What we look for in our leaders can vary depending on economic cycles. We rule out certain characteristics as weaknesses in one period and value those same characteristics as strengths in the next cycle. It is enlightening to observe how the assessment of leaders has changed from an intuitive, irrational process to a far more scientific one.

Last year Russell Reynolds Associates and Hogan Assessments examined psychometric data on more than 5 million leaders. They were looking for a better understanding of how potential C-suite executives are identified, or in other words, promotion to senior management and with a better chance of success in the long term.

C-suite roles are challenging and high-profile. Making a mistake can be very costly. Reducing executive failure by finding leaders that are equipped to navigate uncertainty minimizes a company’s risk.

What they found when they reviewed the results was surprising. Some of the personality traits that helped leaders to rise to the C-suite can lead to positive performance in the short-term. But, these same traits can also de-rail a career if you don’t know how to manage them in the medium and long-term. The skills that most favor success include the following four areas:

  1. Disruptiveness and pragmatism: an organization needs leaders to change the status quo with innovation, but they must also be pragmatic about the focus, priorities and the rhythm of innovation in their organization.
  2. Assuming risk and reluctance: Good leaders take calculated risks and seize opportunities, but we also want them to show vigilance to avoid deviating an organization from its track.
  3. Heroics and vulnerability: heroic leaders must ensure that perseverance and determination do not turn into self-deception. Leaders must ask for enough opinions and advice to make continual improvements to themselves and their organization.
  4. Galvanization and connection: leaders must generate support with energy and inspiration, but they must also know when to take a step back and share credit, promote the success of others and connect the organization with higher values and a mission.

Working on these character traits or behavior can help us to gain a good leader that is aligned with the corporate culture. But, as I said at the beginning, there is also a need for a strategy to consolidate the leader in their sector and make them a benchmark in their field. Otherwise, the potential C-suite candidate is merely a brilliant manager who could be easily replaced by any other if necessary. And the company will be just as easily-replaced as they are.

CEO as a benchmark: leader in the field of ideas

To such end, it is important to work on the positioning of the leader in the environment of ideas and values to make them a benchmark, an expert in their field. And to such end, I would propose that any leader should start by doing a simple exercise; to answer this question: “where do I want to be?”. And then this other key question: “who am I?” I know it is difficult to get rid of our insecurities, our fears, our egos and the labels (imposed or self-imposed) in order to look at one’s self with certain impartiality and to take decisions about the present and the future.

The first thing that has to be done is to find the place that you are already occupying in the world. Where you are now has a lot to do with all the movements you have made to date; where you are going depends on the direction you take, and how far you get will depend on the effort you make, although a small dose of chance can never be ruled out, in other words, things that are beyond our control. “In any Enterprise, two thirds must be given to reason and one third to chance”, said Napoleon Bonaparte.

I suggest you think about these four matters:

  1. (Re)discover what the milestones are that you have achieved and the skills that you already have,
  2. Determine what image you project (what others think about you),
  3. Identify the areas in which you can stand out as an expert,
  4. Decide which issues you feel comfortable with.

Between “your thing”, your vocation and the world, there is common ground: the things that interest us but, to some extent, are also part of the interest of a large number of other people. An expert is at home at the intersection between the privately personal and the collective. In the words of Risto Mejide: “of all the things that we like, we need to find those that everyone else likes too. Because these are the ones that allow us to earn a living”.

You have to create the habit of listening and to realize what interests the people around you. Internet is an invaluable source of information but, do not forget that there is a whole analogical world to discover your audience, from lectures and book presentations to informal conversations on a terrace.

Finding out what you are the best at is the first and most important step of all to become a benchmark CEO. Once you have discovered yourself professionally, you must draw up a strategy to reach out to the audiences that you could be interesting to and organize a detailed working plan to get there.


*Published originally in Fundacom