Tuesday, November 02, 2021

Searching for Leaders with Social Skills: Does Supply Meet Demand?

Source: NPR

Raffaella Sadun, Joseph Fuller, Stephen Hansen, and Tejas Ramdas have conducted a comprehensive study regarding executive searches and the skills sought after by companies when hiring to the C-suite. The scholars examined more than 4,600 searches for top executives between 2000 and 2017.  The study stretched across many industries and countries.   HBS Working Knowledge published a summary of the researchers' findings:

“The demand for social skills is increasing in every category of the economy,” says Sadun, the Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Business Administration in the Strategy Unit at Harvard Business School. "But] it’s not about schmoozing.”

Instead, headhunters and corporate recruiters want candidates with soft skills who can:
  • actively listen to others;
  • empathize genuinely with others’ experiences;
  • persuade people to work toward a common goal;
  • and communicate clearly—or, as Sadun puts it, “touch the chords of listeners.”
Top executives who demonstrate this kind of interpersonal prowess are more likely to be in high demand, particularly at large, multinational, and information-intensive organizations, the research suggests. Those companies see social skills in the C-suite as more important than more traditional operational and administrative abilities, such as monitoring the allocation of financial resources.

The scholars pose a fascinating question after summarizing their conclusions.  They ask whether the supply of executives with these social skills is meeting the demand.  I would ask a related and very important question: Are companies investing sufficiently and effectively enough in the types of leadership development activities that can help foster and enhance these skills in their top leaders?  In far too many companies, I see top executives funding and supporting programs to develop these skills in young high-potential employees or in middle managers, yet they are not taking the time to invest in further development at the top levels of the organization.  Perhaps, more attention should be paid to building the social skills of the C-Suite on an ongoing basis.  

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