Your First Hire Should Be Leadership

The first person you hire is important. It defines who you are as a leader and what kind of organization you create. If you intend to scale the organization you’re founding, I have one piece of advice; your first hire should be leadership, not your assistant.

I can confidently say that those who follow this advice will have a much better chance of success than those that don’t. Why is that? Below are two reasons.

Reason #1: It will define the kind of leader you are.

Are you a Manager or a Director? Managers hire people to do things for them. They manage people. They put out fires. They set the priorities for their team. Those working beneath Managers rarely feel empowered and, for that reason, perform within a predefined box. You need to be better than that by trusting people to make decisions, which should begin with your first hire. Directors, by contrast, surround themselves with empowered people, and for that reason, they can achieve more.

If you begin bringing on empowered individuals with your first hire, you will be on your way to building a powerful team. Over time your team will make all programmatic, fundraising, financial, and HR-related decisions.

When founding The Library Project, my first hire was a woman who had never worked in a nonprofit organization before, had no management experience, had no experience working with government, and who I suspect thought I was crazy to have started an organization that donates libraries to schools I couldn’t locate. With that said, she told me she wanted to take on the challenge and had a positive attitude. She was our first Country Director, and on her first day at the organization, she was a Director of one; herself.

Reason #2: It will define the kind of organization you are creating.

Our core four-person leadership team at The Library Project has been with our organization since the beginning. Look at that sentence. Nowhere did I mention “I,” “me,” or “mine.” That is by design and is engrained in how I lead. The organization I founded is not my creation, it is the collective work of countless people, but more specifically, it’s been the work of three early hires. Those three people, along with myself, form our Internal Directors, and as the name implies, we set our organization’s direction.

Without that core group, I can honestly say we would not have donated nearly 3,000 libraries impacting 1,000,000 children since 2006. I genuinely believe that.

I have no money to hire leadership!

Get used to it. Stop complaining. I said hire leadership; I didn’t say you had to match the Country Director’s salary at Microsoft. You don’t need boatloads of money to bring on your organization’s first leadership hire or empowered team member.

During the interview process, sell the candidate on your vision, set aggressive goals for where you’d like to see the organization in the future, and scale her salary based on the organization’s performance. Look for passion, not experience.

The Library Project exists today because the first person I hired was empowered to create an organization we both would be proud to work for. You should do the same.