, tell us a bit about your background and how came about? Why do you choose to focus on team leaders?
I’ve dedicated my entire career to obsessively researching and understanding what it takes to create highly engaged employees. As a result, I set up “Team Leaders” because I am convinced that they have the greatest influence in the workplace. What Team Leaders say and do every day determines whether their employees perform well or perform badly, so I really wanted to create a program that was (a) targeted specifically for this group of people, and (b) delivered in a way that is unparalleled in this country.

DT. Besides core recruitment services you offer a ‘development program’ component. Can you shed some light on this?
JA: Team Leader development program is a 12-month experience which incorporates a one-day workshop which is followed by monthly group mentoring sessions, monthly audio programs, books, newsletters, and online forums. It’s been designed in this way because a recent study showed that over 80% of the funds that companies spend on training goes to waste. I believe there are two reasons for this. Firstly, learning outcomes aren’t reinforced over a period of time, and secondly, the delivery doesn’t target every learning style. Our development program meets both of these objectives.

Q. In your opinion, what do you think is the demand and supply situation for team leaders. Which industries do you think have the most demand for ‘team leaders’?JA: Team Leaders are especially in demand in call centres and administration teams. But the term “Team Leader” also applies to branch managers, retail managers, and basically anyone and everyone who managers front-line employees.

Q Are team leaders born or made? Is there a universal set of skills that all team leaders share in common?
JA: A bit of both. If you’re born with a high degree of emotional intelligence, it’s much easier to be a brilliant Team Leader. In saying that, there are core skills that can be easily learned by anyone who truly wants to excel in this role. The universal set of skills for Team Leaders would be:

– An ability to communicate well
– An understanding of the coaching and feedback process
– An awareness of how to respond to tricky situations like poor performance, conflict, change, and negative employees
– A solid comprehension of what motivates people

DT: What makes a good team leader? Can you lay down the five most important traits?
JA: The five core characteristics of the world’s most amazing Team Leaders are:

– A genuine love of people
– A cheerful disposition
– A passion for achieving high levels of performance in themselves and in others
– Self-awareness
– A focus on building relationships not only with their employees, but also with their managers and colleagues

DT. What must employers do to find and hire the best team leaders?
The first step is to look within. Some of the best Team Leaders aren’t even Team Leaders. The biggest mistake companies make is to promote the most technically-proficient people to the role of Team Leader.

Technically-competent people should be moved to specialist roles. It’s the people-lovers who need to be Team Leaders. So, my first piece of advice is to always be grooming your people-lovers so that they can step up to the Team Leader role. Aside from that, my “Team Leaders” company is the only one in Australia that specialises in recruiting Team Leaders – and only Team Leaders.

DT. Lately, everyone’s concern is the economic downturn. What do you think will be outlook for team leaders in the near future, say the next 12 months?
Economic downturns tend to affect middle managers more than Team Leaders, so I think they’ll be okay. The biggest impact will be on maintaining morale and engagement in their teams because the financial uncertainty is likely to affect their employees’ attitudes, especially if there are retrenchments occurring within their organisations.

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