To Hire the Right Executive, Hunt for Character

As an executive search professional, one of the key high profile concerns in the current US Presidential election is the issue of personal character. While I lament the unfortunate focus on distributing disparaging remarks about each candidates’ character, I have to admit that character is indeed an essential component of a successful leader. What do I mean by character? 


Character is represented by such elements as honesty, morality, compassion, competence and leadership ability. Overall, these elements represent the “integrity” of an individual. It is these elements that help people form their judgement regarding their candidate.  And, in an executive search process, it is these elements that are taken into consideration by decision makers as they form their opinion. 

It’s true that search professionals and decision makers look for candidate intelligence, technical and operational expertise, overall experience, and people skills yet in my view and from my experience, character is the “clincher” in making a final decision. In other words, can a candidate be trusted? Is the candidate concerned and caring? Is the candidate consistent? Can the candidate be a strong and inspiring leader? 

Candidates who communicate well yet fail in their role as an executive leader typically have several fatal flaws. Their ego prevents them from learning from mistakes, they fail to treat people well and have poor interpersonal skills. They have a lack of openness and transparency and a lack of accountability. Finally, they are very self-centred and will quickly eliminate anyone who is perceived as not 100% behind them. In other words, leaders who fail at their work, also often fail at the social/emotional elements of leadership. 

Therefore, it’s extremely important that the character traits required of a successful role be identified and that each individual is assessed and compared to these critical character elements. This assessment requires a comprehensive and systematic candidate selection process as all of the questions about character must be answered. 

While my candidate assessment process includes a broad range of “character” elements, my experience demonstrates that one of the most important character elements is “people orientation” or in other words, a “caring” for people. This experience is supported by research that has demonstrated when careers are derailed, it is often due to the lack of a character trait. 

A person’s character exhibits itself first through a candidate’s level of self-awareness and their ability to understand their strengths and areas of challenge. Secondly, I look for openness and transparency, the ability to seek input from team members and to respectfully accept dissenting opinion while keeping a team together. I look for interpersonal effectiveness, the ability to work well both with and through people. I look for the ability to motivate and inspire others and create shared meaning and goals. 

It is easy for a search consultant and a search committee to be deceived by a person’s physical appearance, manners and behavior especially when if meeting is limited to a onetime occurrence. That’s why a selection process must be very comprehensive and consist of several assessment steps. As well, that is why I also apply a set of psychometric assessment tools to substantiate what I learn through candidate interviews and presentations.  

Psychometric assessment tools are well researched and proven instruments that have been validated on thousands of individuals. These assessment tools allow me to delve deep into the ability, personality and character of an individual and to gain further insight into what makes them “tick”. I use these tools to gain a scientific and objective measure that helps me to measure and predict the probability of a candidate’s future performance. 

Unfortunately, research also shows that many executives do not make it past the eighteenth month of their tenure. Again, the reason is often the lack of the important character trait, “caring for people”.  Thankfully, my professional experience has demonstrated more fruitful results, as Legacy Bowes Group pays significant attention to character traits, we have an effective and thorough executive search process and we utilize the support of comprehensive scientifically proven assessment tools. 

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