Recruiting Questions & AnswersQ. I’m a senior operations manager with 10-plus years of consumer electronics industry experience. My goal is to become a CEO in the next two to five years. What are the most important leadership skills one should develop for a C-level position?

A. Ambitious goal. There are many different types of leadership styles that one can adopt. My initial question to you is how would you describe your current leadership style? You will need to assess your strengths and weaknesses in these areas, set goals to develop and upgrade those skills. Leadership is 80 percent soft skills and 20 percent hard skills. It is a blend of ingredients that make a great CEO.

I’ve had an exceptional experience in 2009 and interviewed several C-level executives from a broad spectrum of industries ranging in size. There were common themes.

Following are some of the questions that I asked and a compilation of the many answers received from the CEOs themselves. Perhaps you can find slivers of insight that apply to you and your business.

Can you describe your leadership style?

Collaborative, empower the team, give them the knowledge and guidance. Set realistic expectations, follow-up and trust. Set high expectations; show me the numbers and metrics. Strategic, visionary, think outside the box, be non-traditional. Take the time to train, coach and mentor, help others succeed.

Be supportive minus micro-management. I have an open-door policy and am trustworthy. I’m a born leader, not a follower. Honest and clear communication. Show strength but its OK to be human and vulnerable too. Develop strong values. Spend time with your team, communicate and care about people.

Help other people be successful and find their path. Be honest with others about their strengths and weaknesses. Be value-centric, build trust amongst the team by creative collaboration. Be open, direct, truthful, positive, realistic and optimistic. Be very straight-forward; let people know where you stand good and bad, give constructive feedback. I give credit to others when due. Hold people to high standards. Accountability, be objective, strategic and a quick decision maker. Participative, honest and trustworthy.

In your opinion what are the main ingredients for a successful CEO?

Be compassionate and very resourceful, disciplined and collaborative. Hire exceptional people and surround yourself with great talent. Be passionate about helping people. Make a contribution and give back. Share values with the team, develop trusted relationships with clients and mutual respect. Ask a lot of questions. Set high expectations. Think for yourself and make decisions.

Hire slowly and fire quickly. Apply the Golden Rule. Have a competitive nature. Be self-motivated, helpful, caring and tell the truth. Be a problem-solver. Invest in professional development. Set high standards and selective recruiting.

Never compromise integrity. Create fundamental value. Add value to a business and the community. Develop products that have a purpose in the market and keep evolving. What’s next, find new niches and solve real problems. Develop top level management that works well together with mutual goals, similar management styles and philosophy.

Complement each other. Employ great people. Be open, trustworthy and communicate. Have fun, maintain a sense of humor. Be courageous, take a stand and be a visionary. Focus on employees. Be passionate about business. Selfless and humble. Give your people the tools they need to succeed. Be driven by the next big challenge.

What do you feel has been your greatest accomplishment as a CEO?

Gaining the trust and confidence of the team. Hiring exceptional talented people and launching their careers. Growing the company. No layoffs. Providing a service to the community. Staying true to my core values. A commitment to continue to develop myself personally and professionally. Developing a great team of people who are aligned. To hear that people love working for me and value my contribution. Being an executive in a male-dominated environment. My contribution to the world is developing leadership training for people who are working for poor management. Adding value to companies and the community. Launching new products. Being profitable in a downturn economy. Empowering the team.

Any disappointments?

The government does not support the small business. The unexpected learning curve. Lack of resources and funding for small businesses. My level of risk aversion, being too conservative and missing the opportunity. The difficult, uninspired and intellectually limited mindset of some venture capitalists.

Move too quickly and make bad decisions. Don’t like to let people down, want to save everyone. Managing my own board of directors and the expectation to romance them and play politics. Passion overcame logic.

Lonely-at-the-top syndrome. I can’t turn the mind off. Not enough personal time.

Is there room for improvement?

Self-assessment, professional education and leadership training. Analyzing complex situations quickly. Get involved, be flexible and get outside my comfort zone. Improve communication skills and provide positive feedback on a regular basis. Being more decisive about people’s potential and be more realistic versus hopeful.

Make more efficient use of time and spend more time with the right people. I’m too optimistic. Be more patient, improve listening skills, delegate and be more adaptable. I take on too much responsibility. Communicate more, tell the truth and be more visible.  Sharpen the pencil. Get the team involved.

What are the most compelling issues you are dealing with?

Growing the company with a lack of resources and cashflow. Execution, marketing and business development. Recruiting the talent. Maintaining quality, culture and growth. Managing clients. Reorganization. Competition for resources. Value proposition to our clients. Being a trusted adviser. Gaining national attention. U.S. economy. Sustainable business growth.

On a personal note, what are your career goals?

Retirement. To be CEO of a multi-billion-dollar company. Very satisfied with my current role. Move the company forward. Develop a leadership pipeline. Grow the company. Be a profitable business, help the community and stay in the North Bay.


Jennifer Laxton is a senior consultant and coach with Executive Search Associates in Santa Rosa, www.esa.com. ESA is an executive search and consulting company. You can reach her at 707-217-4535 or jklaxton@esa.com.  If you have questions with regards to your situation, send an e-mail to askjen@esa.com.