27 September 2023

Changing tack on leadership development

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Dan Schawbel* says while most executives recognise the importance of life-long learning, leadership development courses are in need of an update post-pandemic.

Most executives know the moment they stop learning is the moment their leadership capabilities begin to dwindle.

However, while leadership development programs have been around for decades, some aspects of executive development are long overdue for change.

The pandemic accelerated the need for transformation, with leaders forced to be more agile than ever before.

They’ve faced external factors coupled with evolving employee expectations around nearly every aspect of work, and it certainly hasn’t been easy to adapt.

With the Great Resignation showing no signs of abating, leaders can no longer afford to put their own learning and development on the back burner.

There’s never been a more critical time for leaders to re-evaluate their approach to their progression — from how they learn, to what skills they need to prioritise.

Let’s look at a few new rules that could help executives accelerate not only their own progress, but also their organisation’s growth and long-term success.

Prioritise cohort-based learning

This requires executives to work together to develop specific skills or tackle real-world challenges.

It can occur via internal or external executive education programs, whether it’s an off-site course or a virtual program.

However, while there are many options for leaders to choose from, not all are alike.

The best solutions include hands-on, interactive simulations to create more of an experiential environment that mimics the real world.

In these programs, executives engage with each other just as they would in the workplace, learning different perspectives, strengths, and weaknesses.

There is so much value in this cohort-based format, beyond the obvious perks of networking and all that it adds to the leader’s overall career journey.

Incorporate executive mentoring

Mentoring isn’t just for up-and-coming leaders or those who are new to their organisation.

Executives can benefit no matter where they are in their career path.

That’s because not only can other leaders offer unique perspectives and knowledge, they can also support their peers on a more personal level.

Being able to connect with someone who has walked a mile in your shoes can help leaders stay on track with their goals.

One survey of 45 Chief Executives with formal mentoring arrangements discovered that 71 per cent felt certain that company performance had improved as a result.

In addition, 69 per cent reported they were making better decisions and 76 per cent said they were more capably fulfilling stakeholder expectations.

Make leadership development a continuing initiative

One of the things the pandemic uncovered is that executives need to be agile in the face of adversity and change.

Leaders need to keep their fingers on the pulse of current events, and also engage in continuous learning so they can keep up with the ever-changing demands of their roles.

Right now, most leadership development takes place in small bursts, whether it’s a few days away at a seminar or an occasional leadership course.

The better approach is to embed leadership programs into executives’ daily work lives — another nod to the importance of experiential learning.

Focus on emotional intelligence

There’s no question that the past few years have been immensely challenging for employees.

Workers have struggled to keep themselves (and their families) safe from illness, and they’ve also dealt with high levels of burnout and ever-worsening mental health.

For many executives, the resulting high exit rates have proven to be a much-needed wake-up call.

Leadership is fundamentally about relationships, yet it’s clear that most employees feel extraordinarily disconnected from their organisation and its leadership team.

That’s why many executives are augmenting their emotional intelligence — focusing on empathy, self-awareness, and relationship-building — in a bid to reconnect with their workforce.

Encourage leadership skills for everyone

One of the key traits of a successful leader is knowing when to delegate tasks to others.

Too often executives don’t feel that they have the right support system to rely on, or they believe that the burden of leadership should stay within the C-Suite.

Times are changing.

Not only do employees want to become leaders, but many expect to have this opportunity as part of their natural career progression.

This means executives must learn how to foster a more collective leadership style versus the traditional top-down leadership approach.

For some executives this will require a mindset shift, but the end result — stronger leadership and a more engaged workforce — is surely worth the effort.

Being an effective leader is all about how you engage with others, and developing this key skill requires an interpersonal learning environment.

*Dan Schawbel is a bestselling author and Managing Partner of Workplace Intelligence, a research and advisory firm helping HR adapt to trends, drive performance and prepare for the future.

This article is part of his Workplace Intelligence Weekly series.

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