No one doubts the need for decisive, insightful, empathetic, and effective leadership from the top especially when many industries face existential challenges. Developing executive leaders is a priority for most organizations. It’s estimated that globally leadership training is a $366 billion industry. Yet, despite that investment, a McKinsey report suggests that most executive leadership training programs fail.
The Many Challenges To Executive Leadership
Leaders in Healthcare struggle with increases in patient demand and the complexity of services required by an aging population. An executive leader in the retail sector may be grappling with reskilling a workforce facing elimination through automation or with moving more business online during the pandemic. For leaders in finance, there’s the challenge of best utilizing the mass of data produced by more efficient technology or managing an increasingly dispersed and diverse workforce.
Yet while the challenges leaders face may differ by industry, many are fundamental to the role of leadership and all of them reflect the effects of automation and AI and the emerging skills gap.
A Recap: 5 Top Leadership Challenges
Being ready: Before they start tackling the challenges ahead of them, leaders must have the confidence, motivation, and skill set to lead an effective response. This means developing key leadership skills such as time-management, prioritization, strategic thinking, decision-making, problem-solving, and, increasingly, soft skills. When considering the training others require, leaders shouldn’t neglect their own.
1. Developing and inspiring others: Leaders need to mentor and coach their teams and ensure talent is developed. Effective leaders inspire, engage, and motivate others to ensure they work smarter and take pride in their jobs. That requires the core competencies of understanding and empathy.
2. Leading and managing change: Ironically change seems to be the one constant in modern business. The challenge is to recognize when change is coming, where change is needed, and to plan for it. Managing change involves mitigating consequences, overcoming resistance, and reassuring employees by showing empathy and providing retraining opportunities. Leaders need to sell the benefits of change to stakeholders.
3. Handling conflict and different perspectives: Workplace conflict is common and causes stress and loss of productivity. How leaders manage conflict is key to the success of the organization. Leaders need to actively and sensitively address disagreements and acknowledge different perspectives. Handling conflict effectively can lead to shared understanding and respect for diversity, improving the working environment.
4. Communicating ideas and processing feedback: Communication is at the core of effective leadership. Whatever the channel communication needs to be two-way with leaders employing active listening to understand their teams and to benefit from the knowledge and perspectives of others. Good communication and feedback build trust and facilitate better teamwork and collaboration.
Barriers To Executive Leadership Development
The challenges executive leaders face are also institutional or cultural. A lack of clarity on strategy and values can result in conflicting priorities. Senior leaders often don’t work as a management team or embrace the team ethic and shared values. This can be compounded by adopting the wrong leadership style. A top-down or, at the other extreme, a laissez-faire style of leadership militates against a shared approach to issues and impedes the development of new leaders.
Failure to adopt a common approach results in a lack of coordination across businesses, regions, and functions which muddles communication. Senior leaders can be seen as unresponsive and unapproachable. In those circumstances, employees fear to tell leaders and managers their concerns, and collaboration is stifled, and efficiency suffers.
But the biggest barrier to leadership development is the lack of effective executive leadership training.
Why Does Leadership Training Fail?
The answer to that question is clearly not a lack of investment in training. Research by McKinsey has identified four key areas that had the potential to cause leadership training to fail.
Missing context: The emphasis of most leadership training has been on content. Typically, leadership training programs are designed to cater to all. But this ‘one size fits all’ approach ignores the diverse needs of learners. Little attention is paid to the context in which leaders work: the size of the business, the strategic objectives, the organizational culture, and the missing skills that are urgently required. To be effective any training needs to take account of its learners’ needs. Those needs include what they’re expected to do and the environment in which they do it.
Lack of application to the real world: Too much training is divorced from the workplace. There are two ways this applies. Firstly, training occurs off-site, outside work. Traditionally leadership skills were taught in off-site seminars with no learning support offered in the workflow. As we’ve long known, most learning is left behind in the classroom.
Then, there’s a lack of relevance. While many leaders share the same challenges, how they meet them depends on the environment and circumstances they act in. Training that fails to reflect that or isn’t tailored to the specific requirements will be considered irrelevant and disregarded.
Ignoring mindsets and culture: Part of the context to learning are pre-existing mindsets and cultures. This can be at the individual and organizational levels. Failure to recognize these underlying influences can nullify the effects of training. For training to work it must acknowledge and address preconceptions and attitudes. Then steps can be taken to change habits for the benefit of the individual and the organization.
Measuring results: Too often no measurement or evaluation of training programs takes place. But if you don’t know what works how can you be sure training is effective and, more than that, how do you know where to direct it and how to adapt it? Establishing a feedback loop, monitoring performance, analyzing churn, conducting skills gap analysis, creating development pathways – all these are means to measure the effectiveness and impact of training and vital to ensuring training is reaching the right people and areas.
E-Learning Delivers Effective Executive Leadership Training
We’ve seen that despite recognizing its critical importance and investing accordingly leadership training has been far from a success. Yet effective training remains the best way to meet leadership challenges and overcome barriers.
Part of the problem is that too much attention has been paid to the quantity of training and not enough to the quality. Also, the training, while often comprehensive, has been unfocused and, worse, has ignored the real-life application of what is being offered. For leadership training, context is as important as content.
Leadership development is a process, not a single event, and leadership training needs to reflect that reality. Using engaging e-learning solutions, curated and delivered via LMS or LXP platforms, anchored in the workflow and with features that promote social and collaborative learning provide a more effective alternative to traditional classroom-based learning.
An adaptable approach to training: E-learning programs use trusted learning strategies such as role-plays, gamification, spaced learning, and collaborative activities to motivate learners and make learning active. Multimedia features (including animation and video) and access to bite-sized, easily digestible microlearning nuggets engage modern learners. Content can be easily adapted and repurposed and is updated regularly meaning leadership training can keep pace with new trends and demands.
Access at work: E-learning can be made available on a variety of platforms across devices. It’s available 24/7 and enabled for mobile devices meaning it’s accessible where and when you need it. This mobile access combined with a microlearning capability delivers just-in-time learning on the go. Unfettered access to training resources means learning is placed firmly in the workflow and adapted and responsive to the working environment.
Communication and teamwork: E-learning combined with other