1st Executive Blog

27 Apr Finding Resilience in Executive Search

The onset of the global pandemic just a year ago saw, almost immediately, a whole range of leadership business tools and processes covering business survival and adjusting to the changed business conditions that were a consequence of Covid 19.

As executive mental health started to come to the fore, new content and advice around resilience started to emerge. In the 12 months since, resilience has become as important as strategy, operational excellence and the triple bottom line. For consultants and hiring managers in the executive search process there has been precious little written about how to discover the "resilience state" of the executives in front of them during the selection process.

Eight key steps to identify resilience

With the support of our advisory network, Mindshop International, we have been able to adapt advice from very practical psychology practitioners in our network to identify eight key elements that can be explored during the selection process. We have summarised these briefly to support the executive search process, rather than suggest that this is anything more than a strong framework for additional leadership development after selection – there is more to that.

1. Where is your resilience now?

This is relatively simple open question. In his book, “The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team”, Patrick Lencioni discusses in his first dysfunction, “Absence of Trust” the need for leaders to demonstrate vulnerability first to have any chance of leading, or participating in, an effective team. This simple question identifies your prospective leader’s capacity for vulnerability and openness.

2. How have you managed your stress?

It is not uncommon for executive leaders to suggest that either they don’t feel stress or that they thrive on it. However, the events of the last year or so and the dramatic changes to the way in which people work have created stresses that go beyond just the requirements of the role. For a leader to demonstrate a simple understanding of how to manage stress is of immeasurable value during the executive search process. This can be as simple as understanding the fight or flight response, the impact of the subconscious memory and the capacity of the intellect to manage these involuntary responses. That represents real personal enlightenment.

3. How do you manage your beliefs?

Whether voluntary or involuntary, beliefs drive many executive responses. If the executive search process can reveal how a potential leader understands and manages beliefs, we can again recognise very strong leadership potential. Typically, we would look for a description of the triggering or activating event, the beliefs that came to the fore, understanding whether they were rational or irrational, the capacity to describe their behaviour and to articulate the consequences of it.

4. Do you have a clear picture of yourself?

Self-awareness has never been more important, For an executive to have a clear picture of themself can be very powerful. This can often lead into discussions around decision-making style, emotional intelligence an understanding of where support may be required.

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5. What are the key elements you apply to managing change?

Research by Mindshop International founder Dr Chris Mason identified that, typically, only around 30% of change initiatives in larger organisations are actually successful. If an executive is able to describe the need to manage beliefs, develop organisational and individual capability and also prepare the organisation for change, then there is a strong chance that they will successfully manage change.

6. How do you build your capability?

It is also important to understand, during an executive search process, that leaders can take responsibility for developing themselves. In the vast majority of our leadership development work, the enhancement of capability often has to be proceeded by helping executives to create capacity – they need time! In executive search interviews, this could be communicated as an executive articulating that they need to make the time to do this self-development work. Something as simple as Covey’s Quadrants, or any other explanation of the need to work on the “important but not urgent” builds confidence in leadership amd strategic capabilities.

7. How do you deal with barriers?

There is an element of the fight or flight response in an executive’s response to this. In essence, we are looking for the ability to recognise past barriers, describe how they overcame them and to see an understanding of the benefits of doing so.

8. What is your resilience plan?

This is where the rubber hits the road for executives in demonstrating their resilience. In many ways, the previous seven points will tell us whether the executive has the capacity to meet the basic definition of resilience which is “bouncing back from adversity”. Essentially, rather than just asking them how they do that, we have been exploring how they manage their behaviours, thoughts and beliefs; and how they apply problem-solving approaches to this while managing their stronger feelings.

We don’t think for a minute that these eight points cover the whole gamut of resilience. However when it comes to the executive search process, the ability to break down the components of resilience will give us a strong indication as to whether a chosen leader will help take the organisation forward regardless of what is going on around them.

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