Strong leadership is a key element of an organization’s success, yet how leadership should be demonstrated is something companies are constantly evaluating. We talked with Deborrah Ashley, MBA, an authority positioning strategist, to learn what leadership qualities big brands are focusing on, how businesses are nurturing and retaining their managers, as well as areas in which they can improve. As founder and owner of Thrivoo Marketing, Deborrah helps leaders to better package and sell their expertise to attract high-level clients and opportunities.
What are some observations you’ve made about how some major well-known brands hire their leaders? What do these companies have in common and what are the pros and cons of their approaches?
Deborrah Ashley: The big brands are now looking for professionals with diverse experience and the ability to change course at the drop of a hat. Whether it’s stepping into new roles or working alongside existing staff, they want people that are flexible. Before, the focus was on what degree a candidate might have had or their defined skill set. These companies also have a very defined value system surrounding their mission that helps them determine who would be a good leader or a good fit within the organization. This helps ensure they find the right talent who will stay with them in the long-term.
Another thing the major brands have in common is that they look to Millennials to help them advance and change, so they’re not stuck in the “Toys R Us” mentality where they failed to innovate and then fell victim to online competitors like Amazon. Unfortunately this also makes it harder for senior leaders with amazing experience to get into the roles that they have the background for, due to their age.
The pros are that they’re going to get people that fit in perfectly, that they don’t have to spend a lot of time training.
The cons are that if you don’t have an in-house expert in place that can motivate, speak Millennials’ language and ultimately retain them, the company is always at risk of losing these candidates. Many companies claim to encourage out-of-the box thinking, but the way they manage is still very much inside the box, and Millennials don’t really mesh with that.
Who are some of your favorite company leaders and why?
DA: Mark Zuckerberg and Oprah Winfrey. Oprah, obviously because she is a strong leader and has an extensive business empire and Mark because he has an amazing ability to gather the right staff to ensure whatever he has a vision about comes true.
Both are visionaries and innovators as well as being fearless and driven; they don’t take no for an answer. One thing that is lacking among many leaders today, that both Mark and Oprah have, is emotional intelligence. It enables them to remain calm under pressure, without becoming unraveled. They are also very humble, showing a willingness to own up to past mistakes.
What are some key missteps that companies often make when looking for leadership candidates? What should they be focusing on?
DA: A lot of companies tend to overlook people who are actually brilliant and have great people/persuasion skills, and instead focus on whether the candidates went to a top-tier school, their degree(s) and what they majored in. People skills and emotional intelligence should be prioritized because these are qualities that have the ability to move business discussions forward. These are innate skills that can’t really be taught, and is often the reason that otherwise bright individuals fail.
When I think about Gary V [Vaynerchuk] who is a super successful, business owner who wants to buy the New York Jets, and I think he is nearly there, he focuses on people skills. Some employers don’t really focus too much on people skills, but that’s an innate quality and is something you can never take away from someone. It’s what will always make them a top performer.
Gary V recently hired a chief creative director and the one thing he looked for in this person was emotional intelligence.
How can employers better groom the leadership talent that is within their organization?
DA: Recently I’ve been hearing a lot about executive coaches, not only within companies, but also called in when needed. The hard thing is that these leaders in the organization are given a project to manage, but sometimes there can be a lot of pressure. Sometimes there can be blind spots and the hard thing is that you can either be seen as strong or weak. If you end up asking too many people their opinion on something, then they’re going to question whether you’re really a leader. Yet, strength also comes with being able to get help. So I think access to an executive coach can help tap into the leader’s inner genius to play from their strengths.
What key advice would you give employers about how to attract key leaders into their organization?
DA: Social media and LinkedIn in particular are key. The strategy on LinkedIn you want to leverage is to show the people side of the organization vs. the corporate side. Show some key people; it could be an HR person, it could be someone else in a leadership position. But the goal is to show both the traditional and the non-traditional sides of a person.
You seem to favor LinkedIn over other platforms like Facebook which are seen as being more fun or social, compared to the business discussions on LinkedIn.
DA: Yes, it’s easier to target the leadership base on LinkedIn. They may not always be on Facebook, or may only access it once a week or on the weekend. I remember I saw a study regarding in-house counsel which said 87 percent of in-house counsel go to LinkedIn for information, education and trends on what is happening. So if you show up as a “thought leader” sharing industry update and offering unique views, these in-house counsel, will look for you each time. It all starts with building the relationship.