For 20 years I studied, recruited, and stewarded executives and organizations through some of the most difficult and uncertain leadership transitions. My searches (and those of the team of exemplary search consultants whom I was privileged to lead during my time running NPAG) resulted in a higher than industry average for a tenure of placement for leaders. And, it wasn’t just because we picked the expected, central casting straight white guy who rose up the ranks in traditional fashion. In fact, our firm also led the industry in the placement of LGBTQ+, women, and people of color, too.
That wasn’t an accident. It was because we knew what made leaders great. And, we knew how to identify it in candidates we interviewed. Sure, subject matter expertise was important, as was network and knowledge of the people and the trends in the field in question. But, what set one expert apart from another — because expertise is by far the least rare of all executive traits — are five things: hunger, weight, tenacity, speed, and grit.
Hunger: Just how much do you want this thing to succeed? Is success the only option that occurs to you as even remotely acceptable? Can you taste it, see it, want it so badly that you are willing to what it takes to make it happen?
Weight: How serious are you? Can I send you in to talk to my biggest client? Will you represent me, my company, my cause, my passion with the gravitas that it deserves? Are you equal to the task of being the best and strongest face, confidant, advisor, actor in this work?
Tenacity: How many times are you willing to pick yourself back up, learning, re-calibration, refocusing, and retesting until we get it right? Are you in it for the long haul? Will you figure it out with us, bringing the same energy with attempt sixteen as you did with attempt one?
Speed: How fast is your processor? How quick are you on your feet? Can you learn as you go? How far is the distance between failure and fix?
Grit: Are you willing to do the hard work, the difficult work, the work in the dark that no one sees? Simply put, how tough are you?
Leaders have these qualities in spades and can tell stories that illuminate a track record of putting them to use.