Nearly 10 years ago I wrote an article called ‘’9 Skills Every Executive Must Have.’’ You can read it here if you’d like. Fast forward a decade, and a lot has changed, so I thought I’d revisit the topic. Because much of this updated skill set reflects newer ways of thinking, I call it a ‘new skills mindset.’
Time management: This one is a classic, but I’m starting with it because the WFH revolution has impacted almost everyone, and even the most prescient amongst us may not realise the full implications. I’ve come to appreciate that there is no hard right or wrong here. Whilst I lean towards being an office dweller (the heating’s better), it depends on how comfortable you are working in non-traditional environments. But some things never change: The ability to dedicate the most time to the most important work, without getting distracted or drowning in detail, is the key to getting things done.
Social awareness: I’m not convinced we live in more culturally sensitive times; rather, stereotypes of anybody and anything have simply become passé, and as an executive it is essential to recognise this. You are not being funny or clever by ‘going there’. You just sound like a dinosaur. The adage that we have two ears and one mouth (so use in that order) is instructive, but ultimately it is only a matter of having the good manners and respect that any modern executive must demonstrate. Heed this one well.
Tech fluency: Technology is a firm friend of time management. It’s no coincidence that people who can WFH successfully are more adroit with it. The successful executive simply cannot let themselves be left behind, so if you’re the type of person who grimaces when you hear Alexa’s bot voice, take a deep breath, and submit to whatever it takes to master this stuff. It’s actually quite liberating to be able to talk TikTok with your children or interrogate databases for compelling reports. If you’re not known for your tech fluency, it might be awkward at first, but there’s no way around it. You have to get on board.
Altruism: As recruiters we used to guard our candidates and clients fiercely. Now I’m more inclined to help people wherever I can. My first boss told me, ‘We find people for jobs Paul, not the other way around.’ I cringe when I think of that now. Clients are as much candidates as candidates are potential clients. The symbiotic nature of this – or any business – cannot be underestimated. Do the right thing by people, and you will morph from a consultant to a confidante, and that’s a good place to be. If you can’t make a sale, make a friend.
Service orientation: This is a close cousin of altruism. Rather than imposing yourself on people and whatever it is you’re selling, freely offer something, anything that your clients can use – data, insights – something that shows not how much you know, but how much you care. And behold, you may find clients advocating for you. It’s true that many decisions are made based on who is front of mind at the time, but it’s rarely coincidence: Those people went out of their way to put themselves there.
Authenticity: What are your values and do your actions reflect them? Not long ago, company mission statements were seemingly written by the same effusive ad writers. Sheer bombast was rampant, and the flowery missives rarely held water. Now, corporate posturing has been pared back somewhat, as there has been a shift to holding corporate giants accountable for their excesses. Organisations that don’t practice what they preach are subject to scrutiny and questioning. As modern executives, we must back up our words with deeds and then (and only then) can we talk up our values.
Receptivity: How many times have you heard or felt that it’s a young person’s world? Traditionally young people have been taught to look to their elders for wisdom and, dare I say, values. It’s the natural order of things. But if you’re receptive, this can work both ways: Older folks can learn equally important life lessons from younger generations. I have a 15-year-old daughter who (unknowingly) mentors me on behaviour, how to treat and get the best out of millennials and keeps me in touch with the world. Learning what young people want and then sprinkling some of that fairy dust around work builds connection with your team. It says you are listening and open to what they have to say. That is empowering. Modern executives need to display higher levels of EQ, and you can start by being open to some reverse mentoring.
Tact: Almost everyone you engage with in the world of work has the potential to help, grant a favour, or refer you to others. Their willingness to do so is largely commensurate with how you make them feel. People rarely remember exactly what you said in your interactions, but they will remember how you left them feeling. Even breaking bad news to someone can strengthen your relationship with them. It’s all in the delivery. Take the time to explain why and convey that you will continue to be there for them. When someone delivers bad news to you, thank them for it and leave the door open. Save emotion for the wins in life and avoid putting yourself in a position where you can’t make that call.
Courage: Anyone can pick holes and fixate on what’s wrong or working against them in a business situation, but a leader with a skills mindset that includes courage will work with the cards they’ve been dealt, whilst quietly developing a better way of doing things that actually helps others. This modern leader will likely find that their people derive more job satisfaction, are happier in their work – and pow, productivity soars. By being bold enough to stand up and provide true leadership in the face of challenges, employees and clients alike will gravitate towards you. There could be rough waters ahead. Be intrepid in 2022.