Bill has extensive expertise in all facets of human capital consulting and talent management and brings vast experience to Discovery Search Partners where he specializes in medical devices, diagnostics, and equipment. Bill’s substantial background ...
13 December 2022
During his 25 years in the executive search industry, Bill O’Callaghan, Principal/Founder of the retained executive search firm Discovery Search Partners, a member of Signium in the United States, has witnessed both good and bad economic cycles.
While economic cycles may vary, it doesn’t change the need for effective leadership but may impact the specific leadership skills required based on existing market conditions. For example, the skills required for growth and profit management in a company losing market share will be very different from that of an emerging growth organization. One requirement that is consistent regardless of the company’s status is finding executives with high emotional intelligence and sincerity.
The global impact of Covid also introduced a new issue that impacted the effectiveness of business leaders: leading and managing people in a remote work environment.
In discussions with clients, O’Callaghan has found that there has been an acceleration of remote work over the past few years due to the pandemic and there are differing views on the effectiveness of remote work with employees claiming they are more effective working remotely, while company leaders prefer having everyone back in the office. Leadership believes that there is a lot of learning that happens purely because you’re in the same environment as somebody else and you observe it.
As a compromise, many companies are instituting hybrid work arrangements that split an employee’s time in the office with time working remote. While this helps to address some of the issues impacting a total remote work force, it still negatively impacts the ability to assess internal talent and succession planning.
Leadership development today requires planning and scheduling, he notes. “What this scenario is likely to do is create a greater opportunity for executive coaches, the need for which will grow exponentially. Current conditions require companies to manage succession planning differently.”
As a business leader, O’Callaghan says being able to walk into a colleague’s office when something needs discussing enables speedy solutions. While acknowledging the benefits of video calls and online communications being more productive than the phone call of yesteryear, he says: “Most of my clients are urging their employees to get back out in front of people. It’s the handshake and the chat over a cup of coffee that adds another layer to a relationship that is important.”
The ability to work remote and reliance on programs such as MS TEAMS and ZOOM, have also impacted the way companies evaluate talent. One positive benefit has been the speed at which potential candidates can be evaluated. Where in the past, search firms and clients would rely on in-person interviews, the advent of video interviewing has helped to speed up the selection process. And while there is no substitute for an in-person meeting, O’Callaghan said, “we have had candidates take jobs in companies they’ve never visited. The whole process was remote and successful.”
Another benefit he highlights is the ability to get more people involved in the interview process because it’s easy to do.
Leadership in 2023 and beyond
Where most companies are seeking out the next gen leader who is agile, flexible, and can implement a Plan B rapidly, O’Callaghan says this isn’t new. “Great leaders have always been those with the ability to anticipate what may happen. I’ve always looked for leaders that make those around them better and empower their employees to take action.
“I do think that in turbulent times, people notice servant leaders more. In our business, what we investigate is whether someone truly is a leader who served and succeeded, or whether they just happened to be there when things started getting better.”
Seeking out the servant leader who encourages employee potential is not new, O’Callaghan says. Twenty-five years ago people were talking about the same attributes they look for in candidates today, using different language. “The best leaders have always been those who reassure; who don’t neglect an issue but let their people know they’re in the business of surviving sudden setbacks and supporting staff.”
Essentially, says O’Callaghan, it all comes down to good communication. When a business leader fails and we look at the reason, there is almost always a communication gap. Great leaders inspire followership.”
How, then, can today’s businesses develop new leaders who embody a company’s culture while ensuring they are able to communicate effectively with employees and empower them to achieve success personally and professionally?
While most of the attributes required to effectively lead are the same, the environment is very different. Says O’Callaghan, “Because technology now makes employees available 24/7, today’s C-suite must take into account the importance placed on working hours and personal time by the next generation of leaders, as well as the sensitivities around how all communications and priorities are structured for efficiency. Employees expect their employers to support their desire to have work/life balance.”
In closing, O’Callaghan reiterates his position that good leaders stand out in bad times. “By the same token, bad leaders are exposed by bad times.
“As we head for 2023 and beyond, the great leader will continue to take advantage of how the world is evolving, along with people’s expectations. Servant leadership and authentic leadership will always be vital. While the way we work may evolve constantly, these two attributes will always be necessary to the success of a company and its people.”