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Sandy Ogg September 21 2015 6 min read

C-Suite Hiring - Top 10 Competencies

We place big bets every time we hire into the C-suite. Not only do we immediately put the value at risk with every new hire. At this level, each senior executive also has the potential to influence the culture of our organization, its reputation, and its downstream financial results—either positively or negatively.

Unfortunately, senior executive search and selection is not quite—yet—a science. True, we know how to take a “scientific” approach to hiring subject matter experts: we look for evidence of their technical and functional expertise. But technical and functional expertise tends to be almost irrelevant at the senior executive level.

What matters more than expertise when selecting C-suite players? Business acumen and the mastery of several leadership skills indispensable in today’s business environment.1

Relevant Business Acumen

Whoever we hire today must be capable of leading our operations tomorrow. Before we begin our executive search, we need to know where we plan to take our organization, and what jobs we need the person filling this particular role to do to get us where we intend to go. This will determine what situations they need to be masterful at leading in, what market and industry challenges they need to be aware of, and who they need to influence to be successful at their job.

Senior executives, by definition, will have already acquired knowledge and understanding of the financial, operational, accounting and marketing functions of an organization. Testing can give us a precise, systematic evaluation of their business literacy. But it will be their track record, referrals and on-the-ground reputation we want to pay close attention to. These will reveal whether they have good judgment and the ability to make quick decisions in the areas and situations in which we will need them to excel.

This may not always mean we want to hire someone who has experience working within the industry or cultures we have been operating in so far. Depending on what we are planning to do with the business, the most valuable perspective we can add to the C-suite may be the one that comes from outside our industry or home country.

Today’s Top 10 Leadership Competencies

Interviews give us the perfect opportunity to find out in what ways candidates have demonstrated their skill and judgment. As we speak with prospective hires and their referrers, we can listen for the ability to:

  1. 1. Make tough decisions in the midst of uncertainty
  2.  Understand different constituents concerns
  3. Think outside the box
  4. Take risks wisely (discern when to initiate bold actions)
  5. Make and honor commitments
  6. Inspire followers/followership 
  7. Enroll key stakeholders
  8. Develop effective working relationships
  9. Inject energy, when and where it’s needed
  10. Learn from failure.

Beyond these basics, the C-suite today also demands leaders bring integrity, proactiveness, tenacity and situational awareness to their work. In particular, the savvy to discern what is happening in the background of challenging situations and to respond in ways that evoke commitment, collaboration and action can make or break situations. This is about positively influencing people—at all levels of the organization and in diverse circumstances—to do what it takes to realize a specific vision or goal. If interviews don’t elicit success stories that demonstrate this awareness and ability, test cases or scenario testing can offer credible alternatives.

During interviews with peers and colleagues, listen for where each candidate’s learning edge is and consider whether this will fit with what you are up to—or whether it will jeopardize your success. Think about whether their values and leadership style will fit with your corporate culture.

At the end of the day, a lot is riding on your decision. And there are a lot of potential “deal killers”. These are just basics to look for. To take more of the guesswork out of the search and selection process, read Better C-suite Hiring, or talk to us.

1 “The New Path to the C-Suite”, HBR, Boris Groysberg, L. Kevin Kelly, and Bryan MacDonald, March 2011. 


Sandy Ogg’ founder, Sandy Ogg has spend 30+ years working and learning with CEOs around the world. His experience and the insights he’s gained through this work have informed the methodology.

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