What executives are looking for in the leaders they hire into their executive teams
By Gena Cox, PhD
When your clients ask “can you help me advance in my corporation’s leadership structure?” what is your response? Coaches do not have to be content experts in all the areas in which they coach. However, if you are a coach who has not had much corporate experience, or a new coach in the arena of corporate coaching, it would certainly be beneficial for you to have some sense of what companies are thinking when they decide who will and who will not advance in their leadership ranks.
For over 20 years I have been helping companies select and develop leaders who can effectively execute their business strategies. My academic training (PhD, Industrial/Organizational Psychology) and corporate work experiences (to the level of vice-president in a financial services firm) have been invaluable in this work. I help companies: (a) define the competencies their leaders need for success, (b) devise & use assessments to measure those characteristics in candidates, (c) work with leaders as an executive coach, and (d) help executive leadership team members work together more effectively.
After doing this work for many years, I have identified a list of characteristics that U.S. executives most want me to assess in their leadership candidates and/or help them develop in leaders who are already on their teams:
10 characteristics executives want in their leadership team members:
- Orientation toward action: Executives tell me they want leaders who are decisive and can act, using all available information, rather than allowing problems to fester. They are not looking for impulsive “hot-heads” but they prefer to hire individuals who are willing to think, and then act.
- “Fire in the belly”: This is one I hear a lot, especially in financial services. Executives who look for this characteristic want people on their team who are passionate about their work in the business. People who have “fire in the belly” are characterized by their enthusiasm for the work and willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done.
- Effectiveness at guiding fast execution: Especially now, when corporations’ strategic objectives are constantly changing, executives value colleagues who are excellent at guiding execution.
- Critical thinking ability: Executives value colleagues who can take the available information, interpret it quickly, and make appropriate (and accurate) inferences and deductions to guide their actions.
- Ability to deal constructively with conflict: Executive leaders know that conflict is inevitable and they value colleagues who can pull out any learning from the conflict and then diffuse it so those involved can get back to work – quickly!
- Strong listening skills: Just like coaches, corporate leaders need to listen carefully. And, they need to telegraph to their colleagues “I hear you!”
- Strong verbal and written communication skills: There is simply no substitute!
- Ability to influence colleagues in positive ways: Admired leaders are the ones who can get others to see their point-of-view, without resorting to strong-arming or other overt shows-of-force.
- Strong interpersonal skills: Another must-have! Effective leaders often posses enough personal impact that colleagues feel good in their presence. And, those with strong interpersonal skills (i.e., emotional intelligence) can interact with a wide range of people.
- Acceptance of diverse ideas from diverse people: All businesses (even my little consulting practices) are global so effective leaders these days must be willing to consider diverse perspectives from people who may not look, sound, or think like them. Such diversity of ideas can enhance the quality of leaders’ decision-making!
So, this is my perspective on a question you may get from your coaching clients. And, some of them may ask for your assistance as they develop in these areas. Some of these characteristics (like decisiveness and interpersonal skills) are personality-based but that does not mean a person cannot make changes these areas. Although personality characteristics are resistant to change, I have research (and personal) proof that leaders can make changes to personality characteristics that are hindering them from success. Those of you who know me well recognize that I am an introvert (like to think before speaking and maintain a small number of close friends). However, if you saw me working the room at a business networking event or speaking before a large group, you might think I was my own twin sister! I have learned how to make sure that my introversion does not work against me in business settings. And, I believe that your coaching clients will find ways to make the small changes that can help them get the executive leadership career outcomes they desire. This list is meant just to help you think about some of the contextual factors that can affect their success.
Gena Cox, PhD, a consulting psychologist, uses coaching as a tool to help her executive clients become more effective executive leaders. Gena joined the UTD Coaching Program Cohort (7B) as a way of updating her coaching training and loves it because “the program’s distance learning design enables me to learn sophisticated material without disrupting my revenue-generating activities.”
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