What Are the Traits of an Ideal Executive?

It takes a lot to be a good leader in these fast-changing times. But the most important trait for top-level executives is the ability to bounce back, says recruiter Tomilee Tilley Gill. Here’s some helpful perspective from Executives Unlimited.

April 12, 2019 – From biotech and machine learning to cryptocurrencies and ride-sharing, our economy is in a state of flux. As such, it’s critical to recruit executives that possess the right qualities to steer businesses through uncharted waters. The best leaders have a strong portfolio of future-oriented and change-ready skills that enable them to keep responding to fluctuating market demands. Perhaps the most sought-after skill in business today is the ability to envision the future.

What’s more, with this new world of ecosystems defined by increasingly rapid technological change and digital innovation, it has become vitally important to have leaders who are well rounded, resilient and prepared to make the changes required to stay ahead of disruptive conditions.

Above all, resilience is needed to navigate the market’s changing tides with poise, confidence and creativity, said Tomilee Tilley Gill, founder and president of search firm Executives Unlimited, in a new report.

“Resilience is cultivated in leaders who’ve been battle-tested on the front lines of mergers, acquisitions, turnarounds and growth periods,” Ms. Tilley Gill said. “Additionally, solid mentorship and powerful life experiences as a youth also develop this quintessential leadership quality. Tough executives can roll with the punches and take their occasional hits, yet always bounce back to drive their team forward.”

Related: A New Breed of Future-Ready Leaders

A successful CEO has the experience to see the opportunity on the other side of any challenge, said Ms. Tilley Gill. “In maneuvering through trying times, they know when to take charge, and when to step back and strategize,” she said. “No matter how many moving parts are at play, resilient CEOs always instill confidence in their shareholders and staff through their wealth of wisdom and experience.”


Tomilee Tilley GillTomilee Tilley Gill founded Executives Unlimited in 2001 and today serves as a coach and mentor to her firm, as well as their clients. A trusted senior financial advisor to her clients, she helps companies define how they envision their goals, and examines all aspects of her client company’s operations, laying the groundwork for a successful search process.

Guided by her strategic acumen, she leads the Executives Unlimited team using her extensive skills to advise companies in qualifying, selecting, and engaging executives. Ms. Tilley Gill specializes in working with entrepreneur founders and family-owned businesses. She possesses expertise in a variety of industries and clients ranging from entrepreneurial middle market companies to PE firms to billion-dollar multinational corporations, publicly and privately held, including non-profits.


Resilience is an amalgamation of many virtues learned through years of real-world experience. “Not only are top executives tough, but they’re also vulnerable, transparent and creative,” said Ms. Tilley Gill. These leadership traits build trust, respect and buy-in from the rest of the company’s employees.

Business Resilience

When a leader lacks resilient qualities, his or her business typically follows suit. “Ineffective executives who harbor avarice and other negative character traits often propagate organizations with high attrition rate, disorganization, dissension and lack of alignment,” Ms. Tilley Gill said. “What inevitably follows is a noticeable sense of cynicism, distress and frustration among the company’s staff. With these conflicts rampant in the workplace, business resilience and sustainable growth is often impossible.”

Related: Five Ways to Identify Transformational Talent

“Thankfully, on multiple occasions, we’ve seen such troubled organizations transform to become stable and financially secure by hiring competent leaders with the resilience to raise a sinking ship,” she said.

“These effective executives who save enterprises have a calming effect on the company, not to put them asleep, but actually to wake everybody up to the fact that there are positive ways to deal with issues,” said Ms. Tilley Gill. “With their eyes on the prize, emotionally resilient CEOs inspire their staff towards a healthier outlook and alignment with company goals.”

Being a Resilient Executive

If resilience isn’t your strong suit, there are many ways to develop it, said Ms. Tilley Gill. To get started you should:

  • Always approach crises with a positive outlook and can-do attitude.
  • Accept that change is a part of living.

Related: 10 Traits of Transformational CEOs

  • Always be open to learning.
  • Move steadily toward your goals.

How to Build Resilient Leaders
We all know resilience is an important trait. It is the hallmark of successful people and successful companies, and it is what allows people to come back from disappointment and failure stronger and more determined than ever. What you may not have known is that resilience is not a permanent trait, one that you are either lucky enough to be born with or unlucky enough to be lacking.


  • Take decisive actions.
  • Seek opportunities for self-discovery.
  • Nurture a positive view of yourself.
  • Keep things in perspective.
  • Gather extraordinary forces around you.

“Practices such as keeping a keen eye on current events, maintaining key relationships and always making educated decisions need to be a part of an effective leader’s routine,” Ms. Tilley Gill said. “To recruit and retain top executive talent, executive search firms identify executives who embody these traits. Just as the most tenacious athletes train for countless hours each day to come out victorious, psychologically resilient executives must constantly be improving on the professional front.”

“In an era where economic paradigms can shift in minutes, businesses must recruit and retain leaders who are unyielding in their efforts and resilient enough to adapt to changing times,” Ms. Tilley Gill said. “With these leadership traits in tow, their organization will be the disruptors, rather than the disrupted.”

Related: Why Innovative Leaders Remain Critical

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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