Reaching the upper echelons of leadership and attaining a senior-level role probably feels like the pinnacle of your career. After all, you've come a long way — and clearly mastered so many different skills in the course of your journey from entry-level employee to organizational leader.
Unfortunately, that's not the whole story. To make that more clear, let's look at two of the more compelling reasons why continuing to acquire skills is a wise investment for senior leaders, then turn to three actionable tips to help you start reaping the rewards.
the learning imperative for senior leaders
Most organizations these days are big on learning and development (L&D) initiatives to upskill team members, which keeps employees engaged while helping them grow in their careers and contribute more value to the business. While senior-level leaders are often the first to champion these L&D initiatives, they don't always avail themselves of them in the same way. But that's a mistake, as the following reasons should make clear.
the dangers of stagnation
Think it's safe to be complacent at the top? Think again — this large-scale study from Randstad reveals effective digital leaders of the future to be anything but. Instead, these executives:
- keep people connected and engaged
- are agile and digitally savvy
- evangelize a culture of innovation, learning and continuous improvement
- excel at strategic risk-taking
All of which foreground the need for leaders today to be open to learning and new ideas — the opposite of closed books. Consider the rapid pace of technological change, with new tools, new software and management systems, and new protocols around cybersecurity and information management emerging constantly. For senior leaders to be successful going forward, clearly, all of these things will need to be on their radars, and that means a personal commitment to ongoing learning and development is key.
worrying blind spots
At most successful companies today, data is a critical driver of business decision-making — which is also to say that the old practice of leading "from the gut," or based on instinct, is well on its way to extinction. But for leaders who aren't actively invested in their own learning and development, there may be a dangerous tendency toward these outmoded leadership models. Disinclined to take in new information, they often make decisions based on their own internal compass, with little awareness of potential blind spots. Worse, even when they're decisions are cloaked in number-crunching, seemingly careful deliberation, in-depth consultations with subject matter experts and the like, these leaders are prone to making decisions simply based on what they think they know, rather than what is actually right.
Especially with the increasing popularity of agile workflows, design thinking and other collaborative approaches to organizational decision-making, leaders who remain rooted in outmoded approaches will surely face a hard path ahead. But the good news is that there's a corrective, as we'll turn to next.
unlocking learning and development for senior leaders
Ready to jumpstart your learning and development journey, and become a more effective leader along the way? Here are three approaches with proven results.
Coaching can be a great, value-added offering for all team members — it's also the kind of thing that might differentiate your company from competitors, attract higher-caliber talent and improve your employer brand. But for executives, there are unique benefits as well. Most notably, executive coaches can give organizational leaders greater insights into how they're perceived by others, which in turn often opens the door to more effective management practices, better communication and improved collaboration. It's also a way for leaders, who sometimes seem inoculated from criticism on account of their office, to receive candid feedback (and criticism, if merited), in ways that aren't built into day-to-day business operations.
This is similar to executive coaching, but where the former is usually conducted in a one-on-one setting, leadership training programs tend to gather the executive team en masse. In terms of format, these can one-off sessions, weekend retreats, part of an ongoing training curriculum — the sky's the limit. There may not be a limit, on the other hand, when it comes to positive impact these training programs can have on the bottom line: Organizations that provide this type of training to C-suite executive can experience as much as 22 percent more revenue growth, and 34 percent growth in profitability, compared to organizations that do not, according to one study.
So-called "skip-level meetings" are opportunities for senior-level leaders to engage with team members who are more than one step down the chain of command in the organizational chart. Regularly scheduled, these meetings can be a boon — not only in terms of ongoing learning and development on the part of senior leaders, but for the organization as a whole. Why? For one, they help bubble up great ideas from the people who are most actively engaged with your products or services.
Beyond that, it's a strategic way for senior leaders to stay closely connected to what's really happening on the ground level, day in and day out, at your organization. What's more, regularly meeting and interacting with more junior staff members, recent hires and others can create informal opportunities for mentorship — and, not for nothing, studies have shown that mentorship can yield ROI in the ballpark of 1,000 percent. Plus, for the majority of employees, according to one study, access to mentorship opportunities can have a determining influence on their decision to stay with their employers. So think of improved retention as an ancillary benefit.
For organizational leaders, there's a clear mandate to prioritize lifelong learning and development — not only for staff and team members, but for themselves as well. In fact, such a commitment is probably going to be table stakes as the pace of technological change and adopt continues to accelerate. Those who fail to adapt may be headed for early retirement.
Of course, it's never too late to embark on your own learning and development journey. But the sooner, the better. Start with the three approaches outlined in this article and you should be well positioned for ongoing success.