What are the markers for executive potential?

It’s been a long time since being the smartest person in the room guaranteed someone a spot at the executive table. Businesses operate in highly competitive landscapes, and in addition to proven leadership experience, there are many other skills, attributes and traits that executives now need to succeed. Here’s what employers look for in assessing, developing and promoting executive talent.


1. Accountability in decision-making

Internally and externally business environments are constantly and rapidly changing. According to Alex Da Silva, a Partner at Gerard Daniels, to succeed executives require exceptional business judgement, and the ability to quickly and decisively make decisions in these ever-changing environments.

“Being able to demonstrate exceptional decision making skills in unpredictable business environments like those we face today, is an essential quality at executive level,” says Alex. “To make balanced and informed decisions executives also need to be able to look beyond their own subject matter and areas of expertise to take on multiple different perspectives. They also need the ability to appreciate and reflect on what they don’t know, just as much as what they do know.”

2. Integrated thinking

Alex has also witnessed a change to what businesses want and expect from executives in their approach to decision-making and value creation. 

“Today we’re seeing talent with executive potential go beyond value creation in the traditional sense of financial performance and manufacturing capital,” Alex explains. “In addition to whether decisions will generate revenue, successful executives are using more integrated thinking to inform these processes, incorporating social, intellectual, human and environmental capital too.”

“Having executive potential means embracing this way of thinking,” Alex continues. “Or at very least, being cognoscente of integrated thinking and the value that it can bring.”

3. Influencing and leading

The ability to build high performing teams, manage staff and influencing diverse groups of people is essential for executives. Businesses also need leaders that can set clear expectations for their teams and be relentless but fair in the way that they hold people accountable. However, driving performance can come at a cost if people don’t also feel valued and appreciate the bigger picture.

“Executives must also be able to create a culture in which people feel trusted and empowered to achieve these things and to make a difference,” Alex continues. “The leaders and executives who can balance empowerment with facilitating high performance will likely go far.”

4. Leadership characteristics

People with executive potential often display certain leadership characteristics and exude a unique balance and style, Alex explains. “Executives are typically assertive, confident, effective and transparent in the way that they communicate,” says Alex. “However, natural leaders and executives also tend to balance this confidence with humility, and the ability to put ego aside and listen to different perspectives.”

“Executive talent also tends to exhibit a high degree of emotional intelligence (or EQ) and a strong understanding of their own capability,” says Alex. “Yet they are also willing to grow, and self aware enough to know that they might not have all of the answers.”

5. Leading change

Businesses continuously change and evolve in highly competitive environments, making the ability to drive change is another vital skill for executives to have.However, driving change is a complex process in itself, and one that requires abroad set of skills.

“We know that executives must be strategic and agile in their approach, have high EQ, excellent people management skills and an ability to influence diverse groups of people,” says Alex. “Naturally we tend to find that executives with strong skills in all of these areas also have a demonstrated track record in managing and driving change.”

Change management is a very specific leadership skill and can be an area that some leaders find challenging. Alex notes that there are things that people can do to improve their change leadership skills and to develop more of a change mindset. “Even if you’re not a change agent at heart it’s still important to understand the requirement for enabling change, and the skills you will need to develop,” Alex continues.

6. Respecting organisational dynamics

One final executive trait that people must possess is an ability to manage the internal dynamics of an organisation. “Internal politics exist everywhere and executives need to know how to read and navigate those power dynamics,” says Alex.

“Business environments are naturally competitive, particularly when it comes to asking for resources and gaining internal buy-in strategic shifts. Executives have to know who to influence and how to operate to achieve good business outcomes,” Alex concludes. “As an executive, knowing how to position yourself and your objectives among other competing priorities within the firm is going to make it much easier for you and your team to succeed,” Alex concludes.

For advice on talent identification, internal candidate assessments and executive performance assessments, reach out to Gerard Daniels today.

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