A Look at Today’s Most in Demand Executive Skills

Senior executives must have different capabilities than even just a few years ago to successfully lead in today’s business environment. SPMB partner Jon Landau shares his perspective on the current state of the executive search industry — in particular, the leadership skills that are proving to be most in demand across his search work.

November 6, 2023 – In this post-Covid era, are there hiring trends or executive skills that are more prevalent and in demand? “As an executive recruiter focused largely on the private equity markets in B2B tech, we’re experiencing two distinct – but overlapping – macro trends in leadership hiring,” said Jon Landau, partner at SPMB, in a recent report. “The first was the hiring frenzy that occurred during the two-plus years immediately following Covid. The intense pace of hiring that occurred from roughly April 2020 to June 2022 was like nothing I’ve seen in my 25 years of recruiting.”

“During this period, we faced a confluence of events that shined a spotlight on leadership capabilities and employee retention,” he said. “The three outstanding factors were: 1) newly distributed teams learning how to function in a remote environment coupled with 2) a red-hot job market and 3) skyrocketing comp packages. During this period, executives who possessed outstanding communication, high EQ (i.e. the ability to deeply and genuinely connect with their remote teams) and above average team leadership skills were able to stand out from their peers by not only retaining their employees but also providing better efficiency and output from these teams.”

The successful leaders leveraged a range of tools and techniques, including tons of virtual communication with their teams, modern tools to stay in touch in real time, and morale-boosting best practices to drive engagement, recognition, and off-cycle market compensation adjustments, according to Mr. Landau. He explains that these skills remain absolutely critical today, even in our post-Covid / hybrid work environments, and will continue to be in high demand for the foreseeable future.”

Mr. Landau notes that the second macro trend in executive hiring stands in stark contrast to the first and is characterized by a dramatic decline in executive hiring combined with a laser focus on three specific roles: CEO, CFO and CRO. “Beginning roughly around Q3 of 2022, with the rising interest rates, sinking enterprise valuations, the war in the Ukraine and the broader global economic uncertainty, PE investors made a hard pivot from growth mode to efficiency mode across their portfolio companies,” he said. “In doing so, boards and CEOs shifted their focus to the biggest efficiency levers in each business: who’s driving the bus (CEO), who’s minding the shop (CFO), and who’s selling the goods (CRO). There’s no better way for businesses to drive efficiency than to ensure that they have the most seasoned and best possible executive leading the company, the executive closest to the business finances is proven and trusted, and that your CEO and Board have total faith in the person leading your sales function.” As a result, SPMB has received more inbound search inquiries for CEO, CFO and CRO searches in the past year than any other function.

Traits for Hybrid Work Environments

Hybrid work environments are 100 percent here to stay across the B2B tech world and Mr. Landau explains that Pandora’s box has been opened and there’s no going back to a fully in-office structure. He says as a result:

• Adaptability is crucial as senior leaders must navigate virtual and in-person dynamics seamlessly.

• Emotional intelligence is more important than ever as remote work challenges require increased empathy, personal connection and real time awareness of your teams’ state of mind, engagement and morale.

Jon Landau is a partner at SPMB, founder of the firm’s Colorado office, and a seasoned executive recruiter and global talent acquisition leader with 20+ years of experience in the industry. He and his team recruit CEOs and all functional reports to the CEO for PE-backed growth companies across the country. His primary areas of focus include placing CEOs, as well as go to market (CRO, CMO, customer success) and product development (CTO, CPO) leadership. 

• Innovation is also key, using technology for everything — from remaining connected with colleagues to prioritizing and implementing cutting edge cybersecurity.

• Effective communication has also become more important than ever. Leaders adept at conveying their vision across digital platforms and face-to-face interactions can keep teams aligned, motivated and productive.

That said, more and more of SPMB’s clients are insisting that their executive teams be willing to meet face-to-face more frequently, travel for team gatherings more often, and whenever possible, that they recruit candidates in time zones that complement the existing executive leadership team.

Refreshing Your Skill for Success

In the private equity sector where Mr. Landau spends the bulk of his time, the primary skill that requires ongoing refreshing is leadership. “The candidates that SPMB interacts with are already at the top of their game and know their function inside and out,” he said. “What cannot be taken for granted, however, is mastering the art of great people management. No matter your role on the executive leadership team, being able to build, retain and develop great teams are table stakes, and skills that require constant care and feeding.”

Mr. Landau also says soft skills include listening, communicating with empathy, engaging with teams in a meaningful way, speaking thoughtfully and genuinely about diversity and inclusion, meeting people where they are versus where you want them to be…all of these skills require ongoing development and practice. “The best executives already know this and have committed to making leadership growth a continuous practice for themselves,” he said.

Related: Essential Leadership Skills For A “Work Anywhere Anytime” World

SPMB’s top performing clients know that leadership development is their number one weapon in building a great company with highly engaged employees. These companies have made it their top priority to support their leaders with ongoing learning & development programs, executive coaching, and a culture of modern inclusion, according to Mr. Landau. “These are the companies we love to partner with because the CEOs model the culture, empower their teams, and prioritize the people function to be a leading voice around the table,” he says.

5 Communication Skills Found in Top Leaders
Smart recruiters don’t expect candidates for leadership roles to have it all. But those leaders must have a preponderance of it all and they must be able to lead it all. Any gaps or blind spots that he/she/they have must be ably or mightily filled by one of their current or prospective direct reports to mitigate and minimize organizational risk. A new report from BroadView Talent Partners, however, says there is one corollary to this rule: A CEO absolutely must have superior communication and influencing capabilities.

In just the past 12 months, one new area of professional development has arrived, AI. “Regardless of your role around the executive leadership table, AI is becoming ubiquitous across modern tech enterprises,” Mr. Landau said. “New AI applications are emerging daily, ranging from AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants handling employee and/or customer inquiries, to predictive analytics forecasting sales and demand, to resume screening tools expediting the recruitment process. Modern executives who wish to stay relevant in their field are choosing to embrace AI in order to understand it and leverage it to the benefit of their teams and company.”

For over 40 years, SPMB Executive Search has worked alongside its clients to build executive teams that ensure venture capital and private equity-backed game-changers achieve scale, and position multi-billion-dollar public companies to unlock innovation. Specializing in technology and innovation, SPMB recruits upper management and board members to growth-oriented companies in tech, consumer, and sustainability industries. SPMB has also placed dozens of senior executives at the portfolio companies of leading private equity firm partners including Blackstone, KKR, and TPG.

Related: The Skills That Help CEOs Make the Right Choices

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Executive Editor; Lily Fauver, Senior Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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