I am often asked a simple question “What makes a good executive?”. Unfortunately there is no simple answer to this question. If there were we would not see so many articles written about the challenges of selecting and managing executive staff. We can however develop some useful guidelines.
In mid 19th Century Brittain the answer was very simple, especially for senior positions in Government or the military. You did not need any specific skill qualifications. All you needed to be was a gentleman (yes a male, with good breeding), some exposure to the classics and a suitable sense of superiority. Looking good in a starched collar and bowler hat or a redcoat and pith helmet was a distinct advantage of course.
There are however today a few different indicators to the prospect of an individual succeeding as a good executive. For recruitment and selection purposes and in the context of performance management these indicators reflect the personal and professional competencies of an individual who would be likely to perform well in an executive role…and they are not confined by gender, race, religion or family background.
What is an Executive role?
An executive role is usually identified as a position that reports either to the principal decision-making body of an organisation (a board or council) or a position that reports directly to the CEO of the organisation. In some large organisations the term Executive may extend to the next line of management as well. It is usually an organisational rank that has authority and responsibility for the daily management of the organisation.
The term “executive” naturally enough comes from the verb “to execute” meaning to do, carry our, accomplish, complete or produce something, often according to a given plan or instruction. So we should expect Executive Managers to be the ones who see that things get done in our organisation. they may not actually “do the doing”, but it is their role to ensure the outcomes required are achieved.
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Competencies for a Good Executive
So what are the competencies that contribute to success as an Executive? One way of describing these is through the following areas:
Remote control capability – being able to keep the organisation on track without constant personal involvement. This requires:
- Clear vision and direction and the ability to communicate it to others.
- Skill in selecting capable direct reports who are also committed to that vision.
- Quality assurance systems and effective reporting to management.
Leadership – being able to inspire all ranks to follow your lead and direction even when you are not visible. This requires
- Presenting a credible image as a leader (decisive, confident, wise, evenhanded).
- Building, mentoring, coaching and moulding leadership traits in others.
- Continually reinforcing positive values.
- Accepting and demanding accountability for actions.
Strategic orientation – being able to identify critical paths to the desired goals and to lay plans appropriate to navigating these parts. This requires
- A keen sense of corporate goals and the pathways to achieving those goals.
- Strong appreciation of issues both current and emerging likely to impact on goal attainment.
- Ability to articulate long-term and intermediate objectives in the context of active planning.
Relationship management – being able to nurture, grow and maintain relations and interactions with all stakeholders in the enterprise to secure positive responses to all situations. This requires:
- A record of integrity and trustworthiness.
- Constant and constructive communication.
- Empathetic interaction in sensitive matters.
- Highly developed negotiating skills.
- Focus on mutually beneficial outcomes (win-win).
Resource Management – being able to direct and influence the allocation and use of resources to gain most effective outcomes. This requires
- Clear appreciation of organisational capacity both current and future.
- Disciplined approach to allocation of resources commensurate with goal attainment.
- Quality assurance systems.
- Effective measurement inputs and outputs.
- Decisive action to remediate variances from the desired path.
Focus on getting things done – being able to get things done and actually deliver value and desired objectives. This requires
- Strong organisational skills.
- Keen sense of priorities.
- Ability to quickly resolve or clear administrative roadblocks.
- Clear operational perspective and logistical problem solving.
Practice makes perfect
These are not the only competencies that fit individuals for Executive Management, but they certainly represent the core competencies essential for the role. How individuals develop and maintain these competencies can vary but purposeful acquisition and application makes for continued development of expertise and enduring commitment to good practice makes for a growing reputation for excellence.
Establishing the objective measures by which these indicators are identified in practice is an important aspect of monitoring and assessing actual performance against desired standards.
Consequently, the more one actively exercises these competencies the easier it is to identify the measures.