3 Keys to Developing the New Must-Have Executive Skill

By Mary Ottman

In this three-part blog series, we will cover the three keys to developing the new must-have skill for executives.

If you had to guess, what would you think the new must-have executive skill, according to the June 2017 edition of Harvard Business Review, might be?

  • International experience?
  • Proven abilities in successful change management?
  • Multigenerational team development skills?
  • Effective communication skills?

Those are great choices, but according to the article, “To Build Your Resilience, Ask Yourself These Two Questions” (Rao, 2017, para. 1), resilience is the new must-have executive skill.

And Dr. Rao is not alone.  Dr. Rosabeth Moss Kanter states that, based on her research with great companies, “the real skill is the resilience to climb out of the hole and bounce back.” (Kanter, 2013, para. 2)

Resilience can be defined as the ability to quickly bounce back from failure and continue undeterred on your original course with forward momentum.  That definition of resilience sounds remarkably similar to the definition of “perseverance”, a theme at the 2018 IAW Power Networking Event in Houston, TX.

@everitt225. “Old Fashioned.  Sharp Shooter.” 2014. depositphotos.com. Web. 10 May 2018.

It is truly mind-boggling to think about the toughness that has been passed down to us through our DNA from previous generations of women.  Whether our ancestors conquered the Wild West, won the battle for survival in the Amazonian jungle, survived the brutal European winter climate or the punishing heat of the African Sahara Desert, we have an amazing heritage bred into our DNA.

Since only the strong survive, the fact that we are here is testament to the fact that we are not just survivors.  All women carry the DNA to not only survive but thrive!

The key to thriving, whether our obstacles are the physical tests of endurance our ancestors faced or the mental challenges of today’s fast paced workplace, is developing resilience.

Why is Resilience So Important Today?

In today’s work environment, we are stretched and pummeled with urgent requests for our attention from the moment we enter the office until the time we leave.  Many of us, particularly those aspiring to leadership roles, also check our work phones constantly and deal with the issues that arise outside of work hours.

Real Talk Moment: When we moms are handling those work issues after hours, we are probably also getting “the stink-eye” from our kids or our significant other for spending so much time on the work phone.  Enter the Mom Guilt!

As women, we tend to wear the additional hats of:

  • Mom
  • Wife
  • Daughter
  • Caregiver
  • Volunteer
  • Taxi service
  • Inventory control specialist (i.e. we buy the groceries)
  • All the other roles that we play in our lives

Being able to maintain the ability to flex, pivot and rebound when we are hit with stress and failure in both our personal and professional lives, is absolutely critical to both our health and our ability to perform at our best.

@wavebreakermedia. “Brunette looking worried over bills.” 2012. Depositphotos.com. Web. 10 May 2018.

So, What Are These Keys?

What can we do to develop the resilience that will allow us to remain poised and flexible in times of extreme stress?

Key #1) Lead with Authenticity
Leading with authenticity is an important part of building resilience.  To be authentic requires knowing yourself.  By knowing your values, how you want to be perceived, and how you want to be remembered, you can lead by making decisions that are in alignment and also mirror your values to the outside world through the way you act and the decisions you make.

When you act out of alignment with your values (i.e. such as Honesty, Integrity, Achievement, Fairness, Timeliness), it is a drain on your mental energy and a drain on the morale of those around you.  In addition, you are making decisions with metrics that do not track to your internal values, which requires more of your focused attention to remain consistent.

In addition, our colleagues and employees can become confused about what we consider to be important, and this can cause morale and trust problems.  As a quick example, if you expect your employees to only take 30 minutes for lunch and you take a longer lunch, they may feel it is unfair that you have one standard for yourself and another for them.

It is difficult to self-diagnose when we are acting outside of our values, but it is not impossible.

One method you can use to self-diagnose requires a healthy amount of courage and moral fortitude

This is a tough skill for many, but if you are reading this, I know you have standards for excellence.   You want to be your best, and this is, well, key!

If you truly want to know what you can do better to lead authentically in accordance with your values, ASK!

ASK your colleagues, ASK your team and ASK your leadership for feedback.

We can feel extremely vulnerable when we open ourselves up to potential criticism.  However, if we view this information as constructive feedback rather than negative criticism, it will be a bit less daunting.

