I was predisposed to liking Lars Leafblad, Principal of KeyStone Search, even before I met him.
As a fan of alliteration, I just dig the name. But after actually meeting him I found a lot more to like. He is earnest, sincere, affable, outgoing, well spoken and a consummate connector. Hey, come to think of it, those are pretty good attributes for a recruiter, right?
“I joined KeyStone in September of 2007, after serving as Director of Development for the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota,” says Leafblad. “I saw some basic parallels between being a good development person and being a good recruiter. Both are in the business of understanding and connecting to human networks.”
Leafblad quickly added, however, that he envisioned a lot more face-to-face interaction than proved to be the case.
“The reality is much of your time is spent on the phone and engaging in electronic and virtual or digital communication with both clients and candidates.
That was actually an adjustment for me.”
He began his career in a leadership development program with GE Capital and subsequently spent two years helping launch Four51.com, a high-tech start-up.
Leafblad also served as interim assistant director of alumni and parent relations at St. Olaf College, along the way earning an MBA with a concentration in Strategic Management from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.
Not exactly the more traditional HR/OD path that many recruiters take.
“My employers were courageous in their willingness to take a bit of a risk on me, but thus far, it has been a very successful experiment,” Leafblad said with humility typical of him.
So we have established what about Leafblad’s past prepared for his present? Let’s drill down a bit more and find out what he loves about the recruiting business in general, and specifically the retained executive search work KeyStone does.
What Lars Loves:
- You’re getting brought in to the inner sanctum of people’s professional selves.
- There is a level of intimacy that you establish with your clients, as well as with your candidates.
- Executive search is an amazing conglomeration of sales, marketing, psychology, public affairs, public relations, negotiation, and even journalism as we attempt to discover and form the story of who it is you are engaging with.
- We have to understand the culture and landscape of our client’s organizations.
- We have to have fluency in the narrative of how those things align – or don’t align – in an organization or company.
“The thing that is most interesting to me at the moment is when we partner with a client that views the search itself as a tool to have new kinds of conversations with key stakeholders about vision and strategy and mission,” states Leafblad. “Of course we present them with a slate of qualified, culture-fitting candidates. When we get beyond the transactional nature of it though, and use search as this big engagement process, that to me is where the most reward is.”
Leafblad has found rewards using social media. He has tweeted nearly 8,000 times (@larsleafblad), and he also publishes the Pollen newsletter; “a community of civic-minded connectors who share jobs, board openings, ideas, and peer-to-peer recognition to create more opportunities for impact.”
So I asked him how technology is impacting the search and recruiting business.
“Technology is certainly disrupting how talent today is identified and recruited. But I believe there will always be a role for a human being to be a trusted intermediary between candidates who are not actively seeking a new role and client organizations attempting to reach that talent.”
Can we deduce then he is bullish on the future of the business then?
“Clients want clearly quantifiable justification for the value you are providing them, and I think that’s a good thing. I think we are also going to continue to have clients expect more for less. Firms that can adapt to that, that continue to innovate and differentiate will win. Those that stagnate or go for the short-term dollar will go away. That’s just the world we live in.”