Getting Leadership Team Composition Right

By Jack McGuinness

As we have mentioned in other articles, leadership teams are not and should not be like any other team in an organization. Knowingly or unknowingly, they create the conditions for their organizations to either thrive or flounder. Because the stakes are so high it is absolutely critical for CEOs to get the composition right.

Executives at many companies rise the ranks in large part because of their past accomplishments and functional expertise; sales results for the head of sales, successful product launches for the CMO, balance sheet and capital raises for the CFO, technological innovation for the CTO. Advancement is also often a reward for putting in hard work and years of service or forming the necessary political bonds with the right senior influencers. Functional track record, work ethic and relationship skills are important for any senior executive, but are insufficient when an executive is asked to be part of an effective senior leadership team.

Great leadership teams establish and steer an organization’s strategic direction and set the tone for how their organizations operate. In normal circumstances this is challenging work, but today’s uncertain and complex environment requires leadership teams to be much more than a collection of talented senior executives. To be successful, leadership teams have no other option than to leverage each other’s talent so they can navigate the uncertainty in a manner that fuels innovation, enables operational agility and inspires confidence.

So, what does it take to be a great leadership team member? In our experience and in speaking with many CEOs, there are four unique skills that all senior leaders must have or at least be working to develop to be great leadership team members. These are foresight, management of complexity, a greater good focus, and modeling values.


7 business skills every IT leader needs to succeed

By John Edwards

The days when CIOs could glide into a long-term career based solely on their technical abilities are rapidly fading.

“It’s no longer enough for IT leaders to be tech experts,” warns Bob Hersch, a principal at Deloitte Consulting. The best-in-class CIOs of today are also business savvy, using their knowledge to embed IT as a service capability.

“This business-centric approach integrates IT into an overall business strategy,” he adds.

The best way any IT leader can augment his or her current technical knowledge — and strengthen their long-term career prospects — is by committing to acquiring the following seven essential business skills.

1. An entrepreneurial mindset

CIOs, regardless of their organization’s size, have to act like entrepreneurs, operating with speed, agility, and ever higher levels of passion, empathy, and creativity, advises Ram Nagappan, CIO at global investment firm BNY Mellon Pershing.

Disruption is the new constant. “Competition is coming from all corners of the market, with fintechs and startups moving at light speed,” Nagappan says. To meet competition head on, CIOs must think like entrepreneurs and act as agents of change. “They need to constantly think about how their business could be disrupted at any point in time and how they can creatively deploy technology to get ahead of potential disruptors and future-proof the business,” he suggests.



As a part of our talent acquisition engagements, we ask our clients how they define “top talent” and how they would assess those traits in the interview process. Reflecting on the insightful comments we hear every day, we thought there would be great value in a new blog in which senior executives/thought leaders share their “Take on Talent.”

This is the twenty-eighth in a series of blogs/interviews with senior executives who are thought leaders in the areas of Talent Acquisition, Career Development and Leadership who will share their perspectives on this ever present question.



Peter Allen serves as SVP for Sales & Marketing for Benefitfocus, a leading SaaS solution provider to Employers and Health Insurers for the enrollment and administration of employee benefits.  Benefitfocus is the platform used by over 25 million Americans to engage with the benefits industry.

Leveraging the experiences derived from long career centered on “as a service” forms of contracting, Peter has built and led growth-focused organizations across several businesses.  Notably, Peter was EVP for Global Sales & Marketing for CSC (now DXC) when it was a $17B/year IT services business with a sales and marketing team of 3,000 professionals.  He also led the Global Data Management business for Iron Mountain, trusted by thousands of organizations to preserve and leverage digital assets.

An active learner, Peter was CEO of Data Dimensions, Managing Partner of TPI (now ISG), Managing Director for Alvarez & Marsal, and served on public and private company Boards of Directors.


Please share with us the top five characteristics (in priority order, first to fifth) of the most talented people you have encountered during your career, and your definition of each.


Attitude with Aptitude.  The best leaders and performers balance their attitudes (which is a matter of style) with their aptitudes (a matter of substance).  One, without the other, is an incomplete professional.  Regardless the role – from most junior to the senior-most executive – effectiveness in business relies on a worldview that comes through respectful discourse coupled with mastery of a domain.  The best mentors are those who can teach through command of a functional expertise, delivered through constructive attitudes and engagement.  Those who understand that attitudes are largely in the eye of the beholder tend to be the most balanced.

Empathetic Sense of Purpose.  The ability to ‘walk in the shoes of another’ as a mantra for dealing with colleagues and customers is one of those features that separate the highly successful from the contenders.  Many try to fake their way through empathy, only to be seen for their true mettle.  But, using genuine caring about the purpose and condition of another, coupled with a defined sense of one’s own purpose and values, is a recipe for high performance.  I hire people who care, and who also have internal drive for which they are proud.

High Listen-to-Talk Ratio.  Balancing the intake and outflow of knowledge, opinions, perspectives and direction is a precious skill.  Often, leaders tend to believe that they must answer every question or provide specific and precise direction. The most accomplished business people I have encountered are genuinely inquisitive.  They ask great questions, frequently. Yes, they provide cogent and compelling communications, but they do so using the context of input received readily.

