Investigating Leadership

Five years ago, the Human Capital Institute collaborated with the large consulting firm Hewitt Human Capital Consulting and published the results of a comprehensive leadership survey entitled, the State of Talent Management, Today’s Challenges, Tomorrow’s Opportunities. The study revealed five looming workforce challenges, including the attraction and retention of skilled professionals, developing manager capability, retaining high performers, developing succession pool depth and addressing management and leadership talent.


Well, here we are in 2013 only to find these problems are no longer just looming. Our businesses are smack in the middle of trying to deal with these same challenges. In particular, developing the next generation of manager/leadership talent is now the hot topic of debate in every corporate “C” suite.



Yet for the most part, many businesses and not-for-profit organizations have not created an effective internal succession plan and/or their strategy didn’t work out as planned. Therefore, organizations must turn to the recruitment of external candidates to fill their needs. This requires a special set of eyes and professional expertise in order to assess the full capability of candidates. It also means that candidate-assessment strategies must go beyond cultural fit and personality and engage in an in-depth review of the true talent that each candidate might bring.


As a leading executive search professional, I work with clients to focus their attention on a number of candidate character traits that can determine whether an individual has the potential to be a high performing executive. Although there are multiple elements to our executive search process, the following dimensions will help you to understand some of what we look for in candidates.


Track Record – high performing candidates who can be considered potential executive material are able to effectively create a vision for the future or take their part of a vision for the future and make it happen. They aren’t just visionaries, they are doers!


Strategic thinking – candidates who have the potential to succeed at the executive level have a broad view and can see multiple dimensions of any problem. They are good at identifying disruptive obstacles and are good at creating solutions that result in success. Their success is of high quality each and every time. It is measureable and supported by references.


Team leadership – high performing candidates have a strong sense of self esteem, a caring for people and a keen eye for talent. These skills enable them to build strong and loyal teams of diverse professionals. They know how to develop people and to continue building strengths amongst their team.


Relationship building strengths – strong candidates have excellent relationship building skills that enable them to develop powerful networks both within and outside their current organization. They reach out into their professional community, contribute their expertise in a variety of ways and become well known for their leadership abilities.


Change management skills – high potential candidates not only know how to implement change, they also focus equally on the soft issues such as culture and ongoing employee motivation. They know that change takes time, and that communication and training are essential to moving employees away from their ingrained ways of doing things. These candidates have developed a reputation for implementing change effectively.


An attitude of persistence – managing any organization today and into the future requires leaders who are flexible yet persistent in working toward their goals. Leaders can have all the ideas in the world but if they can’t make them happen, if they can’t deal with unexpected problems and aren’t flexible, they will not be successful in the long run.


Assessing a potential candidate for an executive leadership position requires a special set of eyes and professional expertise in candidate assessment. It is important to examine personality and cultural fit but it is also important to fully examine the true talent that each candidate might bring. This is accomplished by asking the tough questions related to their track record, ability to implement a vision, build relationships, lead a team, manage change and persist until they reach success.