Leadership Skills Burnish Career Prospects

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The quality of your leadership skills can impact your career path. In fact, industry sources say, strong managerial skills are almost as important as the ability to sell a product. But the key word there may be "almost."

Increasingly, leadership and management skills are important because businesses may soon face a shortage of qualified middle managers and top executives. The mergers and acquisitions of the 1990s led to layoffs and reorganizations, leaving many companies with a depleted pool of management talent, and less loyalty among those that remained.

"There is simply a lot more talk about it since there's going to be a severe talent shortage in the near future," says Rod Williams, a consultant with outplacement firm Lee Hecht Harrison. "But it has always been a critical part of an individual's success plan."

"In simplest terms, companies are now paying more than lip service to the idea of identifying and hiring good leaders as well as grooming their own from within," says Williams. "So, certainly, if you want to have a solid career with mobility options, it's essential to develop and exhibit good leadership."

However, many others are less convinced. While leadership skills are good to have - in fact they say good "people skills" in general can give one a competitive advantage over the course of a career - the real key to growth in financial services is revenue production, many recruiters say. Firms continue to reward those who feed the bottom line over good managers, they believe.

"Success in banking, and in other areas of business, is a function of an ability to close the deal, to get the client to buy the product or retain the service being offered," says David N. Schwartz, founder of the New York-based executive search firm DN Schwartz & Company. It's easy to reward producers because it's easier to see their value, Schwartz observes. Good leadership skills may be important, but it's more difficult to see how they affect a company's bottom line.

Deborah Rivera, founder of the Succession Group, a New York-based recruiting firm, says leadership skills are great, but in financial services cash is king. "Oftentimes, managers can be paid less than some of their employees," Rivera says. "I think that many Wall Street managers possess leadership skills, but that is not what the culture stresses or pays for."

That's especially true during market downturns, a time when rewarding producers becomes a priority, she says. "Historically producers are rewarded for producing, and as they move into management and further away from direct production, they can be perceived as dispensable."

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