It’s a fact: average employee tenure is continuing to decrease. In most circumstances people who have had multiple short tenures are now far more acceptable candidates than they were even 10 years ago. However, it is wise for those in senior leadership or executive roles to be cautious in thinking this applies to their own circumstances. On the contrary, medium to long-term tenure (three to seven years) in leadership positions is imperative for reflection, development and evolution of leadership capability and to demonstrate the ability to execute on vision.
We have observed an increasing number of executives beginning their search for their next role having only had a couple of years (or less) leading their current team and organisation. Similarly, we have also seen many boards recruiting leaders without due care and diligence around tenure. The issue here is that company strategies typically span three to five, or even ten-year timeframes. Therefore, without seeing through a full strategy cycle, it is incredibly difficult to demonstrate an ability to devise and execute vision and strategy. In addition, by jumping ship before seeing through the consequences of their decisions, a leader robs themselves of the value in learning from missed opportunities and unexpected events, and developing resilience in the face of adversity.
Failure, Fear & Self-Awareness
Failure is an invaluable resource. It took James Dyson 15 years and 5,127 failed attempts before inventing the now world-renowned Dyson vacuum cleaner. Staying through the difficult times in a company at a high level can feel scary and vulnerable, because the company’s mistakes are your mistakes. Many executives quit prior to seeing out a complete strategy cycle due to the fear of having to front up to a degree of failure or under delivery. However, without failure, you can’t succeed. Rarely does anyone get it right the first time around. Developing the ability to self-reflect, and consider the decisions that have been made, whether they be wise, foolish, clever, or hasty, leads to mature leadership.
The reality is also that most boards will support another shot, if a leader demonstrates self-awareness, and has a well thought out forward plan. In most cases, not only will they support it but they will also value the action itself. No one wants to change a leader or leadership team. It’s a major pain in the you-know-what, damages reputations with investors shareholders, and it is always a long process to find a replacement.
No doubt it’s a lonely life at the top and sometimes the only way out can be to seek drastic change. However, one of the other benefits of tenure is the ability to innovate using past strategic findings. By experiencing multiple strategic cycles you’re better placed to notice patterns, investigate strategic results and analyse market and other factors that impact results. Ask; what went right, what went wrong, how can it be corrected, and what was my role in it all? Seeing the consequences of your choices sheds light on missteps, so you can re-adjust your plan with more knowledge and a stronger foundation.
In addition, as an executive, job satisfaction generally increases as you mature as a leader, knowing you’ve found solutions to difficult challenges, created successful strategies in the wake of failures, and guided your business to greener pastures. All the successful leaders I meet share one common truth. They know when to seek advice. They will nearly always have one or more mentors or coaches (generally from outside of their own organisation or even industry), plus will be active in the executive community. They not only belong to groups like The Executive Connection (TEC) and The CEO Institute, but they proactively contribute, sharing knowledge and expertise. Without a constant desire to learn and grow, the world will evolve without you, and leave you in its wake.
If you find yourself tasked with adding to or replacing a member of your executive team, there are also lessons to be learnt. Too often we observe organisations taking unnecessary business risks. It may be a different level, but recruiting is still recruiting, and red flags are still red flags. Don’t hire people who can’t show self-awareness, reflection and self-learning. This is obvious, but I’m constantly amazed by how often companies ignore these factors, which have previously been a staple of their recruitment process. It’s critical to look for a candidate with the leadership maturity to own their failures, and demonstrate self-reflection from those experiences. Asking the hard but basic questions are crucial. Why did they move from this company to that company? What was their strategy or reason behind the switch? How many strategic cycles did they see through? What did they learn from that role and what would they do differently going forward? What are their leadership principles and how are these played out? How have they demonstrated resilience?
If you are thinking about your own leadership journey or looking for a well-rounded leader to join your organisation - OnTalent provides executive recruitment and leadership development and coaching. Please feel free to get in touch with me directly or any of the fantastic OnTalent Team. Connecting people and purpose.