How to Go From Great Biller to Great Leader

Many recruitment bosses make the assumption a great biller will make a great leader.

“You’ve billed £600k this year for the third year in a row. It’s about time people started learning from you. And not just your immediate team.” 

It’s highly likely someone in this position will already have a team around them. So becoming a Manager is probably already within their grasp. But there’s a stark difference between managing a small team and taking a leadership role in the business.

From my own experience, there are certain steps you can take to go from great biller to great leader.


Without a grand ‘vision’ in recruitment, it’s easy to get flustered by the day to day.

Any great leader you’ve worked with in the past will have set a strong narrative for the team. Why? Because doing so provides clarity on what the vision is and helps the team connect their individual contribution to the overall objective.

As long as it’s not a dictatorship and that vision’s shared.

Input from every member of the team is an exercise in inclusion, and integral to harmony when you step into a leadership position. Welcome input from your team and ask them to share their own ideas in how you’ll achieve your team’s goal. They’ll feel listened to and become part of the solution.

Recruitment can be a tough repetitive slog of meeting monthly KPIs and sales targets. If you really want to engage the team you need to create a higher sense of purpose other than the financials. There are a lot of businesses that assume their commission structure is the one and only draw for their staff’s efforts.

There’s much more to a recruitment business than commission. If there wasn’t most successful Recruiters would simply set up on their own, remain small and keep everything they billed. But they don’t. So the best way to make sure every member of the team is invested in the macro goals and aspirations is to include them in the discussion that sets them.

Black White table

Be supportive

Your job as a Manager should be to facilitate and empower, rather than taking the directive and controlling approach I see within a lot of recruitment agencies. You’re there to guide, coach and develop your team as they strive to perform. Perform for themselves, the team and the business.

Asking questions such as, “What do you need from me this week to help you succeed?” will serve you much better than “You need to pull 5 new jobs this week so get on the phone.” Treat your team like they’re your customers. Your job is to support them to be as successful as possible, not to whip them into submission.

Set clear expectations

You should be trying to create a culture of accountability and ownership for performance. Everyone should be 100% clear of the levels of performance, productivity and behaviours that underpin the values and culture of your business. More than this, everyone needs to be committed and happy to work within those expectations.

An underperforming recruiter shouldn’t be surprised that they’re about to be let go. They should be clear of what the expectations of them are and what the steps of consequence of underperformance look like.

If you do this well it will help you to manage fairly and give you clarity on decision making.

Understand individual strengths 

You may have been the top biller in the company for 4 years straight. You may know how to recruit and most importantly how to make money. Unfortunately, your personal recipe for success might not work for everyone. No matter how good at your job you are.

Whether you’re still billing or have moved solely into leadership, understanding the idiosyncrasies of an individual will help you to understand which traits are bringing the money in.

They’re not you.

So take the time to understand what your people are really good at and encourage them to do more of it.

Personally, I could never pull new business from cold calls. I was awful. I knew it and I resented doing it. My strength was in generating business through referrals and being in front of customers, face to face. The one-size fits all approach to managing people was exactly why I left my first job in recruitment. 

Communicate, communicate, communicate

It’s so important I’ve said 3 times. When you’re leading a team, large or small, don’t isolate yourself by taking the corner desk, hiding behind KPI reports and email updates. Be available and connect with your team collectively and individually. Sit with them and take the time to understand and be understood. Communicate the wins, the learnings from the week, the challenges the business is facing and the opportunities to do things better.

Welcome feedback from the team, give them a voice and show them that their opinions make a difference.

You don’t want to finally hear about a great employee’s irks and frustrations in their exit interview. The quicker you are to build a personal connection that transcends business, the quicker you’ll be to fight any fires that could lead to disharmony.

Thank You

Say Thank You

People like to be appreciated for their efforts and recognised for their work. It’s great when an individual gets a head of steam and starts doing really well. A pat on the back is the very least you should be offering at this point. Especially if you’re taking a share of the commission from their efforts. If this is a really a team then be proud of that accomplishment and continue to strive together for the next milestone.

And remember to say thanks. It might seem like a small point, but it will go a long way.

More than that every individual in the world likes to be thanked. It not only shows your gratuitous for their effort but also that you’ve noticed the extra work they’ve put in. Think of how the captain or manager of a sports team responds to individual success.

I’m not suggesting you should be sliding down the office floor or de-robing in front of adoring fans. But celebrating that success together will mean you’re well positioned to talk about any small failures or misgivings too. Which is probably as, if not more important to your overarching success.

The very best leaders in the world are the best in times of success and failure alike. Nothing’s permanent in recruitment. But your attitude and desire can be. Lead from the front. Lead with the team around you and you’ll safeguard your transition from great biller to great leader.

Rob Smith is an Executive Coach and helps recruitment agencies to perform by developing great leaders. He’s the founding Director of Ollivier People & Development, an independent talent consultancy that supports clients in the UK, US and APAC.”