L&D: are you leaving executives out?

Executives need continuous learning to cope with the ever-evolving challenges they face, claims one L&D expert

Many HR professionals will be part of an organisation that strives to invest in the development of aspiring leaders and those in the early stages of their management careers – but according to one L&D expert, senior leaders are overlooked all too often, with little being done to deliberately influence their development.

“There’s a reason why so many organisations lack a clear succession plan for the CEO position,” said Karen Gately, business author and founder of Ryan Gately.

“Even CEOs must keep raising their game if they are to keep pace with the demands of their role.”

According to Gately, leading any organisation into the future requires agility and learning – and changing and evolving demands require new talents and ways of thinking.

“How does the CEO of your organisation have their thinking challenged; how do they learn and adapt, or develop their ability to make decisions concerning matters they haven’t faced before?”

Development strategies

Gately said that attending industry events or conferences and networking are common examples given by senior leaders when asked how they keep learning.

“While unquestionably valuable, these forums typically provide limited opportunities for real learning reflected in behavioural and capability change,” she said, suggesting that organisations consider four key areas when it comes to L&D strategies for senior executives.

1. Leadership circles

“Bring groups of senior leaders together to share their experiences and learn from one another,” Gately advised.

“Whether provided by a third-party organisation or facilitated internally, leadership groups that meet regularly can provide powerful learning opportunities.

“When leaders feel connected to the group and are willing to be open and engaged, the impact on their development can be immense.”

2. Executive development programs

Gately said that leaders should be supported and encouraged to undertake development programs that advance their credentials but more importantly grow their capabilities.

“Invest in those programs that provide far more than theoretical perspectives,” she explained.
“Look for institutions and courses that offer executives the opportunity to apply lessons to their roles and organisations.”

3. Mentoring

“Connect senior leaders with other experienced people who are either more advanced in their careers or able to offer specialist expertise,” Gately suggested.

“For a successful mentoring relationship to form, mutual trust and respect is essential. The ideal mentor is someone able, through inspiration and suggestion, to influence the thoughts, feelings, actions and ultimately the success of each executive.”

4. Build diverse careers

Gately noted that “experience is the greatest teacher of all”.

“No matter how well constructed and delivered, no academic program can compete with the learning that comes from assuming a ‘hands-on’ role,” she said.

“Provide leaders with the opportunity to broaden or change their portfolio of responsibilities.
“Develop the future CEO from among your ranks by growing not only the depth but also the breadth of your leadership team’s talents and experience.”

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