It sounds like a disease, but it’s one of the most important tools that top CEOs employ and encourage in their businesses every day. It is CPD, or Continuing Professional Development. Many organizations, especially when money is tight, believe that expenses like professional development or leadership training are expendable. That attitude can reach to the highest levels of the organization, where CEO professional development can be seen as a “nice to have” instead of a “must have”. However, regardless of cost and timing, the following is becoming a strongly adopted truth: “Successful CEOs don’t delegate business intelligence, learning, and listening – they do it themselves.”
No longer is the ivory tower exempt from continuous learning. It never has been, but the subject has been semi-taboo as CEOs are often seen as the pinnacle, with no more room or need to grow. That’s old school thinking that is ebbing out of many industries as competitive pressures to compete globally continue to mount.
Business publications are starting to jump on the bandwagon and point to CEO continuous learning as a necessary asset. Forbes asserts that “If you want to shorten your shelf life as a CEO, it’s easy to do – be uninformed and disengaged. There’s a big world out there, and CEOs need to get out of their bubble and go see it for themselves.”
That sentiment is echoed by numerous other sources, as the message struggles to get through to some of the more traditional CEOs out there. The good news, is that the majority of CEOs who hold the office today are first-time CEOs, new to the role, who are more open to learning and continual engagement. The renowned McKinsey group published an open letter that was crafted by a Harvard Business school professor and a learning engineer working with the Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan initiative to advance human potential and promote equal opportunity that deals with continuous learning. Here’s an excerpt that makes both a strong point and a strong appeal directed at CEOs:
“We write this letter not to criticize but to make the case for why a new emphasis on lifelong learning is going to become increasingly central to your job: maximizing the value and impact of your organization.
We are not seers. Still, one thing is clear. In the future, more and more of your people will need to use complex cognitive skills for more and more of their time. Some are already comfortable with this; some are not. As stewards of your company’s value, you need to understand how to get your people ready—not because it’s a nice thing to do but because the competitive advantage of early adopters.”
The letter goes on to share the charge for learning to the whole organization: “As a senior leader, then, you have to rethink how to continuously improve the skills of your employees beyond conventional training and education. You need to insist on experimenting with new learning methods and look for approaches that are based on good evidence. And you need to identify and support learning leaders who are deeply connected to learning science and who can make the case for implementing the right measures.” One key pronoun is missing from this missive: yourself. CEOs themselves need to be considering the learning that they need in order to best lead their organizations to success.
“We work with many CEOs who are expanding their knowledge and learning horizons to stay competitive,” said Dr. Kiu Leung, executive coaching and forums leader for Renaissance Executive Forums in Madison, Wisconsin. “It’s not just about the staff or middle management levels of the organization. CEOs lead by example, and the top office is not immune to competitive pressures. There are new populations of customers, employees, shareholders to learn to serve, interact with, and lead better, and CEOs are craving new tools with which to accomplish those things.”
“I would venture to say the need for leadership training is greater than ever, and that people need to take responsibility for their own professional development earlier in their careers,” said Joel Trammell, contributing writer for The American CEO. “We cannot afford for them not to in today’s business climate.”
There are two key tools that CEOs use to keep their continuous learning relevant and timely in today’s competitive market: technology and people. Technology is changing leadership, changing the way people share information and knowledge, and current CEOs have to keep up. To lead dispersed groups, technology is a key tool. “Leadership skills are critical to helping groups collaborate well across organizational and geographic boundaries, in support of group and company objectives,” Trammell adds.
The other critical piece of the puzzle is people. Say that five times fast. Leaders learn the most from other leaders that they respect and trust. They learn from their teams and their employees, sure, but that learning can be influenced by internally connected roles and supervisory relationships. For the unvarnished truth, CEOs often turn to peer groups to create innovative solutions to common CEO challenges. Some of the best CEO learning crosses industry boundaries – where manufacturing CEOs can adopt learning from service industry leadership, and vice versa. At all levels of a CPD-supportive organization, “Teamwork doesn’t necessarily mean collaborating within teams in the classic sense of bounded groups of people working together on specific tasks. Instead, it’s often about teaming—communicating and collaborating with people across boundaries, such as expertise or distance, spontaneously and continuously. Your people need to have, or develop, the skills for effective teamwork.”
“We’ve seen some amazing solutions emerge out of peer group discussions, where non-competing CEOs can share their struggles and concerns in a trusted environment and receive direct feedback from others who know exactly what they’re going through,” commented Dr. Leung. “Learning from other CEOs who have tried, and many times failed, is relevant and priceless to other CEOs who can flatten their own learning curve, improving and expanding their organizations faster by borrowing on the wisdom of others.”
CPD is quickly becoming fundamental to the continuous improvement of standards and skills for professionals. Industries are continuously evolving, new technologies emerging, and new skills becoming critical for success. Any leader who considers their education complete is kidding themselves. Human Resources departments all across corporate America are big supporters of professional development programs for staff and middle management levels, but CEOs are often considered above that or beyond it. However, many CEOs take a broader view, considering continuing leadership development a priority, not just for their people but for themselves as well.
After all, “In today's international economy with its rapidly changing environment, any business that isn't investing in professional development courses will fall behind.” http://www.ceoinstitute.com/management-training-professional-development/