Do you have passion for the industry? Yep.

Follow through on commitments? Check.

Are you a great communicator? Absolutely.

All of these elements are essential to being a successful leader in the staffing industry. But when you’ve been a staffing executive for as long as I have, you become aware of other, subtler characteristics that separate the good from the great – especially when the road gets a little bumpy.

So, aside from passion, commitment and effective communication, what makes a truly great staffing leader? Here are five traits that I consistently see from the industry’s top leaders:

Be a “Pied Piper” leader

Anyone can use fear tactics or manipulation to bend employees to their will. Over the long term, however, that type of leadership (if you can even call it that) exacts a high price in terms of turnover, diminished engagement and lost productivity.

A leader who truly inspires others, however, creates an environment in which staffing team members exert higher levels of discretionary effort and are much more invested in the company’s outcomes – even when times are tough. How can you be the type of leader your employees want to follow?

  • Be honest. Whether the situation is good or bad, give employees the whole truth. And when you don’t have all the answers, say so. Your staff will respect you more.
  • Empower employees. Micromanagement kills morale and fosters resentment. Give employees the training, tools and authority to do their jobs well – and then hand over the reins.
  • Develop your team. Great staffing leaders do more than just delegate effectively; they help their employees grow their careers. Look for team members who want to learn, take on additional responsibilities and level up. By investing in their professional development, you’ll build a more dynamic, loyal and high-performing organization.


Be a strategic thinker

Few things threaten a staffing firm’s success more than tactical, reactionary thinking. Our industry is in a constant state of flux, and a leader who isn’t vigilant about their organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats – and planning accordingly – won’t survive for long.

A strategic staffing leader, however:

  • Can predict market drivers (i.e., current and forecasted economic, employment and local market conditions that impact employers’ workforce needs as well as talent supply);
  • Knows how to shift resources (i.e., people, capital, technology, talent networks) to capitalize on market, economic and other changes;
  • Moves beyond incremental improvements – and strives to 10x their business.

Be resilient

Knowing what’s around the next corner is one thing; being flexible enough to adapt and bounce back is quite another. Resilient staffing leaders respond more effectively to business disruptors, conflict or other threats because they are better equipped to:

  • Control their emotions and impulses to make smart decisions;
  • Make realistic plans and take practical steps to execute them;
  • Effectively communicate and problem-solve in the face of adversity.

Sell value – not services

In all the years I’ve worked in this industry, I’ve never once heard a customer say: “I want to purchase some staffing services, please.” The truth is, clients don’t want vendors that sell services; they want partners that deliver solutions.

The most successful staffing leaders understand the strategic role staffing plays in their clients’ businesses – and how to create solutions that deliver real value in any market conditions. To move out of the role of “vendor” and into the role of “partner”:

  • Get in front of higher level decision-makers. This is no small challenge, but one that’s critical to elevating your role and moving from transaction-based interactions to building real relationships.
  • Learn what your customers’ real pain points are. Ask: What keeps you up at night?
  • Refocus conversations about price or margins to the strategic value your services offer.
  • Provide solutions that improve a client’s profitability by increasing revenues, decreasing expenses – or both!
  • Explain how your recruiting, screening or selection processes enable you to deliver higher quality talent (which is exceptionally important in today’s candidate market).

Then, even if your price is a bit higher, you’ll be delivering a greater return on the client’s staffing investment – and a better total staffing value.

Be a life-long learner

Let’s face it, it’s nearly impossible to be the perfect leader all the time. There are going to be times in which you may second guess a decision—and that’s okay as long as you learn from it. The best staffing industry leaders are constantly listening to feedback, looking for ways to improve, honing their leadership skills and learning new things.

To be truly effective, you need to talk with others in the industry, you need to look at what’s working outside of our industry and you need to be a great listener. By doing all of these things, you’ll see that the amount of times in which you second guess a decision will decrease dramatically and your team will be energized and working towards the same goals.


by Tammi Heaton

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