Leadership development areas most CEOs tend to overlook
An executive must always be on the path of discovering their blind spots and focusing on leadership development areas for personal and professional growth. There’s always unexplored terrain in knowledge, self-awareness, and other people.
But well before retirement, many CEOs feel that their development journey is complete. These leaders won’t last, according to John Dame, a Vistage Chair and owner of Dame Leadership.
“Somebody who feels that they know it all, who doesn’t want to do anything to develop, is going to have long-term issues,” Dame said.
CEOs who stop developing tend to lose touch with the culture, as new generations often feel differently about work. Or they lose touch with changes in the marketplace and world.
There are always going to be new ideas, Dame said, especially on old topics. And new ideas demand development.
Take a moment to consider how leaders thought about cybersecurity, technology, and remote work two years ago. Now consider how they think about these topics now. No matter when you read this, well-developed leaders will have gained nuanced insight in that time.
An ever-changing world demands an ever-evolving leader. Here are five areas of leadership development that executives often overlook.
1. Planning for employee development
Many CEOs overlook a long-term vision toward building their team and developing their employees, Dame said. This is a huge mistake—without people, a company is simply an idea.
In any business, he believes that the No. 1 way to plan for the future is to train employees.
“If you’re not looking for ways to help them to innovate, to become better leaders, to move ahead, there’s impact on culture,” Dame said. “People—even more today than ever before—have a choice where they’re going to work. And they can choose with their feet.”
Employees often get stuck in roles that don’t fit, Dame said, and it’s typically because of a lack of leadership development by executives. Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great” created a metaphor to show the importance of getting the right employees into the right roles. A company is like a bus, he said, and it can’t start driving in any direction before the right people have boarded.
“This is one of those ideas that’s even more important in our world today,” Collins said. “And why? Because if the world is unpredictable, if the world is changing, if the world is requiring adjustments, you can’t predict the what, so the most important thing is to pick the right who.”
To develop employees, Dame suggests creating a training program, one that will help them know where they’re headed in the company. “The research shows that your employees will give up some pay if you’re going to show them a pathway to get better, learn and grow,” Dame said.
2. Continually learning
Many executives will join trade organizations or go to one-off educational events. This is the right idea, Dame said, but it often ends with leaders in echo chambers with shallow knowledge on important topics.
Leaders must push themselves to achieve and learn more, Dame said, putting themselves into uncomfortable learning environments where they’re challenged, tested, and have the potential to be wrong. They must go to events and join groups that help them change their mind, their thinking, and their future actions.
3. Being vulnerable
If development is an inherently uncomfortable path that means that leaders will need to sometimes feel vulnerable.
Many powerful people think of vulnerability as a weakness, Dame said, but vulnerability can be a strength. Being vulnerable can mean a leader is glad to listen, willing to change their mind, and open to receive feedback.
Without vulnerability, leaders will have a difficult time developing. “If you think that you have arrived and know it all, then that’s not going to work very well,” Dame said.
4. Interacting with people different from themselves
Half of the CEOs Dame works with are introverts, something that often surprises people. He seeks out these CEOs, as Dame wants to work with people of different backgrounds, age groups, and personality types.
Dame said that each difference will bring something new to his world. CEOs tend to look for others who are just like them, but people who have lived different experiences have valuable perspectives.
“Hearing your experience or getting feedback from you will give me insight that I might never have had,” Dame said.
Unique insights will be especially important across generations, Dame said. Younger employees—the future leaders of every company—typically want a bigger voice at work, more collaboration, and more say in their jog. Executives must understand the personalities of the different types of people they may encounter at work.
5. Having a trusted peer group
As a Vistage Chair, most of the executives Dame encounters are always developing, even amid great success. Having a peer group provides a fast track to growth and self-awareness.
Executives who don’t join peer groups may still be good CEOs, he said, but he doesn’t believe they will grow as much—nor will they be as effective—as those who are.
Executives in peer groups tend to be more open minded, willing to listen, and willing to be held accountable. These are all traits of the development journey.
“That desire to be in front of people who are challenging your thinking is essential,” Dame said.
The best executives are those who take these challenges to their thinking and apply what they’ve learned at work. It’s an application-oriented process rather than an intellectual process, Dame said.
“I don’t want to just intellectually wrestle with this,” Dame said. “I actually want to apply things that are going to make a difference.”