The Characteristics Now Needed For Successful Executives

A recent interview with the Global Chief Executive of headhunter, Egon Zehnder raised some interesting points regarding the characteristics that are now required of successful executives for today’s changing world.

Rajeev Vasudeva, in an interview with the Australian Financial Review (28-29 March 2015), highlighted four key markers that Egon Zehnder now look for when headhunting executives: curiosity, insight, engagement and resilience.

Individuals who keep themselves fresh, linked in to new and emerging ideas and trends and are proactively learning is someone demonstrating curiosity. The pace of change is so swift today with business models being put under pressure from disruptive technologies and new entrants, that keeping abreast with this pace of change is a constant challenge. Many executives will tell you that they are so busy managing the business that there is little time available to keep abreast of changes in their world. While understandable, it is a poor excuse given that these changes may undermine the very business that they are trying so hard to manage or present opportunities that they cannot take advantage of because they are ignorant of the possibilities.

While developing intellectual curiosity is a good start, of itself it is not enough. You must also develop the discipline to make the time to engage in reading widely, following the views of global thought leaders across a range of issues and seeking out experts who can broaden your thinking of what is possible.

The second marker, insight, relates to the individual’s ability to ‘join the dots’; to sift through the overload of information and see the potential short and long term risks and opportunities for the enterprise. Constantly asking: “What does this information potentially mean for our business and our customers’ businesses?” and “Where is the opportunity here for us to create more value in our offering to our markets?”

Thirdly, they look for engagement. Recent high profile CEO terminations have exposed the truth that the old way of leading companies is long gone. “The alpha male chief executive embraced by boards of directors because of his aggressive and confrontational management style, is on his last legs..” says Tony Boyd of the AFR (March 18, 2015). CEO’s today need to manage more diversity in the workplace across genders, cultures and generations, and often a complex group of disparate stakeholders. This requires humility and emotional intelligence to produce a more collaborative and inclusive approach. The challenge is to connect with people emotionally and engage with them to build a shared understanding of what the company stands for.

The final marker is resilience. Vasudeva says that “The new normal is that the world is going to be volatile.” The ability to adapt quickly and robustly in a volatile world and lead the required change is critically important to the successful executive.

Vasudeva’s caution to leaders is “what got you here is unlikely to keep you here or get you further”; suggesting that the task of leadership has changed.

Given Egon Zehnder’s role in headhunting executives world-wide, current executives and future aspirants would do well to consider these four markers when assessing and developing their own leadership style.

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