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What Really Matters When Hiring a Leader?

This post originally ran on Modern Distribution Management.  To view it, click here.

Ask anyone who runs an enterprise of any size what he or she looks for when hiring a new leader and you will get plenty of different perspectives, insights, opinions and theories.

You may also hear the opinion that critical executive competencies differ widely from industry to industry.  On the surface, it makes sense.  It seems logical that the critical skills needed to successfully lead a $200 million private distribution company in the Midwest are different that those needed to be successful in a multi-billion-dollar financial services company in London.

Turns out that might not be true.

Our firm recently participated in a global survey that asked executives the world over what they considered the most desirable attributes for a senior executive in their organization.  We heard from 1,270 business leaders around the globe.  What we found surprised us.

First of all, there were very few differences in responses from different industry sectors.  Maybe more surprisingly, there was almost no correlation between desired attributes and the part of the world in which the respondent worked.

It turns out that by a margin of more than 2:1, the ability to motivate and inspire people is considered the single most important attribute for a senior executive.   After motivational ability, the senior executive traits most valued by organizations were: strong ability to manage change, ability to identify and develop talent, and innovative thinking.

So many companies evaluate their internal talent by the results they achieve – operational excellence, success in driving new channel strategies, getting inventory under control.  But these abilities, which we called “Consistent High Performance,” came in fifth – and only made the top three half as frequently as motivational ability.

So what does this tell us?  Maybe it reinforces the fact that leadership is not just about getting results, but about how a leader gets those results – and whether he or she can get results through other people.  This has important implications related to how companies develop their people.  They need to balance building those “hard” skills with the “soft” skills.

The two attributes that were at the end of the list were also interesting, particularly in today’s increasingly global, technology-driven world.  Respondents said the least important attribute for a senior leader was digital and online experience and the ability to speak more than one language.

Maybe when you are the boss, the best idea is to be sure you have people in your organization with those skills, so you can pay attention to building the relationships and trust needed to motivate and inspire people.

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