We recently moderated a conference for 80 executives, each somewhat battered and bruised by the economic downturn, but still, on their feet and mostly feeling more optimistic about the future. We asked them to reflect on the lessons they had learned during the last few turbulent years and consider the implications of this for leadership. None reported a desire to return business as usual; but felt instead that the recession has altered the landscape enough to change their thinking about the qualities and characteristics they would now be looking for in individuals they might hire or promote into managerial roles.

The New Leadership Requirements

Their observations clustered around a half dozen themes, each familiar, and yet refined by recent experience.

Resilience: The capacity to “take a punch” and quickly bounce back; to maintain confidence without arrogance, in the face of adversity.

Agility: The ability to flex to unanticipated challenges, to alter a plan quickly if new realities so warrant, to react nimbly and constructively when mistakes are made.

Peripheral Vision: An almost intuitive knack for seeing what is not obvious or usual; to scan the sidelines for data that might otherwise be dismissed as “noise;” to integrate varying scenarios into planning.

Emotional Intelligence Applied to Work Life: A heightened sensitivity to others and to self; a deeper awareness of individual differences and widely varying tolerance of stress and demand.

Communication in the Face of Uncertainty: A willingness to be visible, accessible, transparent and articulate even as followers demand clarity or “answers” when none exist.

Collaborative Decision-making:  The courage and skill required to deliberately rely on a more diverse set of players and perspectives in order to challenge conventional assumptions and yield best thinking.

Given that many of our clients are firing up dormant hiring and promotional processes, we hope the above wisdom proves a useful compliment to the leadership criteria you might already have in place. We welcome your thoughts.