How have requirements for senior leadership positions changed?

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Different times and different circumstances call for different leadership skills; nowhere more so than in financial services. The frequency of senior executive failure, churn and turnover has been significant.  And while great leaders bring their business knowledge and experience to bear on the problems that confront the organization, they are also asked to concentrate on developing the qualities—in themselves and others—necessary to bring the firm success.

However one study by an executive search firm revealed an intriguing finding: at senior levels, very often technical and functional expertise matters less than having true leadership skills and a strong grasp of business fundamentals. Leaders in the financial industry today likely have more in common with their executive peers than they do with the people in the functions they run.

In this new world, the new breed of senior leadership does not simply manage their own business area; as an active members of the firm’s senior leadership, they must be a multi-tasker, team-oriented, able to advice other senior level colleagues on important decisions, and always cognizant of the morale and abilities of his or her team.

Today, the skills firms are seeking in their leaders now include some of the softer leadership skills, such as:

Change Champion

Do you have the vision to mange change? It has become expected that in the current workplace, change is the norm--it is pervasive and persistent, and the pace has accelerated. No longer does a manager or senior leader act as caretaker. They move their group, and the company, forward at a time when accountability is increased but resources are reduced. And when change is going on around you, and you aren’t the impetus, do you have the skills to absorb and adapt to the change, and lead your people, especially when the change is radical and not simply incremental. With the speed of change facing business today, the need for effective senior level strategic leaders, who can formulate and execute business strategies to produce desired results, is seen as critical to the very survival of the business. Senior managers must recognize the human element as well as the resulting impact produced by change.

Social Skills

A strong leader should be able to establish and nurture quality relationships with other managers in the organization, and stay keenly aware of those he/she can count on for specific tasks and projects. He must be cognizant of the talent, knowledge and skills available to his organization. Leaders must be able to listen to new ideas, even those ‘outside the box’. Strong leaders can suspend judgment while listening to new ideas, and accept different approaches proposed by others. This kind of openness builds respect and trust, and supplies and organization with a constant source of fresh ideas. Still, leaders must also be skilled at navigating politicized environments and assess group dynamics.

Fairness

Like any good judge, a leader must be able to deal with others consistently and justly, checking facts and gathering all valid points of view before rendering a decision. Staffs reward a leader with dedication and loyalty when they feel they that are being treated fairly.

To thrive as a modern day leader, an executive must be a strategic thinker, a first-rate collaborator and a world-class communicator. It’s no longer just about technical knowledge and practical business judgment. The bar is set higher, and on another plane.

Robert Namar is CEO of NAMARketing News, and a Wall Street veteran consulting for a number of financial services firms

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