What are the key behaviours we’re seeing from senior leaders at present?

Elle Robinson our consultant managing the role
Posting date: 05 October 2022

The behaviours we expect to see in senior leaders are changing. Just a few decades ago, a CEO would be expected to have strong technical and planning skills and a solid record of managing financial resources. They were archetypal - typically white men with degrees from top universities. And times were slower; there were fewer decisions to make simply because the world didn’t move at today’s rapid pace.

But it’s not only the times that have changed. Crises on a global scale, from the dotcom bust and the housing collapse to the coronavirus pandemic, the war in Ukraine and rising inflation, mean that we look for different characteristics in our leaders. Coupled with that is the greater awareness of diversity, equity and inclusion, and the better understanding of how a strong culture can drive business growth.

3 key characteristics of senior leaders

At Hanover, we recently conducted some research around leadership behaviours, and asked our clients, “What behaviours do successful leaders in your organisation demonstrate?”


The three key behaviours that came through most predominantly are:


1. Inclusive leadership – linked to collaboration and both seeing and valuing different perspectives

2. Being open, honest and authentic – linked to building trust within the senior leadership team and the rest of the organisation

3. Drive and results focus – linked to a leader’s ability to deliver and execute effectively


We have also commissioned some research which has shown results that tie in with our findings. This research found that key traits of leaders include being outcome-focused (logical, competitive, and able to execute and deliver) and discipline-driven (having a purpose and being structured and reliable).

Anecdotally, our executive search team has spoken to a number of clients who say they are looking for senior leaders who exhibit traits like collaboration and team focus, with support, trust and engagement underpinning this focus. They also want people who are empathetic and emotionally intelligent, and who are curious and good communicators, which is especially important in firms with hybrid working policies.

How the pandemic created a need for more empathetic leaders

Taking just one recent crisis on its own, the pandemic, we can see how leadership characteristics needed to shift just within a relatively short period of time. Pre-covid, senior leaders were looking at the big picture. They had a strong commercial lens and were focussed on business purpose. 

Once the pandemic hit, we all had to take a more executional, transactional and pragmatic course - senior leaders had to think about their people, but they also needed to make sure the wheels of the business kept turning. And post-pandemic, we’re seeing the leadership profile shifting back towards people and the big picture perspective.

To tie in with the shift back to people focus, communication, empathy and emotional intelligence were also strongly mentioned in the Hanover research, as the fourth and fifth behaviours demonstrated by successful leaders in companies of our survey respondents, and are behaviours required in the wake of the pandemic.

These behaviours are also commonly associated with female leaders - there’s a lot of research that backs this up - so it’s probably not surprising to learn that the number of women at board level in the UK’s largest companies is increasing. In fact, the UK is now second internationally for women’s representation on boards at FTSE 100 level, with nearly 40% of positions now held by women.

How to find an extraordinary senior leader who exhibit key behaviours

But during what is possibly the hardest and most complex time for leadership ever, how do you find leaders who exhibit all these key behaviours?

How do you find someone who is flexible and agile, who understands others’ perspectives, focuses on relationships, collaboration and teamwork - and who is also results and growth driven, prioritises outcomes and is competitive enough to deliver?

They are certainly out there - I talk to them every day. And if you want to talk to them too, just

get in touch with me and let’s set up some time for a call.

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