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A new era for executive search with Lars Leafblad and Marcia Ballinger

The civic sector needs a new approach, and these two see a path to reimagining the search process for placing leaders within organizations that do good.

Last week, Pollen founder, Lars Leafblad made a big announcement, he is co-founding a new executive search firm, Ballinger | Leafblad. Starting your own business is a risky endeavor, but Lars Leafblad and Marcia Ballinger don’t feel brave. Their partnership gives them strength. Ballinger and Leafblad believe in each other even more than they believe in themselves. Together, they have co-created a shared vision to shake up the field of executive search. The civic sector needs a new approach, and Marcia and Lars see a path to reimagining the search process for placing leaders within organizations that do good.

Marcia and Lars are leaders in their own right. They are extraordinary individuals, but they insist they are their best selves when working together. And so Pollen has investigated the shape of their individual career tracks, to better understand the fascinating team dynamics of this partnership.


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And so how did they get there?


Marcia set out to study the self perception the effect of executive coaching had on individuals identified as both “high potential” and “low potential” corporate workers. She did not find a difference between high potential and low potential individuals, but she did find that women perceived coaching different than men: “When I cut the data by gender, I found huge differences in the way people perceived coaching. Women felt far less supported in the coaching process.” 


Lars met for his annual review with Bush Foundation president Jennifer Ford Reedy, and was invited to have a courageous conversation. He told Jennifer that his dream was to start something. And Jen elected to respond in a way that you can only hope. It was visionary. She saw a win-win. She said, “That’s awesome. Let’s keep talking”. The Bush Foundation motto, “think bigger, think differently,” applies to staff as well. 

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At the same time that Lars was thinking about relaunching his search career, Marcia was also having thoughts about “what was next.” They started talking about their shared passion for co-creation and the civic space. And something better and different for how the future of search could look.


While starting something new, might feel like a risk, these two are adamant there is no risk here. With each other’s partnership, and shared vision, the move only presented opportunity.


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“We wanted to go on this adventure in partnership together. To share values and trust with one another. We are both used to collaboratively and iteratively making decisions. We will practice duality, you get Marcia and you get Lars. We think in ways that compliment. We ideate together.”



“We see every search as more than just a search. We want to work with clients that see search as an engagement strategy through the search itself. A search can be more than a transaction exercise. It is a rare moment to invite your stakeholders to interact with the entity in an enriching way.”

What is one piece of advice for career planning? 

Marcia Ballinger: Each of us is constantly surrounded by a wealth of career planning advice.  Everyone you know has career guidance for you that you would want to know.  How did you get into your line of work?  What’s cool about it?  What makes you proud?  How might that relate to what I’m passionate about?  Ask, listen, learn, connect.

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Lars Leadblad: Don’t stop being curious. Asking great questions is a hallmark of great leadership so practice the behavior frequently. Ask questions and then actively listen the counsel, feedback or ideas shared. When you seek out feedback, counsel or advice, you’ll find that career serendipity accelerates exponentially. New opportunities will surface by the very pursuit of knowledge, insights and growth. 


What is one piece of advice you can give candidates up for a new position?

Marcia Ballinger: Approach the job interview with joy.  Try not to think about it as a “competition” against others; that thinking triggers behaviors that don’t serve you well.  Think about the process of job exploration itself. What are you excited about at this time?  What are you learning about yourself?  How can your experience connect with the needs of the position?  At the end of the day, people don’t hire resumes, they hire people.

Lars Leafblad: The strongest candidates for a job inevitably ask the best questions yet most candidates focus solely on preparing their answers to the questions they anticipate being asked by the hiring manager(s) or search committee. The questions you pose, or lack thereof, when interviewing are often a key differentiator in the assessment of your candidacy vis-a-vis other candidates. 

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