The process of requesting feedback can be tricky, and you need to realize the politics involved here. 

Your direct leadership already has performance evaluations with you.  In addition, most supervisors tend to avoid conflict.   If they see issues they consider troubling, but the issues are not up to the level of docking you points on an appraisal, most would tend to not bring up these types of deficiencies.

Depending on the relationship you have with them, you may not want to ask your direct supervisor for this type of feedback.  If you decide to go ahead, this can be quite illuminating.  The good news is that now you know where they feel your problem areas lie and you can decide what to do next.

A better approach might be to ask people in leadership positions that you know and trust for feedback.  Perhaps you have a mentor or a previous supervisor who would be willing to provide you feedback. You could ask for advice in handling future scenarios with them.  First tell them your values.  Perhaps your values are integrity and honesty.

For example, you might want to ask their advice on how to navigate the process of informing employees of a merger.  Receiving this leadership feedback on when and how to communicate status of an impending merger so that employees do not feel duped or at risk of losing their jobs unannounced is critical to retaining your knowledgeable workforce throughout merger activities.

You could also ask your coworkers and team members for feedback on actions you can take to improve.  Talk with them about your values and ask them to hold you accountable if they see you slipping off track.  You can improve significantly and much faster than if you spend years scratching your head about what to do if your 360° survey feedback indicates your colleagues and employees feel you could do better.

The key is to ask people to call you out, in a respectful and helpful way, when you act out of alignment with your values.

What to do when feedback is hurtful

Real Talk Moment: It is IMPERATIVE that you do not punish the messenger.  When you are given feedback, do not defend or provide excuses.

Merely say, “Thank you for sharing that with me.  I appreciate it.”  That’s it.  Stay quiet, and you may hear more. 

People will dribble out feedback to you slowly to see how you react.  Trust me, they probably will not start with the behaviors that are hurting your chances for promotion the most.

That is what you need to dig in and find out, and the sooner the better!

People need to trust that they can be real with you.  Don’t let them down by getting upset or holding grudges.  I’ve seen it happen, and it does not create a healthy environment.

When someone gives you feedback that causes you to feel defensive or hurt, let those feelings pass through you.  Remain calm and remind yourself that this feedback tells you that you are not being perceived in the way you intended.  This person’s opinion might be hurtful to you now but hearing this allows you to know how you are doing.  Now you can assess and change your behaviors so that others interpret your actions to mean what you intended.

The more you can remain detached from the feedback and not take it personally, the more feedback you will receive and that is a good thing.

The faster you become aware of your ineffective leadership behaviors, the sooner you can improve them and become a stronger leader for yourself, your team and your organization.

Coming up:

Stay tuned for “3 Keys to Developing the New Must-Have Executive Skill: Part II” where we will talk about the second key.  Key #2 is a HUGE skill, especially for the ladies.  Mastering the leadership skill in the next installment of our series literally changed my career trajectory.  You do not want to miss it!


Rao, Srikumar. “To Build Your Resilience, Ask Yourself These Two Questions.” Harvard Business Review, 13 June 2017, hbr.org/2017/06/to-build-your-resilience-ask-yourself-two-simple-questions.

Kanter, Rosabeth Moss. “Surprises Are the New Normal; Resilience Is the New Skill.” Harvard Business Review, 17 July 2013, hbr.org/2013/07/surprises-are-the-new-normal-r.

About the Author
Mary Ottman is an established, well-trained women’s empowerment and leadership expert with a focus on systems for speakers. After a successful Army civilian career, where she served as an executive leader to notable accolades, and single-handedly turning around the diminished gains of her personal health, finances and lifestyle, she is expanding her life management guidance and structured offerings to everyday entrepreneurs, and overwhelmed, but purpose-filled, women. 

Mary is known for her direct, yet gentle nature, compassion and signature system called The CLEAR Method: a multidimensional approach to revamping existing limiting mindsets and streamlining daily processes for maximum forward momentum, goal achievement, and profitability.

Mary invites you to take her complimentary Clarity assessment to quickly illuminate areas where you may benefit from gaining extra clarity to take your success to the next level!  Connect with her on Instagram @maryotttt.

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