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Executive Search

Executive Leadership: 6 Qualities of a Great Executive + Recruiting Tips

Kristin Bachman
8 min read

It may seem clear what an effective leader is. On the surface, “good boss” may seem interchangeable with “effective leader.” However, that’s not always the case.

Specific leadership skills are required to lead effectively. Companies that don’t recognize these on the front end may end up with mediocre leaders that can stall the company’s growth.

In this post, we’ll unpack how executive leadership differs from other types, look at core roles in leadership teams, and talk about how they elevate the company. We’ll also offer tips on how companies can succeed at finding job candidates who will become effective leaders.


What Is Executive Leadership?

Executive leadership positions exist at the top of the corporate food chain. Their roles are to mold the initiatives of a team or department and lead them toward a goal or objective.

Accomplishing these goals can be challenging for leaders. They need to motivate, assist, and inspire their team members to take appropriate actions that make headway toward the goal. They might also need to redirect or discipline team members who aren’t performing up to par.

Balancing the human element of the job alongside the performance-based aspect is no easy feat. Not everyone has what it takes to be an effective leader, which is why finding one can be challenging.


Why Is Executive Leadership Important?

Leadership team members have a hand in every part of your organization. The company vision, focus, growth goals, technological investments, and company culture are just a few of the many responsibilities of an executive leader.

Vanderbilt University Professor of Management and the instructor for Executive Leadership Mark Cannon recently commented about the importance of executive leadership.

“Part of executive leadership is better enabling employees to lead themselves,” says Cannon. “It is about leveraging what you can do as a leader by thinking beyond yourself. You maximize what others have to offer and deliver the best outcome.”

The strategic decisions the leadership teams make greatly impact the company. In one bad round of decision-making, the company may suffer from lost revenue, market share, increased turnover, and more negative consequences.


What's the Difference Between Executive Leadership and Other Kinds of Leadership?

There are several executive leadership styles, with each of them differing slightly. The Institute for Management Development (IMD) recently defined the five most common leadership styles: transformative, delegative, authoritative, transactional, and participative. Let’s look at each one and how it differs from executive leadership.

Transformative Leadership

Transformative leaders focus on creating unity and forging bonds. They are often change management leaders.

How it differs: Sometimes creating unity is not what's best for the overall company vision. Shaking things up may create new opportunities and ideas that won't happen in a harmonious setting.

Delegative Leadership

A leader who assigns objectives to direct reports and then largely stays out of the action. These leaders are the most hands-off of any style.

How it differs: Executive leaders want more involvement in the company initiatives. If they aren't aware of objectives, how can they ensure the company is well-represented?

Authoritative Leadership

Authoritative leaders function as mentors to their teams. Instead of focusing on leading, they focus on getting their team to follow them by inspiring and motivating them.

How it differs: This leadership style doesn't welcome ideas from others as much as the executive style.

Transactional Leadership

Focusing on rewards and punishments is the framework for how this type of leader gets the team to reach objectives. This is one of the most structured styles.

How it differs: This style can hurt morale. Employing unengaged team members rarely fits with a company's best interests.

Participative Leadership

Leaders who listen to and encourage their team members to share their ideas and share in decision-making are participative leaders. This style of leadership is generally the most inclusive.

How it differs: While inclusive, team members may not always have the best ideas. Executive leaders know when to encourage team member decisions and when to make autonomous ones.


Core Roles in Executive Leadership Teams

Also referred to as the C-suite, a company’s executive leadership team may have all or some of the following people. Larger companies and corporations tend to employ larger leadership teams, while smaller, privately-run companies may have a pared-down team.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

The CEO is at the top of an organization, reporting to the Board of Directors and other stakeholders. The CEO's primary responsibilities include overseeing the other members of the executive team and departments for quality and efficiency.

Chief Operating Officer (COO)

The COO is second only to the CEO on the corporate hierarchy. A COO maintains and oversees the business's daily operations and reports them to the CEO. They also create policies for daily operations and share them with department managers. The COO's involvement keeps every department's operations aligned with the CEO's vision. 

Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

The CFO is the highest financial position in the company. This individual is responsible for financial planning, risk management, and reporting. The CFO's job is to ensure that the company spends its money wisely and always creates positive cash flow.

Chief Information Officer (CIO)

This senior executive handles the company’s technology responsibilities. These include managing computer systems, overseeing software and app development, providing stringent information security, improving the customer experience via technology, and leveraging data to gain clear insights.

Chief Technology Officer (CTO)

The CTO is responsible for the technology and engineering departments. In the past few decades, investment in technology has increased dramatically across all verticals. In many businesses, a technological glitch can bring operations to a grinding halt. With so much riding on a robust, high-functioning tech stack, this role is increasingly important in many companies. 

Vice President (VP)

A VP is usually not part of the C-suite but reports to them regularly. VPs are more tightly focused on the organization’s day-to-day activities than the executive team. These include setting depart budgets, signing vendor agreements, giving job performance reports at board meetings, and handling other high-level tasks the executive team doesn't have the bandwidth to address. 

Executive Director

An executive director is responsible for their department and significantly influences strategy and decision-making. They are not usually part of the executive team.


How Can Great Executive Leaders Guide and Elevate a Company?

Executive leaders deeply affect the company. Their skills and thought processes are the ones driving the business’s direction. Below are just a few ways these leaders mold and improve their companies.

They Cultivate an Engaging and Motivating Vision

Most organizational visions and strategic plans are formed at the top, in the C-suite. Leaders must then find ways to get everyone else in the organization on board to contribute to reaching them. This takes multiple forms, such as:

  • Finding ways to lead by example
  • Using two-way communication
  • Showcasing why every team member should strive to bring objectives to fruition

They Address Vital Business Challenges

Effective leaders may be confident, but they realize they don’t know everything.

Meeting challenges head on means:

  • Keeping their eyes on changes in the market, industry, and company
  • Making proactive adaptive decisions that minimize issues and problems
  • Using problem-solving skills and the ability to understand complex issues that create challenges

These actions help leaders tackle threats to a company’s success.

They Increase and Enhance Work Productivity

Leaders constantly look for ways to accomplish more and take the company’s performance to the next level. Some examples of this are:

  • Giving each team member greater ownership of their roles so they feel personally responsible for team successes
  • Showing appreciation for teamwork with rewards and verbal recognition
  • Investigating technological tools to automate mindless, repetitive tasks
  • Finding opportunities for training to enhance employees’ skill levels
  • Strategically removing redundancy in processes

They Invest in Professional Development and Company Culture

Company culture is essential for attracting new high-quality talent and keeping the top-performing current staff. A rich, inclusive culture is formed and nurtured from the top down.

Leaders who are avid learners themselves understand the need to continue honing their professional craft. They will find ways to offer professional development to maintain morale and engagement.

Some examples of investing in the company culture are:

  • Recognizing team members for completing a project on time and under budget
  • Encouraging brainstorming and ideas from everyone in the company
  • Offering frequent bonuses for employees who go above and beyond

Some examples of investing in professional development are:

  • Reimbursing tuition for undergraduate or graduate school
  • Paying for important business certifications
  • Creating an executive leadership program for up-and-coming high performers
  • Bringing in live or virtual trainers for lunch-and-learn sessions

6 Qualities To Look For in Executives

Executive leaders handle some heavy responsibilities, constant change, and pressure, and they need to interact with several people along the way. While some executives may be stronger in certain areas than others, there are a few shared qualities that most effective executive leaders will have. Let's take a look at six of these qualities in greater detail.

1. Superior Communication

C-suite leaders must convey, explain, persuade, and moderate — and that’s all before lunch. Effective leaders can speak and write clearly and authentically, whether they’re talking to the CEO or the most junior level of their department. While they may be intelligent and highly educated from a top school of business, they must be able to read their audience so their message is understood.

If an executive is too stilted, uses overly complex language, and can’t articulate their thoughts and vision, this lack of communication will hinder their success.

