Top Characteristics of Successful Independent Executives (Part 3)

independent executive

Independent executives that are on the top of their game have some traits in common

We understand that most independent executives are at the top of their field. They are the best at what they do and can solve most CEOs’ problems. So why isn’t anyone signing on the dotted line or referring more?
By far, doing one’s own business development and sales is the most challenging part of being an independent executive. We often hear, “It is so much easier to sell someone or something else than myself.” One would think that, because nobody knows an executive better than him- or herself, he or she would be the best person for the task.

So why are some executives really good at it while others struggle year after year?

Independent executives don’t become successful without having extensive knowledge and years of experience. However, there are some who go on to be more successful at securing opportunities than others. We have seen this more influenced by traits and characteristics than work history and methodology. Not all are needed at all times, and fortunately, most can be learned if they currently don’t sit on top of your “strengths” list. As obvious as most are, there is a fine line between executives who can check them off on a list versus those who leverage them for success.

Honesty of an executive

Honesty goes well beyond the obvious “do not lie” principle. Being honest with clients and oneself can have a ripple effect in many areas. First, executives should be honest with what type of work they want to do and what they are really good at. Find the passion and don’t lose sight of it.

While it is true that clients are attracted to those with impressive credentials, that doesn’t mean an executive should lie or embellish accomplishments. Exaggerating work experiences and skills might land a client but will put the executive in a position they won’t be qualified to deal with or take more time while they learn, causing issues for the client and damaging the executive’s reputation in the process. If executives are honest about their capabilities, they’ll find the clients best suited for them.

Next, an executive should not lose sight of why he or she was brought in by the client. Fear of losing a client due to telling them something the client doesn’t want to hear rarely ends well. We have seen executives not be upfront with their clients about what they see because it could cut an engagement short or upset them. When working with clients, they and their company come first, so tell them the reality and not just what they want to hear. Given the nature of the situations executives are brought in to address, leaving out key pieces of information or not speaking up can be just as harmful as a flat-out lie.

Bob was working with a company situation that involved internal conflicts with the investor group, the board, and the CEO. The company was losing millions of dollars, and the cause could not be agreed upon. The investor group was looking at selling the company, but the rest of the stakeholders felt otherwise. Bob was brought in as an interim CFO to provide due diligence on the situation and his expert opinion on what should be done. Bob was retained and given SOW direction by the investor group. Within a few days of starting on the engagement, the CEO started changing the SOW to nonrelated items. The items did not correspond to Bob’s original SOW created by the investor group; neither did they relate to his expertise. It was not difficult to realize there was no chance of a successful outcome in this situation. Rather than immediately contacting the investor group or bringing the situation up at the next board meeting, Bob instead chose to preserve his relationship with the CEO and the longevity of his engagement. In the end, after months of working on the engagement, this information did come to light, and the engagement was immediately terminated. The blame for the spiraling situation was then placed on Bob, and the individual who had referred him was left to do damage control. Bob never heard back from anyone in the investor group, the leadership, the board, nor the referral partner again.

Conversely, Craig was working with a similar situation in which he was brought in by a Private Equity (PE) firm for due diligence. Craig had specific industry expertise, and the PE firm wanted some outside perspective. The firm gave Craig no indication about their current position with the potential acquisition in order not to influence his findings and opinion. Craig was scheduled to spend about two weeks at the company. After four hours, Craig contacted the PE firm and, in one sentence, summed it all up: “This is not a good investment; don’t do it.” Craig went down the list and confirmed each item the PE firm had suspected but did not feel they had sufficient industry background to substantiate. Craig’s engagement was concluded at that point, along with a lasting positive impression, and received a number of ongoing assessment requests from the firm.

For part 1 of this blog, click here.

For part 2 of this blog, click here.


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