The Leadership Skills Companies Want

In this year’s Women on Boards report, Philadelphia’s Forum of Executive Women found that while board seats at companies across the region actually dropped, the portion of board seats held by women have increased by nine percent since 2006.  Over the same time period, the number of top executives who are women jumped by 25 percent.


While the progress for female leaders across the country is slow, there is a growing business case for change.  At Salveson Stetson Group, where we place executives in senior-level roles at corporations and non-profits, a number of our clients have expressed interest in hiring more women into senior leadership positions to diversify their talent pool.


What are companies looking for when they are targeting leadership hires, specifically women?


As an executive search consultant, I hear a common “wish list” when identifying talented female leaders.  First and foremost, candidates need to have a proven track record in managing large, multi-site and global teams.  Secondly, they need to have strong talent management skills as well as possess the necessary emotional intelligence to effectively navigate in their roles.  The ability for a leader to juggle all of these responsibilities across a company is a tall order.


Many emerging female leaders continually ask for advice on ways to accelerate their development.  I have highlighted several recommendations that may facilitate being considered for future executive leadership roles:


  • Take on a stretch assignment.  If your boss is suggesting you move into a role that may sound too challenging, don’t second-guess yourself.  It may be time to move outside your comfort zone.
  • Broaden your background.  Accept roles across functions.  If you have a marketing background, move into a sales, operations, human resources or general management role.  The more diversity of experience, the more attractive you are for future assignments.
  • Volunteer for company-wide committees.  These committees have other cross-functional leaders and employees.  It may potentially expand your connections within the company and expose you to new experiences.
  • Network.  Identify other men and women in leadership roles both within your company and outside of it.  Meet for coffee or lunch and get to know them.  Inform them of your interests.
  • Join a non-profit board.  Align yourself with a mission that you value.  You will quickly expand your knowledge on a different “business” and develop relationships with other leaders.  You also may be surprised by how rewarding of an experience it can be.


Women are traditionally very effective at multi-tasking and getting things done.  To continue the upward trend of more women in leadership roles, it is important for us to occasionally move away from our day-to-day work and build meaningful connections with others.  By focusing on developing companies’ leadership “wish list” skills, women will be able to move the needle a bit faster and shape a more balanced executive suite.