Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Ask an Executive: The Four Characteristics of a Leader Who Gets Hired and Promoted

By Jo Miller

Imagine if you had the opportunity to sit down with a senior executive and get the real, unvarnished truth about what it takes to be a potent leader in today’s highly competitive workforce. The one caveat: you could only ask a single question!

So, if you had the opportunity to speak candidly with a senior executive, what would your top question be?

That was the query I put to participants before my latest webinar, Ask an Executive. From the GM women’s network in Spring Hill, TN came this question that seemed to capture the essence of many similar requests from the audience:

“What are the most common characteristics of people in your organization who contribute the most value, regardless of their gender?”

Guest speaker John Hall was more than happy to divulge the four characteristics of a leader he is most likely to hire into – or promote within – the organization he has led to become the world’s most profitable software training business:

1. Adults only need apply
Being brilliant is not enough to impress Hall, who should know. After all, he is Senior Vice President of Oracle University. “I like to hire people who are smart but they have to work well with a team,” he explains. “I call it ‘adult behavior.’ They don't have time or tolerance for office dramatics.”

That’s not to say that there aren’t days when a team has its differences, which is after all the trademark of a successful team. Explains Hall, “We still have disputes and discussions but at the end of day, I want a team that supports me and supports the business one hundred percent. Working well as a team is critically important.”

2. Don’t tell me everything’s great
“Yes” men and women with rose colored glasses firmly in place need not apply, either, according to Hall, who clearly favors facts over fiction – and plenty of them. “The other thing that we're really keen on,” he explains, “is being very data-centric. I don’t need somebody to say, ‘Things are going well.’ I want them to say, ‘Hey, things are 6.7% better than they were last year’ or ‘They're at negative 6.7%.’ ”

Hall adds, “Being data-centric is so important. Speaking in those terms provides a tremendous amount of credibility when you're talking to senior executives and other people in your industry.” The implication is clear: getting in the habit of responding/presenting with clearly defined facts instead of fuzzy generalizations is a good practice for all of us to get into!

3. Take the baton and go for the finish line
A key to success and being valued in Hall’s organization – and many others – is being results-oriented. “At Oracle we have very specific objectives around revenue, margin, market share, customer satisfaction, and quality,” Hall says.

He takes care to clearly define and communicate goals, then relies on team-members to drive toward those results as self-starters, with little hand-holding along the way. “I've had success with describing the finish line in extremely clear, data-centric terms. I tend to hire great people and make sure they know the objectives.”

After that, Hall implies, it’s up to individual team members to take the baton and run the rest of the race him or herself!

4. Set the integrity bar high
So, what does Hall save for last in his Four Characteristics of Leaders Who Get Hired and Promoted? “The final thing that's table stakes for me is high integrity,” Hall says with an air of finality.

Hall sets a high bar for integrity in his approach to things like customer service and how his own employees are treated. “When I surround myself with a team that's got high integrity,” he explains, “it's easy to maintain that standard.”

Want to be valued by the leaders in your own organization? John Hall would urge you to work well within a team, be data-centric, results-oriented, and operate with integrity. “These are the characteristics I always look for when hiring or promoting somebody,” he stresses.

Now, to gauge yourself as to how many of Hall’s Four Characteristics of a Leader Who Gets Hired and Promoted you’re engaging in most frequently, try this simple exercise: Consider your performance in the past week. For each of the four qualities listed below, give yourself a rating, where 1= Poor, 2 = Fair, 3 = Good, 4 = Very good, and 5 = Excellent.

  • Team work
  • Data-centric
  • Results-oriented
  • Integrity
What’s done is done, so I won’t ask you to dwell on past performance too terribly long. But look to the future and consider the week ahead. What action will you take to raise your score in two of these areas?


Listen to my entire conversation with John Hall and Kieth Cockrell in the webinar “Ask an Executive”.
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