Undaunted by Challenge.  Few businesses exist that aren’t faced with material challenges over time.  Some are internally generated problems and some are market-derived obstacles.  The most talented people aren’t dissuaded by these headwinds.  Rather, they recognize that the challenges form the frames for creating artful solutions.  In fact, many of the best colleagues I’ve encountered would seek out opportunities for material improvements if there were no obvious burning platform.  Challenges force decisions around change, and change moves the needle.  Agents of change are generally up to most challenges.

Pragmatic, with Data.  In the technology industry, big ideas abound.  Among the most valued and celebrated talents are those who participate in innovations with a high degree of practical vision supported by a fact base that yields organized decision making.  Neither through conservatism nor unbridled optimism, the critical talent knows how to consider a spectrum of options with a blend of instinct and abject data to earn consensus.  Pragmatism conveys confidence.


How do you communicate these characteristics to your HR and senior management team?

These characteristics are not just applicable to hiring decisions.  They also apply to organizational design and execution.  So, the role of an HR Business Partner as a trusted extension of a business leader to foster the application of these sorts of cultural and talent development principles is essential.  The HR function is typically multi-disciplinary, so having a nexus of culture and development that serves as the extension of the business leader is critical.  There are few better means of communicating these characteristics than through role models that exemplify the cultural and technical/functional blend.

As for senior leadership, there is no better way to communicate the importance and value of these characteristics than through the talent that is hired and deployed.  Any leader is best represented by the caliber of team s/he builds and sends onto the field of business.  Strong and relevant talent is easily recognized and readily celebrated.  It’s important to own the cultural sphere of one’s organization and ensure that it reflects the style and commitment of its leader.


How do you handle challenges to the existing culture by talent you have brought in?

Assimilation through diversity is an important leadership tenant.  By laying the groundwork for a diverse team … where different views and perspectives are actively encouraged … allows for hiring talent that is empowered to apply individual expertise to any function.  We need that, so we must create permission for it to exist.  Consistency and persistence in the guardrails that frame the expectations for collaborative participation is essential.  This is why my five characteristics acknowledge balance in expression.

Leaders, at every level, need to own the culture they create and foster.  They need to set the examples to be followed, and they need to be transparent around what behaviors are keys to professional success.  The most skilled talent that lacks the value-based traits framed here is a cancer to be removed with haste.  Conversely, strong values provide an uplift to everyone in the organization.  The essential ingredients are transparency, candor, feedback, and balance.

Why Some Employees Improve Their Creativity and Others Don’t

by Ella Miron-Spektor

How our beliefs about creativity explain our ability to improve and sustain it over time.

Innovation is vital to business, now maybe more than ever before. Firms have been wildly creative in developing breakthrough technologies and adapting to remote work. To successfully adapt to any change, firms rely on their workforce’s creativity. Designers and developers are hired for their creativity, but “non-creative” workers can also come up with excellent, innovative solutions to their daily problems. How can we tap into this creativity at all levels, even on the shop floor?

In recent research forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Psychology, my co-authors, Dana Vashdi, Hadas Gopher and I found that when given the opportunity and encouragement, even veteran manufacturing workers can improve their creativity.

The setting for our study was a manufacturer of advanced electro-optic technologies, with an average employee age of 50. Most workers had been employed at the plant for more than 20 years and many were immigrants. In 2007, the company launched an innovation platform that encouraged workers to suggest ideas for improving their workplace or workflow. Managers reviewed the suggestions and provided feedback, and a panel of experts rated the new ideas on their originality, usefulness and feasibility. Workers could learn and improve their ideas, and suggest better ones the next time. With access to this data and employee surveys, we wanted to understand why some are better than others at improving and maintaining their creativity over time.


Synchrony’s Rick Hartnack: ‘Remote Work Model Is A Competitive Advantage’

By C.J. Prince

Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon has made no secret of his disdain for remote work, saying recently that, despite the hype, it is “not the new normal” and that he expects to bring nearly all employees back to the physical office by the end of the year, as vaccination rollout expands.

He’s not alone with those plans. A survey of more than 350 CEOs and HR and finance leaders found 70% planning to have employees back in the office by the fall. Other corporate leaders have been vocal about the shortcomings of the virtual office. Amazon’s incoming chief Andy Jassy said it hurts innovation. “You just don’t riff the same way.” Barclays CEO Jes Staley added: “It’s remarkable it’s working as well as it is, but I don’t think it’s sustainable.”

At Synchrony, on the other hand, the leadership has learned that bricks and mortar are really not essential to either employee or customer satisfaction. Margaret Keane, who last week handed the CEO reins to Brian Doubles, called the reluctance to move to remote work “a failure of imagination on the part of leaders everywhere.”

Richard Hartnack, Synchrony’s founding chairman, agrees. The company announced several months ago that, going forward, it would be moving to a hybrid model that would allow employees to choose whether to work remotely. That decision was based, in part, on a survey of employees. “We felt it was important to get their perspective, so we did, and what we found was a lot of people—particularly frontline employees in direct contact with customers—a high percentage of those folks wanted to be able to have work-at-home as an option and to have access to the office from time to time,” says Hartnack. “But they wanted to have the ability to do that without concern about it being career threatening or in any way seen as a negative.”