For senior executives, it's inspiration, not perspiration, that matters. More precisely, the ability to motivate and lead others is the most important skill that boards are looking for when they make senior appointments, far more so than their ability to be a "top performer".
A survey of 1,270 business leaders from across the globe by executive search firm IIC Partners found that more than two-thirds (68 per cent) prefer a senior executive who is inspirational far more than they desired someone who consistently performed well (something mentioned by just a quarter of those surveyed.
According to Paul Dinte, chairman of IIC Partners, while the price of entry to the corner office remains competency, once there, the key skill is the ability to act as a catalyst.
"The emerging snapshot of today's most valued senior executive is not just that of a talented practitioner. Rather, this sought-after executive is very 'other-directed' and excels at harnessing the power of others through leadership and inspiration."
Other than inspiration, the survey found that the traits most valued by organizations are the ability to manage change (mentioned by half those questioned), the ability to identify and develop talent (46 per cent) and innovative thinking (30 percent). Consistent high performance was seen as important by just 26 per cent of those questioned.
The findings suggest that organizations are beginning to take on board the fact that hard-driving, "results-at-all-costs" executives can prove to be damagingly counter-productive. Indeed as research from Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relation has found, far from improving financial performance, such executives can damage the bottom line because they lack strategic insight or the ability to work with and inspire others.
The 2010 study, which examined the leadership styles and track records of 72 senior US executives , found overwhelming evidence that leaders with soft skills deliver better financial results. In fact, executives whose interpersonal skill scores were poor scored badly on every single performance indicator while a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success.
In other words, the business case for better emotional intelligence is overwhelming. 'Type A' behaviour might deliver in the short-term, but organizations now realize that they will get much better results by backing leaders with strong so-called 'soft' skills.