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Top Headhunter Says CEOs Have To Unlearn How They Have Operated


Finding top CEOs for organisations around the world is the challenging task faced every day by Rajeev Vasudeva, global CEO of leading headhunting company, Egon Zehnder. It’s challenging, he says, because no longer is past performance the best predictor of future success. The task of leadership is changing so rapidly.

In an interview with Anne Hyland in The Financial Review, 28-29 March, 2015, he says that  while leadership  is the most discussed topic today there is no clear answer to what makes a good leader.

He uses four markers in selecting CEOs, and many of us may be surprised at these – curiosity, insight, engagement, resilience.

  • Curiosity is about being open to constantly asking questions and learning, never assuming that you know it all and then becoming stale and churning out the same responses. He looks for people who have a curiosity about the big picture issues that may impact on the business, that may not even be in the same industry sector.
  • Insight refers to the ability to connect all the dots and distill information at a time when leaders are overloaded with information.
  • Engagement is the challenge of managing creatively the enormous diversity in the modern workplace, the mix of cultures and generations, in an inclusive and collaborative way.
  • Resilience. “The new normal”, he says, “is that the world is going to be volatile”, and CEOs need to be able to demonstrate that they can move with that volatility and manage change.

What was also interesting for me, as someone who helps leaders and managers develop and enhance their soft leadership skills, was the importance he placed on CEOs having well-developed self-awareness. This is becoming one of the most highly sought after soft leadership skills. He emphasised that CEOs ”must be motivated by a bigger purpose than just themselves” and be able to think through the consequences of their actions.

Vasudeva’s greatest concern is that many organisations are still using traditional tools, that no longer work, to evaluate candidates, and hence getting the wrong person. He also says that CEOs have to unlearn much of how they previously operated that if they want to remain in their positions achieving success, because “what got you here is unlikely to keep you here or get you further.”

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