3 Attributes We Look for in Unicorn Candidates

Dependent on which management book I read, the view on which attributes I should be looking for in a C-suite appointment differ greatly. Some advocate the servant leader, others the military driver. Whilst we all agree on having someone to drive the bus, the variables of who that should be are infinite.

man in suit

The perennial joke in recruitment is that all companies are looking for ambitious, driven, focused, challenging, humble and dynamic individuals. The reality is that most companies, their chairs and boards, will see each of these facets differently and it is our job to interpret that for them.

We, at ORESA, refer to the perfect candidate as a ‘Unicorn’. So what makes the difference between the elusive Unicorn and a decent thoroughbred? I won’t pretend that this piece is in any way codified. It is the start of an organic, un-realistic set of requirements, to never be applied in one go!

Know thyself

Many leaders are still trying to work out who they are long after their career has peaked. We look for people who really know who they are, what drives them, where it comes from and how they can use this positively in their lives and careers. Take the person who was forced to clean houses with their mum from a very young age; their drive comes from a genuine place but when they are able to overcome imposter syndrome and fear of scarcity, then we are in Unicorn country!

Have a North Star

Some feel that leadership mantras are the epitome of fake; the equivalent of a sign from a seaside gift shop extolling ‘Perhaps the hokey cokey is what it’s all about’.

But I like people with clear and simple leadership mantras. The mantra becomes the local North Star; there to guide and to remind when things get tough. For those leading in challenging times, having a firm grip on what they stand for is critical because it is their point of difference and the rallying call for their teams.

I once worked with a leader whose mantra was to inspire, connect and grow. He connected with everyone in the office – he believed strongly in knowing his employees inside and out. He built strong relationships that led to hard work and loyalty from everyone in the office. He succeeded.


For many, the ability to write and lead a strategy equals success but I like leaders who can write one story and then adapt to changing conditions. The ability to follow a new line of sight with a strategic purpose excites me. Those that keep flying in one direction because that was the plan (even if it is doomed to failure) concern me.

I tend to find that those who have at some point had ownership, whether that be a company owner or holding a board role within a PE investment, make good CEO’s – particularly for family-owned companies. Why? Because they could never let their ship run aground. They understand what an honour and responsibility it is to be CEO. Ask any business owner and they will say their company is one of their children; and in the proverbial hot air balloon – who knows what would happen!

As I said at the start this is purely a snapshot. Watch this space for more of what helps us find ‘Unicorn’ leaders…

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Growth and Leadership

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