To Find Exceptional Leaders, You Need the Best Executive Search Team

A PriceWaterHouseCoopers global HR survey identified that several key organizational issues must be addressed by any senior leaders in order for future success to occur. These included namely, change management, leadership development and organizational effectiveness. What does this survey say about the competencies required by future executive leaders? What sets an exemplary leader apart?

In thirty years of assessing executive talent, I concur that skills in change management are critical. In order to affect organizational change, your executive needs to be able to read people and I don’t just mean interpreting body language. He/she need to be able to quickly understand personal values and points of view, approaches to problem solving and the so called “hot buttons” of each of the senior management team.

Yet, equally if not more important in my view is a sense of “caring for people”. This means that integrity permeates everything the leader does. They are able to build trust within the organization and build cultural values that helps to create a strong team. They can easily build positive and long term relationships with team members, staff, clients and stakeholders. In fact, I often say that if a leader doesn’t have strong people skills, they will not survive.

A senior leader also needs to be able to assess a situation quickly and to take calculated risks, that so called and well-known “bias for action”. Their positive can-do attitude and their ability to sense opportunity and jump on it enables them to see success and allows them to drive forward quickly.

Extra-ordinary leaders also recognize the importance of building leaders at all levels within their organization. They institute leadership training programs as a culture building tool and they combine professional training with stretch assignments and special project management. They grow their own as much as possible but they are also not afraid to go external for specific skills not available inhouse.

Competency at all levels of the organization is important to exceptional leaders and they demand that activities are measured and performance followed closely. They are also very good at identifying trends within their own organization as well as within their own and other industry sectors. They are good at monitoring these trends and determining the implications for their organization and acting quickly to take advantage where possible.

Exceptional leaders are also systems people…they can literally see how various structures and configurations can create efficiencies, give them needed information in a timely basis and save time and effort overall.

These competencies are all well and good but the challenge for the executive search team is how to determine and/or access your candidate’s skill level? First of all, it is important that the selection criteria be confirmed and validated so that interview questions and other assessment tools can be applied.

Personally, I specifically look for validated experience…in other words, I want a candidate to demonstrate how they have used their skill in the past. Past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior. I want to hear a candidate describe his/her role in resolving complex situations where they have used the competencies under discussion. Although society has long been touting “we, we, we” and the concept of teamwork, I want to learn how each individual too the leadership to develop the “we” in teamwork.

I also want to see examples where a candidate had to take a tough minded stand using their knowledge and expertise. I want to know about successes and areas of challenge. And, I want to know what was learned from each experience.

At the same time, I know that executives are typically good communicators. They can tell a good story at the best of times. Therefore, to compliment my investigation of skills and expertise through my interviews, I also use two psychometric assessments. These are standardized tools that assess the candidate in more depth. The online assessment results will indicate consistency in attitudes, behaviours, values and competencies. In other words, these tools help me to confirm that what I see/hear is really what I am going to get should I recommend hiring each candidate.

People often ask me, “What is the value of an executive search professional? My answer is always that search professionals have honed their assessment skills over many many years of consistent practice. On the other hand, since organizational executives and board members for that matter are infrequently involved in a search assignment, their understanding of process and their interview skills are often insufficient.

Therefore, in my opinion, the best team for a search assignment is a combination of an executive search professional and a selection committee of management. After all, getting to the bottom of "change management, organizational effectiveness and leadership development" is not easy. 


Source: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, PriceWaterhouse Coopers on behalf of the World Federation of Personnel Management Associations (WFPMA) In the Survey of Global HR Challenges.

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