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10 Traits to Look for In Your Next Leadership Candidate

4 minute read
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Leadership matters. When you're looking for someone to fill the role in the C-Suite, making the wrong hire can be costly. Here's what to look for.

In March 2018, 96 CEOs at US-based companies exited their posts. This year the number increased to 135, a 40.6% increase, according to findings released by Challenger Gray & Christmas Inc. “We are seeing considerable churn in the chief executive role,” Andrew Challenger, vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., said in the report. “Companies are grappling with changing consumer behavior and new technologies disrupting almost all industries.”

Is there a mass exodus of CEOs going on? Of course not. But the numbers are telling — CEOs aren’t exactly staying put. We can presume organizations want C-Suite leaders to stick around and, well, lead organizations to prosperous outcomes. So what should your organization look for in such an executive?

Integrity: Being True to Their Word

C-Suite leaders should lead with integrity because it creates trust within your peer set and your direct reports, according to Julia Kanouse, CEO of the Illinois Technology Association. “People want to work for someone who is ethical and that they believe will do the right thing by them and the business.” 


The pace of change within businesses is increasing at an exponential rate, and leaders, Kanouse said, must have the ability to learn and adapt. “They shouldn’t be afraid to experiment, test new technologies and evolve processes,” she said. 

“Regardless of the function they oversee, keeping up with trends, new technologies and finding opportunities to continuously improve and evolve how they conduct their business is critical.” Skills can be mastered later on, she said, but the ability to learn, and learn quickly, is something that is more difficult to come by.

Related Article: Traveling the Road from CMO to CEO

Emphasize Soft Skills

Marcel Schwantes, founder and chief human officer of Leadership from the Core, said that when assessing job candidates during an interview process, especially transitioning C-Suite candidates, look first to soft-skills. “There is one compelling leadership model — servant leadership — that is wrapped up in a myriad of impactful soft skills and will get the best out of employees to produce results,” Schwantes said. 

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Open to Feedback

Are your prospective leaders open to input? The best leaders are learners; they are open to input from others, even those below them, Schwantes said. Do they value people? These leaders maintain a high view of their people, show them respect and listen receptively to their needs in a nonjudgmental way. 

Focus on Worker Growth

Leaders that mentor their workers are needed. These individuals will help their reports understand and clarify their career path, as well as help them grow their professional skills. 

Learning Opportunities

These great leaders will provide for learning and growth, and develop potential and career paths for others, Schwantes added.


The ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes is a critical skill for leaders, Kanouse said. “Without empathy," she said, "it’s difficult to inspire others, nurture and mentor your team or build loyalty and trust. Without this trait, issues can arise quickly within the workspace.” Sexual harassment often arises out of a lack of empathy, Kanouse added. “How likely are those incidents to happen if a boss is truly willing and able to understand how the employee feels when subjected to his or her actions?” she asked.

Related Article: 6 Ways to Ruin Company Culture

Humility Is a Must

Another key trait for a C-Suite executive is the ability to admit when they’re wrong. Can they remove their ego from the process and maintain objective judgment? “Leaders,” Kanouse said, “need to be able to recognize when there is a problem, accept blame and put the company, project or initiative back on the right path.” It isn’t an easy quality to find in the enterprise, though. 

They Have a Vision

Great leaders envision the future and use intuition and foresight to direct the organization forward, according to Schwantes. “They take initiative and move out ahead,” he said, “and they consistently clarify goals and expectations to get to the vision.”

Empowering Fellow Leaders

The strength in great leaders comes from sharing power and decision-making, Schwantes said, and pushing authority down to empower others. “Because of their selfless nature,” he said, “sharing status in relation to position or honor is a given.”

Community Builders

Great leaders promote a sense of belonging and connection for all team members, and they work collaboratively and emphasize teamwork, Schwantes said. “And they value the differences of others — differing strengths, expressions, ideas, personalities and viewpoints.”