When the CEO is the Weak Link

Two recent surveys suggest a seldom spoken secret about leadership.  The corner office may not be the source of strength we assume it is, but a weak link in the chain.

The first survey was our annual global probe here at Cornerstone International Group. We looked for reasons why the push for women leaders in business appeared to be running out of  steam.

CEO and building blocksThere’s still plenty of talk. No-one is saying the idea is flawed.  But there’s not much walk.

It seems 45% of respondents haven’t got around to mentioning diversity in their mission or corporate values statement. Although one in four consider it is harder to find qualified women than men, less than 17% of them have a formal policy to recruit high-value women.

If the effort isn’t being made, if the environment is not welcoming, it might be a reason why the results are still below where we might expect them to be.

So the problem is in hiring women, right?   Perhaps not.

Another survey report from PwC on talent acquisition revealed that 93% of CEOs fully understand the importance of strengthening their organization’s talent acquisition program.   But 61% haven’t done anything about it.

Once again, long on the need-for-talent talk, short on the walk.

Looking for a reason, the PwC survey points out that CEOs don’t get to learn much about hiring people — never mind hiring the best people — when they are going to CEO school.  And relatively few of them come from HR ranks.

That’s not a reason for ignoring the challenge of course.  You have to assume most CEO’s are smart by the time they arrive so most would make it their priority to find out more.  If they are fortunate, they will have an experienced, focused and strategic HRO.  If not, they will need to go outside.

A lack of familiarity with the means of building a high-potential management pipeline is one of the core arguments in deciding to seek out a retained search agency.  A leader can direct his team to search on their own, using all the magic tools that exist now, but that would not fit the profile of an uncertain, but smart CEO. Same goes for choosing a contingency search firm which will use the same tools and flood you with candidates that might be right.

But likely without supplying the knowledge, experience and thoroughness in evaluating candidates that the firm is missing to start with.

Critically, assessing who might be right for a specific role is one of the most important parts of the hiring process. The executive search firm builds its business on knowing this and knowing how to evaluate it. That’s why you will be given a list of possible candidates that are already highly suited, motivated  and have passed a rigorous assessment of their ability to fit into the firm’s culture.

The search expert will work with you to get that down to a short list and from there to one or two finalists. And, in the unlikely event that none of the possibilities appeal to you, the search goes on.

The Association  of Executive Search Consultants (AESC) describes its members this way (my italics):

“……specialized management consultants retained on an exclusive basis by clients in an advisory capacity. An executive search consulting firm typically partners with a client to identify, assess and select the very best possible candidate.”

It is difficult to imagine identifying the very best possible candidate for an executive job without that element of partnership. The search firm works hard to build awareness of the client, what its needs and objectives are and how these might be impacted by the working environment.

As an expert partner to the process, the retained executive search firm understands completely the value of success and the potentially catastrophic cost of failure.

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