Leadership Competencies

3 leadership training tips for executive development

leadership training for executive development

When it comes to leadership training, Brett Pyle reminds himself that he’s not a runner. Point of fact: He hates running.

But when his family decided they wanted to run a 5K together, Pyle gave in. Pyle, an author and speaker whose 30-plus-year business career includes stints with BP, Amoco, and Andersen Consulting, read all that he could about how to run a good 5K, from learning to pace himself to understanding where he’d burn more calories during the run. The day of the race came, and Pyle was ready.

Or so he thought.

The first mile or so was downhill, and Pyle felt great. He chugged a cup of water at the bottom of the hill and that greatness disappeared. He quickly cramped up, making the remaining two miles — which were uphill — simply agonizing. As he limped toward the finish line, he admitted a painful realization.

“I guess you can’t train for a 5K by reading about 5Ks,” Pyle says.

The same thing is true about leadership. There are countless books published about leadership — Pyle even wrote one called “Your Extraordinary Why” — but to grow and develop as a leader, you’ve got to put in the work. That work comes in the form of leadership training.

What is leadership training?

Leadership training is the process of learning and improving skills, strategies and confidence to be a more effective and impactful leader. That training can come in many forms, but in Pyle’s eyes, the best method comes from working with a community of other leaders.

Leo Bottary agreed.

Bottary is the founder and managing partner of Peernovation, LLC, and the author of three leadership books:

He is a firm believer in and proponent of the value that comes from learning within a peer setting.

“In the academic world, there are a lot of studies about when professors collaborate and they do so consistently, they are able to create more collaborative environments in the classroom,” Bottary says. “I think the same holds true for CEOs. When CEOs can connect with one another and … share their experiences, particularly when they’re from different industry sectors, they can learn from one another pretty incredibly.”

Why leadership training isn’t just “taking an online course”

Just as Pyle discovered with his 5K, leadership can’t be learned exclusively in a book or through an online course. It has to be experienced.

“If you just read every book on (leadership), you’ve got a lot of good theory,” Pyle says, “but you’ve got no practice.”

Leadership training in a community setting provides that practice. Pyle reiterated that training to be a better leader is not a one-time thing. There is no quick-fix training regimen to become a better leader. Instead, it is a lifelong process of learning and development.

“The context in which we lead is constantly evolving,” Pyle says. “Leaders have a responsibility to the organizations they lead, and to themselves to continue to stay sharp and continue to develop themselves.”

The best way to continue that learning process is through collaboration. In 2019, researcher and analyst Josh Bersin demonstrated this using research on the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve. When people read something alone, they retain 28% of what they learned two days later. If they learn the material, answer questions about it, and interact with others regarding it, they remember 69% of it.

Leadership training within a peer setting allows leaders to not only learn new concepts but understand how to apply them to their work and their lives.

“CEO groups aren’t a book club,” Bottary says. “It isn’t just about understanding content more deeply. It’s the fact they give one another the confidence, courage and encouragement to apply things they’ve learned. Even if it takes some practice to get it right, once they do, it inspires leaders to want to learn more. It inspires leaders to want to be better leaders.”

Do CEOs need leadership training?

While anyone can benefit from leadership training, it is critical for CEOs to constantly learn and practice how to be more impactful leaders. A major lesson Bottary believes CEOs must understand is that effective leadership influences not only how people think about their work — but how they feel about it.

“As a leader, you’ve got to care about other people,” Bottary says. “We can’t be transactional about how we lead our employees, it’s about building relationships. It’s not about motivating them and lighting a fire under them so much as inspiring them and lighting a fire within so that someone feels connected to the work, feels purposeful about it, and feels that they want to raise high standards for themselves and their colleagues.”

Before being able to truly inspire others, leaders have to understand who they are as people, and as leaders. Vistage has identified four key leadership styles:

  • For the People: Everyone knows you’re in charge, and you thrive on your relationships with your staff.
  • Cherished Conductor: You came up through the ranks and have a true depth of talent and hands-on experience.
  • Peak Performer: You’re fast, you’re focused, and you’re ready to advance your business.
  • Silent Struggler: You’re a high achiever with a solid track record, yet you always feel there’s more to do.

While leaders have many different traits and styles, the one constant is self-awareness, Pyle said. It’s a lesson he didn’t fully appreciate until he was in his 50s.

“I believe that everyone has a unique leadership voice, and that voice takes time to develop,” Pyle says. “I went through a season of my life where I thought I was a pretty good leader, but frankly, I was deceiving myself. There were aspects of my leadership voice that I was completely blind to.”

Pyle was a Vistage Chair at the time, and it was his Best Practice Chair — a man who had grown to know him through a decade of leadership training and development — who ultimately revealed what Pyle hadn’t seen.

“I was afraid of my leadership voice,” Pyle says, “because the standard of perfection in the home in which I was raised was so high that if you couldn’t be perfect, don’t bother trying because there were consequences and those things could last for days.”

It was the same Best Practice Chair who helped Pyle understand how less of his own voice would help Vistage members grow — and make him a more effective leader in the process.

“When I first became a leader, I thought I was given the role because I could lead people, and therefore I must lead them, which meant doing,” Pyle says. His Best Practice Chair told him if he kept doing this, his team members would never be able to grow and reach their potential. He was told he needed to figure out how to lead from the periphery.

Once he did, something shifted within Pyle and the group as a whole.

“Instead of me being the answer man,” Pyle says, “it was me being a question man and facilitator of something larger than any of us.”

That, Bottary added, is the true sign of a leader.

“The leader’s not there for their self-aggrandizement, the leader’s not there just to make themselves look good,” Bottary says. “The reality is the leader is there to make the team successful.”

3 Leadership training tips for executives

So, how can you leverage leadership training to make your team successful? Here are three tips Bottary and Pyle shared.

1. Don’t try and do it yourself

“If you’re committed to building a great leadership organization, outsource (the training) to people who are good at it,” Pyle says. “That’s why I’m such a fan of Vistage. They developed the peer advisory leadership development model 65 years ago and are really good at it.”

2. Accept responsibility for messaging being understood as intended

“Grammarly and Harris Poll released a study last year that said U.S. companies alone lose $1.2 trillion annually because of ineffective communication,” says Bottary. “We have to be intentional about clarity, especially to the generations that we’re speaking to today who not only expect it but demand it. Millennials and Gen Z want transparency. They want communication. They want to know how their work is making a difference.”

3. Inspire a connected vision

“What’s really important to every employee?” Bottary asks. “Once you’re able to connect someone’s true individual purpose with what the organization is doing, now you’ve got something. This idea of there’s no ‘I’ in ‘team.’ Of course, there are a ton of ‘I’s’ on your team. They all have their own desires and their own wants and their own goals. Your job as a leader is to tap into that and connect those things.”

Leadership is not done in a vacuum, and it’s not something that can be learned exclusively from books. Focusing on leadership training, and continuing to practice leadership development is the best way to grow as a leader — and help your company grow in the process.

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Category: Leadership Competencies

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About the Author: Vistage Staff

Vistage facilitates confidential peer advisory groups for CEOs and other senior leaders, focusing on solving challenges, accelerating growth and improving business performance. Over 45,000 high-caliber execu

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