by Stanley H. Davis and Kelley R. Small

While the economic landscape is much more positive than it was 10 years ago, there is continued uncertainty.  For some, uncertainty can lead to a tendency to stay with what you know especially if that discussion is focused around the leadership of the company.  That argument has some merit, given the levels of expertise and specific knowledge these people are expected to provide.  One possible way to innovate and develop fresh ideas is by opening your company’s search for a new executive to other industries.

In fact, by limiting consideration to candidates with the perceived “right” industry experience, you’re putting your company at a disadvantage.  These individuals have already learned or lent that experience at a competitor.  By bringing him or her into your company you will simply be duplicating something that’s already been done and is already in place somewhere else. That will do next to nothing to help your company differentiate itself.

Business leaders who are charged with the search for a new executive would do well to consider whether they want to hire someone for the business they currently have, or for the business they’re committed to become.  If it’s the latter, then here are some additional things to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t settle for talent that’s “good enough for now.” “Now” is temporary. Mediocre talent will generate mediocre results, and mediocrity is not an asset. Select leadership team members who, in their expertise, are better than current executives, who will complement and extend the entire executive team’s skills and experience (and will challenge ownership to be the best it can be).
  2. As a leadership team begins to take shape, make sure that in addition to their business acumen they also fit with each other personally, with the culture of the company, and with other leaders already on board. The multiplier impact of a cohesive team, compared to a collection of individuals, is stunning.
  3. Assure that your leaders are organizationally committed, goal-oriented and selfless enough to get the best from one another and to hire others of equal or better talent.
  4. In hiring, don’t focus on pedigree (e.g., family or educational background; appearance; impressive yet unrelated activities) but rather on relevant and quantifiable accomplishments, how they were achieved and under what circumstances.
  5. Choose leaders of whom the company will be proud. The value of the business, throughout its life, will be substantially bolstered by the caliber of its leaders. Like a transformative capital purchase, leadership is an investment.  The expected return can and should be defined.  Characteristics of a transformational executive include decisiveness; urgency; agility; an emphasis on collaboration and engagement; an understanding of customers, markets, finances, supply chains, employees and competition; an appreciation for value-added activities; a capacity to differentiate millstones from millers; and a quick study.  A transformational executive is someone who doesn’t cut muscle as s/he trims fat, and can jump in and repair the leaks while positioning for longer-term success. Consider all leadership as an investment and the payoff will be worth it.

One challenge of an improved economy is a natural increase in the demand for talent across the spectrum.  Add to this the continuing wave of Baby Boomers reaching retirement age and it’s easy to see why the talent pool is shallow. Business owners, executives, and boards should remember that recruitment is not a singular event, but rather a continuous process.  Whenever you happen across exceptional talent, either hire them or track them to know where they are when you need them.  Additionally, companies should stay focused on developing and re-recruiting the talented people already in place to keep them relevant and retained.

Mark Hurd, the CEO of Oracle, once said, “Great leadership is transferable across industries.”  Business leaders do well to take his words to heart, and remember that the right leader for your company may very well be in an industry other than your own.  Whether a most recent executive has moved on to another opportunity, or your company has outgrown its current leadership, embarking on an executive search can yield a variety of positive outcomes. A courageous, insightful and timely response will greatly increase the likelihood of your company’s continuing success.

Identifying and Investing in Transformational Leadership, Industry TodayIdentifying and Investing in Transformational Leadership, Industry TodayStanley Davis and Kelley Small are principals of Standish Executive Search LLC, the executive search advisors to mid-size and smaller companies positioning for accelerated growth, change or succession. For more information, please visit

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