2. Collaborative Mindset

Of all the people in the company, an effective leader knows you can’t succeed in a silo: After all, the C-suite is a small group that works closely together to create the company vision and goals.

Buying into collaboration and realizing they may not have the best ideas is a key attribute of a savvy executive leader. Looking for new ways of doing things, ideas that compel team members to action, and data-driven insights that point in a specific direction are on an effective leader’s to-do list.

3. Commitment to Continuous Development

Good leaders know leadership development is critical. They read books, watch podcasts, attend training, and devour industry news and market trends that may affect their business.

Continuing to sharpen their skills helps them stay current in their roles, which benefits the organization. As mentioned above, the best executive leaders also facilitate and encourage their team members to pursue learning opportunities.

4. Flexibility and Learning Agility

High-performing executives know there will be problems, issues, changes, and challenges. Changes in organizational behavior are going to happen. Leaders who are adverse or resistant to change probably aren’t going to fare well.

Effective leaders know when and how to navigate these challenges. They rise above unforeseen issues and use problem-solving skills to find ways around obstacles and roadblocks. They may need to add new product lines, forge new departments, invest in new processes, or topgrade middle management. They aren't afraid of editing their action plan to jump on new opportunities or invest in technologies that make the company leaner and more productive.

5. In-Depth Experience

Maintaining company sustainability depends on having people in charge who offer hands-on experience. Maybe they’ve never been an executive, but they have years of experience learning about the industry, department, processes, pitfalls, and company.

A leader’s experience allows them to pull from their knowledge base to address issues, build relationships with team members, and see a path forward. In addition, experience gives them credibility with others in the organization. For example, if employees respect an executive leader’s experience, they're more likely to trust and follow what the leader says.

6. Accountability

This person has the final say. They know they’re ultimately responsible for their decisions in the leadership role, and accept and acknowledge their errors.

Trying to pawn a mistake off on another team member breaks trust and destroys the executive’s respect. If their team misses a deadline, a marketing campaign fails, or the investment in technology doesn’t meet expectations, it’s on them.


Executive Leadership Recruiting Tips

If your company hires for a leadership role, you may be concerned about finding a candidate that checks all the required boxes. After all, finding an effective leader is difficult and can take time.

You can use many avenues to find the future newest member of your executive team. Let's look at a few best practices to help you get the most out of your time (and money).

Be Proactive, Not Reactive

Instead of waiting until the departing executive has a resignation letter in your hand, open the recruiting communication channels. Consistently showcase your employer brand and positive culture on your company’s social media channels and keep your website’s career page active.

Promote Internally

Don’t overlook a great candidate who's right in front of you. Pull your high-performing, ambitious employees to fill your executive positions. They are already familiar with the company and the other members of the C-suite. While you may need to invest in executive education if it’s their first time in such a role, an internal hire may fit in with the executive team faster and more cohesively than an outside hire.

Practice Exceptional Networking

Always represent the company positively. Network during outside meetings and within business and social groups to expand your list of executive contacts. When filling an opening, reach out to those people first — they may be interested in making a move, especially if the role is a step up from their current position.

Source From Vetted Talent Networks

Partner with a professional staffing agency. Choose one that specializes in filling executive positions. They will undoubtedly have a deep pool of highly-qualified candidates. Working with a staffing partner can decrease your time to hire significantly. It also saves time trying to attract and recruit talent through in-house efforts.


Bring on the Best Executive Leaders With Hunt Club

An effective executive leader can work wonders for a company. They can motivate the employees, enrich the company culture, build on ideas and bring the company vision to fruition. Identifying the traits of an effective executive leader plays a pivotal role in keeping a cohesive, productive C-suite team. Smart businesses don’t wait until there’s an open role. If you need to hire a new executive, promoting from within, networking, and partnering with an executive staffing firm should be part of your action plan.

Partner with Hunt Club to find the newest member of your executive team. Our search firm uses the power of relationships and referrals to find you the best talent. Leverage our curated list of executive candidates to add to your senior leadership team.

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