While the jury is still out on whether leaders are born or made, there is no doubt about the fact that the primary quality any potential CEO candidate should exhibit is Leadership. Or, as a client of mine put it, "the ability where people naturally want to follow you." So what does this mean when you are assessing this nebulous attribute that can make or break your company?
For starters, any personality trait can be broken into its constituents. When we picture individuals who we can all relate to as leaders, such as Gandhi, Churchill, Jack Welch, certain characteristics stand out. Highly effective communication skills, an ability to convey the vision and mission of a company, dynamism, conviction in goals, high energy level, honesty of purpose, vision and a deep rooted desire to succeed.
Once we get started, we can all create our own comprehensive list, and this is necessary. Before initiating interviews with prospective candidates, the hiring team should be clear on what they are looking for. Oddly enough, while board directors and search firms, who make decisions on CEO hires, appreciate the need for employing leaders, the fact remains that one-third of Fortune 100 companies have replaced their CEO’s since 1995. (Reported by Center for Executive Options – a division of DBM)? This is essentially, because the corporate world has become more complex today. The sheer pace of change is confounding the "leaders" of yore.
In the e-age, hiring a CEO requires the company to have a much broader perspective, to go beyond target achievements and numbers. The old concept of jobs for life is now dead, as is hiring a CEO with a medium to long term perspective. For most companies, circumstances and the business horizon necessitate a shift in focus every 2 –3 years. At each stage the challenges posed are different and consequently the skill sets required may not exist in the same individual, while moving the business plan into the next phase. So plan for the medium term and hire for the short term.
Today, if a CEO can effectively tide over the company’s current challenge and set it on its desired future trajectory, she has achieved her objectives. This throws up other key elements to bear in mind during your search, vision and the ability to energize and create future leaders.
Once the position specs, attributes and skill sets of the individual are frozen, the next stage is to decide the search methodology. Either through the company’s own sources, networks and contacts, or by out sourcing to a retained search firm. You could also ask for a search agency to release an advertisements on your behalf. For a CEO position, the least effective is an advertisements, because no competent senior professional would venture to send his resume to an unknown entity, sitting behind the advertisement. Besides, all CEO advertisements sound the same. In case the organization prefers to retain a top class search firm, then strong emphasis should be given to turning up "Out of the box candidates". By the nature of their work, Search firms are supposed to select "round pegs to fill round holes". Once the company has narrowed down on an individual, a critical end-piece to the process is to conduct a very thorough and rigorous 360° background check on the individual. International Search firms do this as a standard part of the process, but ensure to ask for documented reports.
While effective selection is a daunting task, it is imperative for an organisation to get to grips with the process.
In the old days, the CEO had to inspire people to climb mountains; today he/she has to move them to fly off a cliff in a great leap of faith. It is therefore obvious, that for such a challenging job, the method of selection should be perfect.
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