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Economic Conditions Don’t Dictate Your Employability

By Jim Leverette

“May you live in interesting times” is a phrase that carries a good deal of irony. Whether the current era, with its ups and downs, can be viewed as good or bad is best left to historians, but it certainly is interesting.

In these business conditions, it’s wise to know what can continuously generate career momentum. As a recruiter, I’ve noticed that, in good and bad times, executives who have developed certain personal qualities will easily progress up the ladder of success, while those who haven’t developed these traits or have them to only a small degree never reach the same level. These characteristics include authenticity, leadership, resilience and integrity.

In some people, these qualities are natural gifts. In others, they need to be refined. Whether they inherited or developed these traits, standouts have done a better job of polishing them to full sheen. Here’s how those who have risen to the top of corporate America are different from those who will always remain in secondary jobs.


First and foremost, the most successful executives are always genuine. The higher executives advance, the less dependent they are on anything other than just being themselves. Genuineness doesn’t need props. Being genuine helps you to connect powerfully on a personal level, regardless of your background or station in life.

Authenticity is important at the interview stage. How a candidate speaks is more telling than what he or she says. Before offering you a job, a company will want to explore whether the chemistry is right and if your style fits the organization. Candidates who receive offers (and are clear about whether they want to accept them) know how to relax and be themselves during the interview process. Ideally, both sides can see each other’s true colors.

My firm once presented an executive with strong technical credentials as a finalist for a job as heir-apparent to the chief information officer of a Fortune 500 company. The candidate needed to show in interviews that he could speak in terms everyone on the management team could understand and build consensus within the enterprise. But he failed on both counts. He used jargon and couldn’t get “off the stage” during his interviews. The other executives ended up wondering who he really was and what working with him would be like. He was eliminated from consideration.


It’s common for successful executives to be servant-leaders. Most people believe that leaders operate from a position of power and control, but the opposite usually is true. The more an executive leads, the more he or she serves. True leaders accept responsibility for everything.

Successful leaders who understand that corporate growth doesn’t occur on its own feel responsible to their communities. They often are involved in civic or nonprofit causes. In this vein, a large manufacturer wanted to hire a president to improve product quality, employee productivity and company profitability. But it specified that the new hire should be able to serve as a community leader as well.

Leaders help shape change. While executives and employers should share similar approaches to and attitudes about change, companies want top managers to have original ideas that complement the corporate culture. They should be able to move organizations forward while helping to reduce the discomfort and ambiguity of transition periods.


Another quality star managers share is the ability to face and overcome adversity. Some view the layoffs during a recession as a Darwinian purge of the corporate herds. But survivors weren’t always the strongest and most intelligent. Instead, those who kept jobs knew how to leverage their abilities to achieve corporate objectives.

During uncertain times, it’s tempting to focus on yourself. Actually, you should be looking outward. “A”-players excel in this ability. They focus on the bigger picture, the end result. This ability hardens their determination to overcome anything that stands in the way of their achieving these objectives.

In this sense, successful executives are comfortable with uncertainty. They don’t say “Forward, march!” without leading the way. Like others who have lived through economic dips, such managers know how to use business challenges to shape and strengthen an employer’s edge. This been-there-done-that experience is respected at the leadership table in any organization.


Character is critical. As we’ve seen too often lately, some executives easily blur the lines of right and wrong in business. But true leaders have a high ethical code that governs their behavior. They’re the ones we look to when moral order breaks down.

It’s easy to spot executives with integrity. They seem poised and never out of control in the face of challenge or uncertainty. They use “straight talk” on how they plan to keep and honor promises. They respect and acknowledge others’ contributions and, in this way, get the extra mile from the people around them.

Regardless of function or the prevailing market conditions, these intangibles separate leaders from the rest of the crowd. Ask yourself if you have these characteristics when you’re considering making another move up the corporate ladder.

— Mr. Leverette is president of Randall James Monroe Inc., a Dallas-based global executive-search consultancy.