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Want to be an ace executive? Learn from Clinton’s big mistake

Hillary Clinton, then the secretary of state, checks her BlackBerry. Her use of a personal e-mail account became an issue during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.


While most C-suite hopefuls know that excellent communication, presentation and networking abilities are needed when leading a large team, other important skills are helpful, too. Here, two talent recruiters weigh in on five unexpected skills and traits that help leaders thrive today.

1. Digital savvy is key

Analyses of U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's e-mail fiasco have highlighted her lack of computer savvy and may have been a major contributing factor to her defeat on Nov. 8. Rather than roll with the times, she is reported to have been comfortable using only an out-of-date BlackBerry and shied away from using a desktop computer at all. Forget understanding e-mail servers.

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Digital ignorance is one way to sink an executive career (or presidential campaign) says Rachel Brown, headhunter with fishRecruit in Toronto. With the proliferation of smartphones, apps, online banking, Web advertising, e-books, geo-mapping and the like, it is important to understand what these digital technologies are – and how they will influence your business.

"It's nuts out there. It's not going to change and the pace isn't going to slow down. We're just going to become savvier. So if you're not on that train as an executive leader, you're out of the loop," she says. "That's not an advantageous place to be."

Ms. Brown advises clients on the executive track to take courses and earn some credentials in digital technology to get an edge on the competition.

2. Multitasking is still in vogue

Sure, a number of studies in recent years claim that humans are unable to multitask, or at least do two or three things at once very well. But that's not to say corporations are not expecting their leaders to wear multiple hats. Just like any other employee required to pitch in when times get tough or after layoffs, leaders need to show they can pull their weight, too.

"It's not like it was before, when they had 2,000 people working and each person had one specific job," says Kyle Pinsonneault, president of Canadian Executive Search Group Inc., in Chatham, Ont. "If an organization can find someone who can handle jobs that two people used to do, they can narrow it down to one."

In other words, today's executives need to understand profit numbers, solve sticky management problems and motivate employees without breaking a sweat.

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3. Don't be authoritarian

Working at a company that employs a large population of millennials? Better watch your tone, says Ms. Brown. Younger employees are not receptive to an authoritarian leadership style.

Avoid a "take charge" style and swap it for one that shines the light on others. Leaders who inspire younger workers are more likely to recognize and reward those who shine. It's not about you. It's about them.

4. Quick problem solving

If you are someone who sees a challenge at work – a system that slows production or a costly marketing gaffe – and automatically comes up with a solution, the C-suite might be in your future.

Ms. Brown maintains that innovative thinking is tough to teach, but those who have the natural gift for quick, efficient and strategic problem solving will always be in demand for a top-level position. Doubly so for those who actually finish the job.

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"A lot of people like to identify stuff, but they don't necessarily do anything about it," she says.

She will often find innovative thinkers jumping from startup business to startup business, before eventually taking a job at a larger, stable company. They are calculated risk-takers that stand out even in junior management positions.

"Those people have an innovation mind-set. They're very valuable," she explains.

5. Herd those cats

People skills are imperative for middle-management jobs, but for those aiming higher, negotiation and diplomacy are key for managing entire departments.

Department management is not for the faint of heart, either. Top leaders listen to multiple departments lobbying for their own interests, then will take that information and simplify and prioritize it in order to push some projects ahead and hold others back. Ms. Brown says these combined strategic thinking and diplomacy skills are the major ones she is asked to find when clients are hiring for senior executive leadership positions.

"Coupled with people skills, it's an ability that is going to push you into a C-suite role."

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