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Leadership Forum: September 2018

I’m often asked what I look for when filling a senior leadership position that reports directly to, and works directly with me, on a daily basis.

September 5, 2018 
By Matthew Pegg

As I discussed in a previous column, being attractive and competitive as someone who aspires to move into a more senior role is the function of your relevant education, experience and exposure.

But as the leader of a team, how do you go about selecting from a candidate pool of well-educated, experienced and exposed leaders to fill your key inner-circle roles? defines “inner circle” as a small, intimate and often influential group of people.

How do you decide who you will hire, promote or designate to assume the most critical inner-circle roles on your team?

I would like to share a concept I’ve adapted from leadership author John Maxwell, based upon my own personal experience. There are four key factors that I consider when I’m selecting a leader to fill an inner-circle role.

The first is compatibility.

Regardless of what type of team is being assembled, it is critical that the team members are compatible.

They must be like-minded and willing and able to work effectively together.

Let’s face it, as a leader not everyone is a good match for you.

I have known strong and capable leaders who simply couldn’t work effectively together, and despite their obvious individual talents, the team failed.

To be successful as a team and deliver results under pressure, you and your team must be compatible and connected. When you’re not, your team will simply fail.

The second factor is experience.

There is a difference between length of service and experience.

When it comes to assessing someone’s future leadership potential, their demonstrated experience delivering successful results is what really matters.

The truth is that few candidates effectively demonstrate their success in previous leadership roles, and to be clear, simply holding a rank or position does not equate to success.

When I’m assessing experience and especially how that experience fits with the needs of our team, what matters most is an individual’s demonstrated leadership successes in other roles they’ve held, not simply the amount of time they’ve held those positions.

The third factor is common values.

Being a leader is hard work, and while serving as a senior leader can be extremely rewarding, it can also be very lonely, demanding and difficult.

For a leadership team to be effective, efficient and resilient, the members of the team must share a common set of values and ethics.

Regardless of how capable individual members of a team may be, the team will fail if they are not connected by a set of common values and ethics.

To succeed as a team, there must be no question that each member serves for the same purpose and is committed to performing their specific roles to the same ethical and values standards as every other member of the team, without exception and without question.

The fourth factor is loyalty, which is often the most misunderstood. To me, loyalty does not mean that you won’t look at or consider other opportunities.

To me, loyalty does not mean that you promise never to leave the team. In fact, I encourage people I work with to consider and pursue opportunities that contribute to their personal career growth, enjoyment and satisfaction.

In this context, loyalty is knowing without question that the individual will tell me the truth when it matters most and when it is most difficult.

Loyalty is knowing that the individual will tell me when I am wrong and also accept accountability when they are wrong because we are both committed to the success of the team.

Loyalty is knowing that the person will be right there beside me when the going gets tough and we will have each other’s backs.

Selecting members of your senior team is not a small or easy task. These are difficult decisions, with much depending on the outcome of the choices.

My advice to leaders is to consider compatibility, successful experience, common values and loyalty when selecting a team.

For those aspiring to move into senior leadership roles, take some time to honestly assess and understand yourself from these four perspectives.

The only thing worse than not getting a position you want, is getting a position that doesn’t suit you.

Invest the time to understand what type of leader and team fits with who you are.

Matthew Pegg is the chief with Toronto Fire Services, having previously served in Georgina, Ajax and Brampton, Ont. Contact Matthew at

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