Skills are important, but values will ultimately drive career decisions

By Robert Half on 07/09/2023
Average reading time: 3 minutes


A broad range of skills and experience are needed for executive leadership. But what about the influence of values on career decisions? Veronique Elskens, Managing Director at Robert Half’s Executive Search Practice, explores why they are pivotal – and need to be understood.

Imagine two c-suite leaders on their way up the career ladder. On the outside they appear similar, with a range of skills and experience. But on the inside, they are different. Some of them are enjoying the process, thriving off high-pressure and leadership responsibilities. While others may have doubts; after a successful decade of career progression, some even tend to burn out. When it comes to the crunch, only one of them applies for the top job.

This is a story about values. While skills and experience will always matter for executive leaders, their values will heavily influence career decisions. Just because two people have similar experience, it doesn’t mean they are right for the same job. We often see aspiring c-suite leaders taking on other roles, even after years of effort, because they realise an executive role doesn’t feel right. Their decisions are usually related to values.

At the outset, aspiring leaders should therefore consider intrinsic and extrinsic values, shared values with their teams, and business values. Because, taken together, they will play a pivotal role in their success – and the success of others.

Intrinsic and extrinsic values

Intrinsic values are crucial for motivation and engagement. Challenge, learning, and responsibility are important because they bring psychological rewards; family relationships and friendships also influence decisions about integrating and maintaining work-life balance and flexibility. Extrinsic values are those received in exchange for effort: the higher earnings of a c-suite role, alongside pension, benefits, and recognition, for example.

If there is a mismatch between someone’s intrinsic and extrinsic values, and the demands of their role, they will feel internal conflict. This could lead to them changing role, even if their skills and experience are closely matched to the opportunity.

Shared values and the influence of leaders

C-suite leaders have a major impact on the wellbeing of their teams. When relationships are positive, it’s because leaders respect everyone’s skills, but also their values. If leaders understand what drives people, employees will play to their strengths and be happier at work. It will also be easier to understand the roles for which they are best suited. This awareness can help employees to avoid taking a role which conflicts with their values. They can progress in a direction that is right for them, and the people around them, too.

Business values matter, too

Businesses talk about values such as honesty, integrity, commitment and putting their customers first. They often promote volunteering opportunities, donate profits to social causes, and raise money for charity. But if these values are just written on the wall, and not role-modelled, then aspiring leaders will leave. Just like intrinsic and extrinsic values, business values will heavily influence recruitment and retention. If there is a match between what’s said, and what’s experienced, it will be easier to keep the right people.

Aspiring c-suite leaders will look closely at the values of a business. As the focus on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) continues to mount, demonstrating these values will be important.

Skills, experience – and values

Skills and experience will always matter for executive leaders, but their values will often underpin career decisions. Understanding intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is an important starting point. Appreciating the values of others will influence how teams perform, and aligning those with business values, will help unlock everyone’s potential.

When a leader’s skills, experience and values match a professional opportunity, they can flourish – and help others to do the same.

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