When discussing the most important skills for a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) to possess, you hear the same credentials again and again. It’s important that a CEO has leadership experience, technical expertise, administrative skills and a strong record of managing financial resources wisely, among other traits. These are all important qualifications; however, it’s easy to overlook another essential element in qualifying them to lead a company: their professional network.
Why is a strong professional network such an important thing to seek out when hiring a CEO? Because it says a lot about both the person and the skills they possess—things that may not be reflected clearly elsewhere. An executive’s network tells the story of where they’ve been, who they know, what they’ve learned and how they cultivate and maintain relationships to create a competitive advantage for themselves.
Let’s explore the diverse impact a CEO’s professional network can have on a business, and why this often-overlooked component deserves more attention.
Connections Serve a Vital Role in Business
We’ve all heard the adage, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” In business, this certainly holds true.
Hiring a CEO with a strong professional network can have a huge impact on a business’ access to opportunities. Leadership connections can also help increase its reach across industries and demographics, and even play a role in improving the bottom line. This is because establishing and sustaining strong and diverse professional connections allows CEOs to stay informed on potential opportunities they may not learn about on their own. Beyond that, their network may help them get their foot in the doors they may not have had access to through their company alone.
For example, a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review showed that well-connected CEOs boosted their firm’s value by providing greater corporate innovation and successful diversification of M&As. Over time, this leads to increased company growth at a greater rate than their less well-connected peers.
Interpersonal Skills Cultivate Strong Networks
Not only does a strong professional network carry desirable possibilities for business growth, it also tells you a lot about the interpersonal and social skills of a CEO. These are two qualities that are sometimes difficult to clearly convey on paper, or even during the interview process.
To succeed in the C-suite, a CEO needs to be genuinely good with people. Good listeners, persuasive speakers, strong communicators and those who can empathize with others’ experiences are what companies prize most in their leaders these days. Many large, multinational organizations are prioritizing social skills like these over more traditionally valued administrative or operational abilities, in fact. This is because, as the workplace becomes more complex, diverse, and technology-driven, these skills prepare CEOs for more dynamic collaboration and coordination. In our ever-evolving workforce, interpersonal skills reign supreme.
How to Evaluate Your CEO’s Network
Now that we’ve established the importance of a CEO’s interpersonal skills and connections in the business world… how do you actually evaluate something as difficult to discern as a professional network? Here are a few ways to approach determining the strength and breadth of someone’s professional community:
- LinkedIn: Look at candidate profiles on LinkedIn to see their connections, as well as how actively they engage with them. What can you glean from their profiles? Are the demographics of their connections diverse or uniform? Who are their primary vs. secondary connections? LinkedIn is the de-facto place to begin assessing relationships.
- Past Positions: Where have they worked in the past, and who have they stayed in contact with from that organization? Where are their former colleagues working today? Some organizations hold strong repute and, by comparison, the connections from that job can indicate a powerful network.
- Third-Party Connections: What organizations have they partner with in the past? What vendors do they have rapport with or positive experiences with? When it comes to leveraging resources outside the company, a CEO’s network is stronger when it includes relationships with sales reps, BizDev and account management professionals at top firms.
- Access to Resources: Consider the key resources your company needs access to in order to grow. How well connected to those resources is the candidate in question? How readily might they be able to connect to those resources if not?
Use the information presented to help you determine whether a candidate is the right fit for your company. While this isn’t an exact science, these steps will help you learn more about the interpersonal skills and network of your candidate.
You Can Judge a CEO by the Company They Keep
There are many important considerations in selecting the right CEO; make sure you include their professional network in your evaluation. Though historically overlooked, the skills needed to sustain strong relationships are growing more and more essential in today's workforce. Invest in your company’s future growth by ensuring your C-suite is armed with the skills needed to keep you moving forward.