The Executive Selection Mystery

By Eva Rykrsmith on June 18, 2009 19 Comments

The skill set that is required for success at an individual contributor and entry-level job gets old quickly. As you achieve results by doing things right, you get put into a position that now requires you to do the right things. As this happens, your technical expertise matter less and less. That’s pretty well-known by now. But past that mid-managerial level is where it gets fuzzy. How is success defined at executive levels?

Well, it’s not really. The hallmark of an exec/strategy role is that it’s undefined. So there’s no prescriptive way to do it, meaning there is no job analysis or a job description to go along with it:

“Executive jobs are very different than jobs at the bottom of the hierarchy. In lower level jobs, there often is a “right way” to do a job. The “right” behaviors are closely tied to the results one gets. At the top, there is not prescription of behaviors that will succeed or fail — there are as many combinations and nuances as there are people; the same result may come from many different behaviors.” -George Hollenbeck, Executive Selection — What’s Right… and What’s Wrong

If that’s the case, how are the appropriate people chosen for those roles? From an individual perspective, how do hi-potential wannabes know what to do to get that promotion? The June issue of Harvard Business review points out that often they don’t:

“The company’s competency model included ‘develop talent’ but didn’t specify that having a track record for doing so was nonnegotiable for anyone who wanted to rise. The information void wasn’t a matter of malice; rather, it was due to assumptions that nobody thought to make explicit and an all-too-human reluctance to deliver bad news. Managers and HR professionals oft en provide intentionally vague feedback for fear of losing a good employee. Further, although most leadership competency models refer in some way to important management skills and attributes, they typically fail to distinguish nice-to-have from nonnegotiable skills.” – HBR, Why You Didn’t Get That Promotion

I think this is where that whole, You Need a Mentor to Succeed thing comes in. When you have developed a level of trust with someone, they are more likely to give you candid feedback and provide tips on what you really need to do to get where you want to be. If you don’t have one, here’s the Cliff Notes, courtesy of the aforementioned HBR article:

The Unwritten Rules for Executive Selection:


  • Consistently strong performance… results matter because executive performance is crucial to organizational performance
  • Ethics/Integrity/Character… who you are is important because there are some behavioral characteristics that don’t change much
  • Driven to lead with more responsibility… behavior is crucial because past actions are a decent predictor of future performance


  • Weak interpersonal skills
  • Insensitivity to others
  • Self-interest over the company
  • Narrow business perspective


  • Strategic thinking
  • Trend spotter
  • Recruiting and developing a great team
  • Leading a successful implementation
  • Innovation enabler
  • Courage and tolerance for risk
  • Internal boundary spanning
  • Change management skills
  • Influence and persuasion
  • Conflict management skills
  • Continuous learning, growth, and professional development
  • Adaptability

I’m surprised the value of one’s network wasn’t emphasized more in the article.

19 Responses to “The Executive Selection Mystery”

  1. Jay says on: 24 June 2009 at 12:01 am

    gr8 blog.

  2. Neil Kevin says on: 30 September 2009 at 3:50 am

    This is really nice article.I get to know some interesting stuff about the executive jobs.Thank you.


Leave a Reply:

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

  Copyright © 2010 Articles by Eva Rykrsmith | Art credit for square in upper right hand corner to Michael D. Edens