Angela is Managing Partner and joined Signium in 1998. Her client base is mainly in Pharma/Biotech, Diagnostics, E-Health, Private Hospital Groups and Media. She was the Leader of the Global Life Science Practice from 2013-2018. In 2016 she was elect...
Born leaders are people with an innate capacity to effectively manage and lead groups to achieve collective goals. Often through a combination of nature and nurture, those who are deemed great business leaders virtually always display characteristics that become quickly apparent to those around them.
They are inspiring, approachable and down to earth, no matter how highly educated or what their social standing may be. They are noticeably respectful of those around them and able to be flexible and change their minds when presented with changing scenarios that may better suit the company or community.
Crucially, they can take decisions even without having all the details and take responsibility for those decisions, whether the results prove good or not.
Leaders of this type are essentially a combination of nature and nurture but some of the personality or character traits in demand are innate and not easily learned; such as openness, good listening skills, empathy and the ability to lead in a way that motivates others. They engage and they acknowledge, always treating others as equals not subordinates. They look to understand, not direct.
With this type of personality and positive growth mindset further development is possible, especially coaching them on how to use their traits in a leadership role. As they’re exposed to new situations and climb the corporate ladder, they can improve their competence in dealing with novel responsibilities and what is expected from their leadership.
The key here is a leader that questions their level of intensity, asking themselves how much engagement a particular scenario requires, and when to hold back and allow other team members to take the reins. This is where the listening skills and putting the company’s well-being first comes to the fore.
When looking for leaders, we look at the DNA of candidates; the basic skills we know are required for executive leadership positions, namely those who can demonstrate in conversation how flexible they are and their willingness to change their mindset to suit a company’s culture, and anticipate what a new position will demand from them.
Here, I’d reiterate the growing importance of young leaders being able to change their decisions as rapidly as markets demand, and own the outcome of their actions.
People who can do this are the leaders of the future. So, how does an executive recruiter know which candidates have this ability? It would be arrogant to suggest it is innate knowledge, but experience and knowing what questions to ask combine a robust measuring tool here.
When interviewing, I often ask questions that may appear to have no bearing on the job or even the candidate’s qualifications for it. However, a person’s reaction to the questions tells me certain things that are aligned with the traits my clients are looking for. One example, “If you were a fruit, what would you be?”
The way people react to this question is telling, as is whether or not they react. I’ve had a few people refuse to answer, on the grounds that they felt the question was “stupid”. This may be an indication of arrogance – or just an inability to think quickly and a reluctance to show flexibility and curiosity.
I’ve asked the fruit question to people responsible for hundreds of employees, and those applying for CEO positions. But a recent conversation with a young person applying for a leadership position in a very small company was enlightening. Their response: “I’m here for the managing director position. I’m not answering this question.” And by so saying, my question was answered.
An area of interest for me is one making global news in today’s turbulent markets. This is mainly levied against people starting out their career whose core aim appears to be personal fulfilment, and their desire to create a work environment that delivers sometimes unrealistic expectations.
The concept of the job to do, as required by the company, appears to be secondary to their concept of what a job should deliver. This may be due to the work-from-home (WFH) practice set up during the pandemic, as companies had to quickly comply with global lockdowns while still needing work to be done.
At this stage of post-pandemic normality, most firms want people back in the office and participating face-to-face with colleagues and clients. This appears to often offend those whose early working life likely began at the time where WFH was vital to business continuity.
The worrying thing for those in my position is the disconnect between what the company is offering and what the candidate is seeking. Some huge business leadership opportunities with current and future growth options from progressive, successful companies are being turned down because they require personal engagement and regular in-office hours.
In Germany, as in other countries, there’s a great need for leaders and well-educated employees. While companies agree that people should have a healthy, balanced lifestyle with a salary that supports both, the pendulum has swung too far towards “my ideal lifestyle” with little understanding of its impact on the workplace and bottom-line profits.
The question for would-be young leaders and companies must be: “How is the economy going to deal with these demands?”
To ensure leadership skills are brought to the fore and honed to a person’s maximum potential, my suggestion would be executive MBA programs, where people learn in specific environments with actual business cases to solve within a corporation.
These programs reach beyond executive coaching to experiencing how to make executive decisions that matter. The preparation this provides for future leadership is invaluable.
Executive coaching is an excellent addition to the MBA programs for mastering management skills, and the value of a mentor with more experience than a newer appointee should not be underestimated.
Driving development of new employees must be measurable, though, and usually starts with noting how a person has been able to fulfil expectations; how they have been able to develop within the organisation; and when they are ready to take the next step, such as promotion.
Assessments should be based on those commonly used for comparing and tracking performance, with questions like: Have they shown initiative outside of the actual tasks at hand? Are they looking to the future while dealing with the present? Have they introduced new strategies and ideas that have assisted in company growth? How have they handled conflicts or difficult decisions and dealings with other departments?
Importantly, have they been active in developing their own team members and focused on staff retention? Real leaders are not afraid to give credit where it is due and highlight when a team member has performed well. These are key indicators of a good business mind and areas where robust leaders stand out.
In conclusion, the development of leaders is a vast and vital subject and one that reaches far beyond finding a candidate that fits the brief. It’s about scouting for that personality ready to meet today’s challenges with an eye on the future and the unknown possibilities it holds.
There is, as I’ve alluded to, only so much training one can give a potential leader… the rest lies in their inherent combination of instinct, empathy, and ability to question themselves regularly in the spirit of self-motivation.
Great leaders are easy to spot through history – but it’s the great leaders of tomorrow that we need to find today.