Executives directly impact your organization’s culture and success. The right leader can catapult the organization forward, while a poor one can do significant damage in a short time.
Some may wonder why executives need further leadership development. After all, they’ve succeeded at multiple leadership roles as they moved up the ranks. Recent studies in neuroscience give us some critical clues. Did you know that power impacts the brain, making people more impulsive and less concerned with how their actions affect others?
Power makes leaders more likely to project their own beliefs and feelings onto others, causing them to perceive signs of agreement that are not there. This alone can have devastating effects on decision-making, ethical behavior and culture cornerstones like psychological safety.
These neurological shifts create blinders, making leaders less effective. Executive training and coaching are crucial for counterbalancing this biological tendency and setting them up for ongoing success. Here are some strategies to create a highly effective program:
- Create an executive-level program
While we know every level of leader benefits from training and coaching, many organizations don’t provide executive development programs even when they have robust training for other groups of leaders. Avoid offering an executive cohort of your regular leadership program. Executives need and benefit from training aligned to the strategic level at which they must operate — looking to the future to ensure the organization’s long-term success while leading day-to-day operations.
- See the big picture
We might not always be in critical meetings where we can learn what executives need. As a solution, stay on top of annual CEO survey reports. Some of the consistent issues are financial/market instability, talent skills shortage, health risks (mental and physical), cyber risks, climate change, geopolitical instability and social inequality.
Also, explore industry themes through related conferences and professional associations to identify significant trends. Be sure to review all-hands meetings, board meeting summaries and earnings presentations. This will give you a good sense of the issues to address and skills to develop.
- Address the executives’ pain points
A good strategy for any training program you build is to address the pain points your audience faces daily. Many executives have been through leadership development programs at some point and say things like, “I’ve been to all the classes,” or “There is nothing designed for executives.”
When you create training around their pain points, you give them tools they can use immediately and also build trust and a pull for more training. Your previous research will help you identify some potential pain points, but remember the power of asking your executives what keeps them up at night.
- Provide the tools they don’t know they need
While executives need strategic-level training, they often can benefit from foundational tools or best practices. Consider how you can weave these in as you address their pain points. Uplevel the sophistication of the content by sharing relevant data and science-based principles. Executives are usually savvy critical thinkers who appreciate knowing the “why” behind something.
In particular, I always arm executives with an organizational development model, best practices in change management, the value of purpose-driven organizations, strategies for execution and how to build an emotionally intelligent organization grounded in psychological safety.
- Build a loose structure that allows for discussion and action
Executive teams engage in dialogue as they make decisions in real time. They approach training similarly, so build a structure that allows for plenty of discussion time. If an unexpected but important topic arises, pivot as needed so you can flow with their needs. In my experience, some of the most productive sessions have gone off the planned agenda, and I’ve even pivoted to other training content mid-session.
Find out if your executives want to take action mid-training or save it for other scheduled meetings. While high-performing executive teams meet weekly, some may need the training time to actively implement the tools and decide on action plans.
- Create a program that aligns with their schedule
There is a perception that executives don’t have the time for training. But in reality, they need a more fluid format. Some executive teams prefer a deep dive where they can block their calendar for a half- or full-day retreat. Other teams might like monthly sessions of two or three hours, and others prefer 30-minute sessions woven into their regular cadence of meetings. Ask what they need and design for their request, but be willing to suggest changes if you feel it’s not creating the momentum that would best serve them.
Also, be mindful of interpersonal dynamics. In my experience, one executive always likes to “stir the pot” by challenging the training or derailing the conversation. Anticipating this will help you deftly facilitate the group.
Good executive training not only gives senior leaders the advanced skills they need for success, but also arms them with critical information to solve talent issues now and well into the future. This is where you can bring valuable insights from your experience and expertise.