I write to share something with you: a cool way to evaluate if your dream candidate has leadership values that are a match with your organization. You may want to adopt this exercise in your own recruiting.

Recently I was retained by the Chief Brand Technologist (yes – a cool title!) of one of the top credit unions in the US. My mission: to recruit a VP of Marketing.

I started the project by spending two days in the office to absorb the culture. It quickly became clear that this was a special place: Customers didn’t just get help opening up a new bank account. They got help with shoveling snow. With changing their flat tires. With navigating the emotional and logistical maze of paying off debt.

The stories of taking care of customers and the community were heartwarming. It wasn’t surprising that the average tenure at this organization is seven years.

Finding a VP with values that matched the organization was key.

Enter the Leadership Values Assignment.

Here’s the assignment that the hiring executive, Jennifer Statham, asked of our finalist candidates. A big thank you to Jennifer for sharing this!

Leadership Values Assignment
This final round of our recruiting process includes a meeting with the Marketing team that you would lead. We invite you to share the core of who you are as a leader with this team.

1. First, please consider these thought starters:

  • List 5-10 words that describe you as a manager or leader.
  • Write down some of the values that were important to you earlier in life that have carried into your work.
  • What would you like your professional legacy to be?
  • What things have you learned through your formal education that are core to your leadership?
  • What significant organizations and groups do you belong to?

2. Now look across your notes from the thought starters. Identify three themes that speak to your values.For each one, please write a headline and a paragraph describing the value and the story behind why it is an important part of who you are.Tie your value to your expectations for teams that report to you.

Here’s an example:

Perseverance achieves Outcomes
I can’t sing.  But when I was in 4th grade, I auditioned for the choir and was accepted.  Now you may think all kids make the choir.  But, I tried out 6 times in the span of 8 months, before I was accepted.  The idea is that failure does not necessarily mean you can’t ultimately achieve the outcome.  Sometimes perseverance can carry the day.  In high school I failed to garner enough votes to become the Sophomore President and join the student council.  I really wanted to be on student council, so I ran for a county-wide student office and won, qualifying me to sit on my high school student council.  Both experiences molded my belief that failure has little to do with ultimately achieving the outcome I seek.  In my career, this has translated to a maniacal focus and deep-seated commitment to achieving a goal.  One boss once told me that when I was given an objective, I would burrow through a wall if that is what it took to achieve my objective.  My commitment is to clearly articulate goals and objectives for you and help remove obstacles.  My expectation is that you will focus on the outcome and persevere.
3. Please come to the meeting prepared to share your stories with the group, in a one-hour session that you will lead. You don’t need to share your notes or stories in writing with us. We’ve found that it works best for this to be an authentic, in-the-moment conversation. Be ready to engage with the team as they ask questions.


It turns out that Jennifer Statham got this exercise from a leadership coaching expert: Jim Cardwell of Cardwell Leadership.

I asked Jennifer about how this exercise has worked out. She says:

Jennifer Statham“I would recommend this exercise as part of any leadership interview process and/or as new leaders introduce themselves to a new team. The exercise created deeper dialogue between prospective leaders and their future team, highlighted and distinguished strength of culture fit across candidates, and served as a meaningful introduction to an impending leadership transition. The candidates also appreciated this thought-provoking exercise as it guided their thoughts and allowed them to communicate who they were in a meaningful, albeit non-traditional way. “

Here’s what I like about this approach:

  • Candidates have time to reflect in advance, which leads to a more thoughtful discussion on soft skills than the typical rapid-fire panel interview.
  • The exercise distinguishes between management and leadership.
  • The marketing team could weigh in on the hiring decision, in a time-efficient way.

If you’re going to use an exercise like this, it’s important to first evaluate:

  • what your organization stands for
  • what type of values are consistent with that
  • what types of leadership styles have been effective

This way, you’ll be able to see whether a candidate’s style will work in your organization.