Who Are 2021’s Must-Have Hires? High-Performing Leaders

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that seismically disruptive change can happen at any time and the quicker an organization can adapt and power on, the greater the chances of survival.

The other lesson learned? The lack of adaptability is a sure path to peril. Some examples of success and failures…

During the height of the pandemic shutdown, doctors had no idea how to safely see patients. Leaders at several of Chicago’s largest health systems had their organizations rapidly pivot to telemedicine visits to ensure patients could continue to see their physicians. This was a major win. Social distancing was observed, patients had access to doctors, and hospitals and physicians stayed in business. Another Chicago health system was slow to adopt telemedicine and patients and the system suffered.

Chicago’s restaurants have been extremely hard hit. Many moved to a carryout business model, with some high-performing restaurateurs doing it very, very well. The most-nimble rapidly moved menus, ordering, payment transactions, pickup and delivery options entirely online. Now some Chicago restaurants are being even more creative, implementing an online platform called DwellSocial which allows them to fulfill as many as 100 orders at one time. Another major win.

Some industries could not quickly adapt. With school and university cafeterias shutdown entirely and the hospitality industry hobbling along, fresh produce suppliers were blindsided. With no alternative markets or creative solutions, farmers were forced to destroy their harvests. With hunger across America, that was a fail.

We’re now a year into the pandemic and some companies are thriving having pivoted their business models or made other substantive changes while others are struggling. What’s going on here? I have the answer:

High-performing leaders who rise to the occasion help businesses thrive.

That’s it in a nutshell. To thrive in challenging, rapidly changing environments, you need leaders who can roll with the punches rather than roll into a ball. I know. As someone who recruits top talent for companies in specialized industries like plastics, chemicals, packaging, and food processing, clients are telling me: I need high-performing leaders.

And not just at the C-suite level. Managers, directors, and other senior levels must have the ability to lead through change. While certainly these industries also require relevant hard skill technical knowledge and experience, but soft skills are absolutely critical to leading through disruption. When Kaizen HR Solutions is recruiting for high-performing leaders, here’s what I look for:

Has held challenging leadership roles and is not afraid to talk about outcomes.

When recruiting for demanding leadership roles, I want to see more than a title on a resume. I want the back story. What were your challenges? How did you handle them? What have been your biggest career wins and losses? How did you continue past them?

You see a title only tells you so much. A description on a resume tells you a bit more. One-on-one conversations, even Zoom-enabled conversations, is where you identify high-performing leaders. The best will willingly share past challenges and how they worked through them. They’re not afraid to reveal failures and next steps. Self-awareness is a big part of the puzzle. On the flip side, less qualified candidates will dance around holes in their resume, gloss over details of past roles and share only positives. As a pragmatist, I want to hear it all; the good, the bad and the ugly and go from there.

Views disruption as an opportunity rather than a barrier.

Disruption sparks innovation and progress. Think about COVID-19 and the need for a vaccine. In ordinary times, it would take the pharmaceutical industry years to develop and launch a vaccine. Thanks to the federal government’s Warp Speed project, three companies developed and launch three effective COVID-19 vaccines in a year. How did they do it? The right leadership, funding, removal of red tape, and above all, a drive to solve one of the world’s largest problems in decades.

When I’m recruiting for a high-performing leader, I look for the optimist, a person who embraces change as an opportunity to find a better way. These are people who like making things happen, recognize they don’t have all of the answers but are willing to look for them, enjoy troubleshooting, and who rise to the occasion—whatever that occasion may be. It’s all about attitude.

Challenges, encourages and supports team members.

Change is a real grind and leaders need all the help they can get. High-performing leaders know that when the rubber meets the road, you need a team around you who are loyal, engaged and will fight for the win. Therefore, top leaders make time to build relationships with their people, encourage creating thinking, give people responsibilities, encourage open communications, and reward contributions. When I hear a candidate describe their team’s contributions, my heart warms. Here’s a person who values others and gives credit where credit is due. Who uses the pronoun us/we rather than they/them.

 Acts, Measures, Adjusts and Moves on.

If you know a leader who’s enjoyed a straight road to success, I’d like to meet them. The truth is high-performing leaders appreciate the fact that real progress is measured by unexpected left turns, zigzags and double-backs before getting back on track. When implementing new ideas, they are rarely perfect the first time so it’s important to go in with eyes wide open and a willingness to adjust and optimize. When speaking with candidates, I want to hear about journeys they’ve been on and how they led or managed through. Did they look at the data? What did it tell them? How did they react? How long did it take to react? These insights help me identify high performers.

Ability to Prioritize One’s Own Needs.

I recently watched the movie Kon-Tiki on Netflix and the main character is an adventurer who can’t swim but  recruits a bunch of men to sail thousands of miles across shark-infested seas on a fairly rickety raft. Meanwhile, his wife and kids were stuck at home in Norway. While it made for great drama, I’m not sure he’d be at the top of my recruiting list. He was definitely not into self-care or family time. The best leaders also prioritize personal needs such as one’s health and personal time with loved ones. Unplugging from work is essential to maintaining  the high levels of physical and emotional energy necessary to perform through stressful times. I respect and look for people who know when to say yes and no.

Are you a high-performing leader or believe you have the potential to tackle a more challenging role? Would you be interested in career opportunities that are seeking these attributes? I’d love to chat with you and answer any questions that you have. Email me, Rose Dorta, managing director of Kaizen HR Solutions, here.

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