Recently one of our Managing Directors interviewed an outstanding middle market CEO candidate.  Their subsequent discussion reminded all of us of why we love the search business.  We meet so many successful people who do what they do so well.  These conversations teach us about ourselves so we can learn and grow.

This particular discussion forced reflection for our Managing Director.  How many people has he met as a search consultant?  Collectively, how many people has Sockwell Partners met over the last ten years?

Considering that we conduct 50-60 searches a year and meet "one off" with a number of other individuals, each of us personally meets face-to-face with more than 350 executives each year.  Collectively, we have met with more than 3,500.  What have we learned and what does it mean?

Obviously, no two candidates are just alike.  Some leaders are charismatic, extroverted, and big picture.  Others are focused, disciplined, and detailed.  Some are a mix.  We have learned that certain traits truly differentiate the most successful leaders from the rest of the pack.

At Sockwell Partners, we look for:

•   Goal setting – Successful leaders naturally set goals that stretch them and their teams.  The thrill of pursuit can be as important as actually accomplishing these goals.  Some leaders turn goal-setting into a competitive endeavor – but not all leaders are hypercompetitive.

•   Energy level – Individuals with a "full battery" get more accomplished in a day.  They kick up ideas and turn those ideas into actions.  We find that energy is contagious.  Co-workers feel the pace of a charged executive and feed on it.  The whole team steps up the pace to keep up.

•   The ability to deal with adversity – Coaches talk about the importance of overcoming adversity.  We think it is true.  People learn the most during their most trying experiences.  They gain confidence and realize their limits are much broader than they previously had thought.  We listen carefully to candidates' stories of how they dealt with adversity, what they learned, and how they applied these lessons later in life.

•   Presence – To some degree, this seems shallow.  We all learned early in life not to judge a book by its cover.  Nonetheless, how one presents him/herself is very important.  Successful people have an inner confidence and communicate with clear assurance.

•   Continuous learners – Some are voracious readers, others work with executive coaches, and still others exhibit their intellectual curiosity in classroom settings or professional and social gatherings.  However they do it – people who realize they don't know it all and work to expand their knowledge base separate themselves from the field.

Each search is unique.  Each requires us to attract candidates with different experiences and skill sets.  We must devise a unique candidate evaluation plan for every assignment.  However, we are always looking for these five traits.

We would be interested in your thoughts on this subject.  Are there other traits that you find particularlyimportant?  Can you learn anything about yourself in reflecting on these traits?

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