What Makes a Great Executive Leader?

January 08, 2018
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Perspectives from the BlueSteps Executive Webinar Series, featuring Albert Froom, Managing Partner Leaders Trust / AltoPartners Netherlands, and John Ryan, Managing Director & Member of Global Executive Committee, TRANSEARCH. Discussion moderated by Kathy Simmons, Executive Director, BlueSteps Executive Career Services

This is an extract from the AESC/BlueSteps Executive Webinar Series. To subscribe to AESC BlueSteps, please visit the AESC website.

Leadership & Skills Development

  • If the aim is to move through the ranks of the company, it is important to develop leadership skills throughout the career
  • Skills must be learnt and should evolve over time to match the requirements of each new position
  • Those wanting to move through the company should understand the importance of constant self-education
  • It is important to identify specific knowledge gaps with respect to taking on higher levels of responsibility. Discover your strengths and know what your weak areas are – lead with the strengths and find a complimentary skillset in others
  • Ways to identify the gaps to help identify strengths, skills and areas for development. Usually a combination of what we think we do well, what others think we do well and what assessments determine we do well:
    1. self-reflection
    2. mentoring and feedback sessions
    3. Assessments
  • There should also be an awareness that external factors will also play a part in the development of new skills to ensure the sustained success of the person and the company. For example, the European financial crisis had a significant impact on the way businesses, and individuals operated. Financial Services in the last decade saw new regulations and more stringent governance regulations in place to restore public trust following the double dip recession in Europe, with particular importance to public transparency. This demanded new skills and leadership throughout the financial crisis.
  • Leadership evolves and different leaders are suited for different scenarios (e.g start up, high growth or mature company cycles) – different personalities suit different environments
  • Perception that people associate stronger leaders as being extroverted personalities, however the adage “a leader with a big mouth is not necessarily a big leader” rings true.
  • Leadership is about listening and being able to analyse and respond accordingly
  • Show the right behaviour in the context of the culture of the company and the values of the company
  • Good leaders know how to accept advice from strategic advisors (e.g. in times of crisis etc)

Leadership Assessment Tools

  • Assessment tools are generally used as part of every search and the assessment phase forms an integral part of the process
  • Tools, especially global ones, must be validated into the specific markets where the candidates are e.g. don’t use an American tool in Europe if it hasn’t been validated in Europe as it can adversely impact the results or assessment
  • Use assessment tools on 2 levels:
    1. Individual – personality traits, skills. Personality traits are not about intelligence – it’s about the fit of the person, whether they can work in a certain environment or not
    2. Team / Group – composition of the team, grey areas / gap analysis – strengths and weaknesses. Composition of team – assess the roles that add up to each other, not looking for the same people
  • Assessment done in conjunction with a face-to-face interview – full 360 picture of the person

Common Qualities / Traits of Executive Leaders

  • How is the leader in relationships with others?
    • Independent thinker, avoid group think, modesty, caring
    • Team leader, ability to lead – some days need to lead from the front other days lead from behind, listening abilities, good communicator
    • Can they take feedback, energetic but relaxed, in tune to emotions of others. EQ vs IQ
    • Art to balance the vision and implementation and navigate changes in the market
  • What is the leader’s thinking style?
    • Sensibility and gut feeling, instinct
    • Disruptor, strategic view, innovator, visionary

Key Advice For Leaders

  • Walk the talk and remember the “tone at the top”
  • Corporate and personal values are important - uphold them and demonstrate that you live them
  • Be convincing in your behaviour, it’s often more important how things are done than what has been done (perception matters)
  • Seek, and act on, advice from subject matter experts
  • Embrace the vision / goals that you and the board have set, articulate them, communicate (repeadly) what you are doing, remind people in your organisation what you are doing and why you are doing it,
  • Remember “sacred cows / elephants in the room” - don’t be afraid to change people who are not the right people in the roles so that you put together the right team
Albert Froom
Managing Partner, Global Practice Head Financial Services AltoPartners Zeist