How Covid performance can provide unexpected insights into (current and future) leaders

Let’s agree that almost all leadership (C-Suite and executive level) appointments usually have a measure of risk attached to them.

Even if you’ve done all the due diligence, i.e. you’ve done tremendous amounts of research, interviewed at length using reputable frameworks, and conducted all the relevant psychometric assessments and case studies. Yes, even if you’ve taken your top candidate to Burning Man (as is the legend attached to the appointment of Eric Schmidt to Google), there’s STILL a risk that the candidate might not cut it. That the fit just won’t be there when the honeymoon is over.

Of course, the above risk-mitigating factors will certainly reduce the chance of a dud hire but the reality is that,until your real live human is in the hot seat doing the job with all the key stakeholders, engaging with and responding to issues, problems, and challenges in real-time, there’s just no way of knowing whether the new leader is going to possess and display the key, most in-demand characteristics that boards and leadership teams say they want and need in a leader.

In addition, many leaders who have taken on their senior roles after the global financial crisis of 2008, have not really had to prove their mettle under extreme circumstances.

Until this year of course, more than a decade later. And how illuminating this time has been!

Because an unintended silver lining for businesses who had to weather the Covid storm, is how this time in history can (and will most certainly in the future) be used to evaluate leadership skills and attributes.

In other words, if you’re of the view that the way in which a leader ‘showed up’ in the past – particularly under highly stressful circumstances – is a pretty good indicator of how they will behave or function in future similar situations, then digging deep into a leader’s Covid ‘track record’ will be invaluable in evaluating a number of leadership traits and a candidate’s track record.

In no particular order, these would include: agility and versatility, fluidity and flexibility, innovation and creativity, empathy and EQ, decision-making and judgement, communication and stakeholder engagement, and delegation. Not to mention temperament, particularly in the ability of a leader to sympathetically but also effectively support and manage productivity and performance under the most difficult of circumstances.

For those of us executive recruiters who have been around long enough to have worked our way through a global crisis or two, what we know well is how extreme circumstances like these offer the opportunity to gain very real insights into the makeup and ‘constitution’ of a leader. Asking pointed questions and extracting examples about how the leader handled herself, her team, and her key stakeholders during this challenging time will be exceptionally revealing, and a key to determining future leadership appointments.

Author Info: Debbie Goodman

Debbie is Group CEO of Jack Hammer, a global group of executive search, talent advisory and leadership coaching companies. For more than 20 years she has partnered with some of the world’s most progressive companies, NPOs and VC-backed disruptors, in the USA and Africa, to help them find great leaders who drive growth and impact.

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