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The New Rules for Leadership Development

Published over 1 year ago • 4 min read

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

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. In fact, there’s never been a more critical time for leaders to reevaluate their approach to their progression — from how they learn to what skills they need to prioritize. Let’s look at a few new rules that could help executives accelerate not only their own progress, but also their organization’s growth and long-term success.

Prioritize cohort-based learning

Cohort-based leadership development requires executives to work together to develop specific skills or tackle real-world challenges. This type of leadership development can occur via internal or external executive education programs, whether it’s an off-site course or a virtual program like Invited MBA. But 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. Having participants work in a team-based structure creates student agency, boosts collaboration, and improves overall retention. The competitiveness aspect is also valuable, as it keeps participants engaged and focused.

Incorporate executive mentoring

Mentoring isn’t just for up-and-coming leaders or those who are new to their company — 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, but 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, whether they’re aiming to boost their confidence, improve their well-being, or learn how to be more empathetic.

Beyond helping leaders achieve their personal ambitions, executive mentoring can also have a measurable impact on the bottom line. One survey of 45 CEOs with formal mentoring arrangements discovered that 71% felt certain that company performance had improved as a result. In addition, 69% reported that they were making better decisions, 76% said they were more capably fulfilling stakeholder expectations, and 84% believed that being mentored had helped them avoid costly mistakes and become proficient in their roles faster.

Make leadership development an ongoing initiative

One of the things the pandemic uncovered is that executives need to be agile in the face of adversity and change. This means that leaders need to keep their fingers on the pulse of current events, and they also have to engage in continuous learning so they can keep up with the ever-changing demands of their roles. Those that don’t may find themselves stuck in the past and unable to progress their organizations forward.

Right now, however, 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. As noted in a recent HBR article, “If participants can keep working and easily see how their leadership development efforts relate to their teams and results, they’ll be much more engaged in the process.”

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. It’s because of these factors that over 4 million people continue to quit their jobs each month, and now employers in nearly every industry are left grappling with the effects of the Great Resignation.

For many executives, the abnormally high exit rates have proven to be a much-needed wakeup call. Leadership is fundamentally about relationships, yet it’s clear that most employees feel extraordinarily disconnected from their company 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 and drive a more authentic culture where employee well-being is front-and-center.

Encourage leadership skills for everyone

One of the key traits of a successful leader is knowing when to delegate tasks to others. However, 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 or among those at the management level. But times are changing — as SHRM recently highlighted, “less hierarchy and more fluidity in the workplace will require leadership skills to be more widely distributed across the workforce.”

In today’s workplace, not only do employees want to become leaders, but many expect to have this opportunity as part of their natural career progression. This means that executives need to be willing to develop their own skillsets right alongside their teams, and they 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.

It's time to rewrite the rules for leadership development

Executives have spent the past few years overcoming enormous obstacles and figuring out how to quickly adapt in the face of near-constant change. However, in some ways leadership development hasn’t quite caught up yet. Leaders need to reevaluate which skills they need to learn as well as how they’re learning these competencies. But what’s most critical is that executives rely on each other to learn and grow, whether that’s via mentoring or cohort-based learning. Because at the end of the day, being an effective leader is all about how you engage with others, and developing this key skill requires an interpersonal learning environment.

Thanks for reading — don't forget to join the conversation on LinkedIn and let me know how you've adapted your approach to leadership development.

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