Leadership Development — How to Train Executives to Become Effective Leaders?

Sep 10, 2018

Training business executives are important more than ever today. The leadership role is challenging due to the constant change in the market. In order to cope with the changes brought about by government regulations, increased competition, changing consumer tastes, it's important to train executives to become effective leaders.

With the increasing number of companies transitioning to the cloud (a fancy term for internet), individuals in the leadership position need to learn effective techniques to respond to cyber threats.

Just like all employees, it's essential to properly train your executive level managers. This is important to ensure that the executives have up-to-date knowledge of effective leadership skills so that the organization is able to achieve strategic goals, which can include a strong reputation, high market share, and profitability.

The basics of management such as honest and open communication, continuous feedback, quality control, and performance evaluation are not rocket science. However, in the quest to maximise profit and shareholder value, leaders often lose sight of these basic principles for which training is required.

Devising an effective training program for top executives will result in various benefits.

  • Enhanced Strategic Leadership Skills — Leaders need to have a long-term outlook when devising programs. They should be provided targeted training to improve the strategic decision-making process. Through effective leadership training, the executives can learn about how to make informed and wise business decisions.
  • Increased Employee Retention — According to experts in corporate psychology, the majority of employees don't quit their jobs; they quit their bosses. The most common reason includes the autocratic leadership style whereby the leader retains total control over the decision-making process concerning the employees.1 Leadership training will train the executives in decision-making practices that increase organizational commitment and self-belonging drive among employees.
  • Improved Productivity — Another benefit of executive training is that it can result in improved productivity. Trough an effective leadership program, the leadership will learn about the latest effective techniques to motivate employees. Motivating employees can result in improved productivity and profitability.
  • Emotional Intelligence — Renowned psychological expert and author Daniel Goleman had mentioned in his book the New Leaders that emotional intelligence is essential for the success of a leader.2 A leadership course can teach the leadership about techniques to hone emotional skills in order to better handle the emotions of employees and effectively engage with them.

Now that you know about the importance of training top executives, let's look at some tips that can enable you to create an effective leadership training program.

1. Strategic Thinking Skills

Top executives have to make long-term decisions. They must think strategically to chart the future direction of the company. That's why it's important to make improving strategic decision-making skills a priority.

The strategic thinking training program should help leaders to know about the importance of reflection. As Liane Davey, the author of You First: Inspire your Team to Grow Up, puts it strategic thinking entails creating a connection between people, plans, and ideas, that others fail to see.3 Through reflection will the leaders will discover hidden connections and improve the strategic decision-making process.

Another important tip to increase the strategic thinking is to broaden their horizons through conferences and seminars. By keeping up-to-date with the latest trends, leaders will be able to better set the future course of the company.

2. Focus on Priorities

One of the biggest challenges in strategic thinking is taking care of mundane business tasks. Tasks such as responding to emails take a lot of time of the managers. One way to overcome this problem is to use the 2x2 matrix outlined by management expert Stephen Covey in his book the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.4

The matrix consist of four quadrants as follows

  • Urgent but not important
  • Urgent and important
  • Not urgent but important
  • Not urgent and not important

The executives must prioritise tasks according to their importance. The first priority should be urgent and important tasks. These are the tasks that should be completed first. After these tasks are completed the manager can focus on urgent but not important and urgent but important tasks. The last priority should be set to not urgent and not important tasks. This strategy has also been called as putting 'First Things First' by Covey.

But how can you know which tasks are important and which are not?

According to Covey, important tasks include relationship building tasks, planning and preventing tasks, and recognizing new opportunities. These are the tasks that contribute to the mission and values of the company. On the other hand, unimportant tasks are generally filled with activities that waste time or don't result in a positive outcome for the company. These include unnecessary meetings and responding to unimportant emails or phone calls.

3. Improve Communication Skills

Effective communication is important for a leader. Around 3/4th of a leader’s day is spent on communicating.5 This is why it's critical that training should be devised to improve communication skills of top executives.

Only through effective communication, a leader will be able to encourage and motivate the staff. Important communication skills ofexecutive-level leaders include the following.

  • Verbal and non-verbal (body language) communication
  • Listening skills
  • Writing skills

Effective leaders don't just focus on the words but also the context of those words. They identify the core issues by eliminating the pretences or emotional content of the message. This ability allows them to effectively get to the bottom of the problem.

5. Network Security Training

The interdigitation of technology and business processes has made it vital that leaders gain technological knowledge. They should at least know about the basic technical terms relating to network and security.

Cyber threats a growing concern for large and small firms. According to a report by Business Continuity Institute (BCI) in the UK, malicious online attacks has emerged as a top threat mainly due to the increased adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT) technologies.6

The leaders should know about the basic terms related to cyberthreats such as phishing, DDOS attack, cookie theft, keylogging, malicious bots, malware, trojan horses, and ransomware. It's important to educate the leaders about the key technological risks facing firms today. They should also know about the key security standards such as ISO/IEC 2700, British Standard 7799 Part 3, ITIL, NIST, and ETO.

Executive level managers who want to gain quick familiarity of essential security terminologies can complete the SANS security leadership essentials course (MGT52). This course will explain the fundamental information that will help in managing online security in a firm. Important sections of the cybersecurity course include vulnerability assessment and management, network fundamentals, architectural approaches to online security, security policies, risks awareness and management, and security policies. Completing the course will ensure that the executive level managers and the security personnel are on the same page regarding common baseline security concepts and terminologies.

6. Action Learning Technique

One of the most common leadership training techniques for internal executives is action learning. The program involves a CEO or other C-level executive selecting a business challenge. The project involves some tough strategic issue that needs to be solved.

The executive level managers are grouped in a team to coordinate and develop recommendations to solve the problem. The team are provided access to internal and in some cases external experts. Taking part in the executive level program helps broaden the strategic thinking acumen and strengthen leadership traits such as leading, communicating, influence, etc. The participants get coaching and valuable exposure to active learning opportunities. For more information about the active learning technique for executive leaders, you can read the book Optimizing the Power of Action Learning by Michael J. Marquardt.

7. Scenario-Based Learning

Another way leaders can gain exposure to opportunities to develop critical leadership skills is through scenario-based learning. This involves using existing knowledge and skills to solve case studies or scenario. The programs help validate the leadership learning through fictional or real-life scenarios. Some of the benefits of a scenario-based learning program include the following.

  • Allow leaders to learn by doing
  • Leaders improve skills through getting direct feedback
  • It facilitates problem solving in learners
  • Scenario-based learning re-enforce primary messages

The scenario-based learning is a highly immersive approach to improve the abilities of leaders. It focuses on learning through application of knowledge. You can design complex or basic scenarios with the goal of validating leadership skills.

8. Outdoor Based Leadership Education

Outdoor-based leadership education has been gaining traction among corporations on the other side of the Atlantic. Many US firms such as NASA, USNA, Naval Academy, Columbia Business School and others are using outdoor-based education courses for leadership development.

Many institutions in the UK also offer outdoor based leadership training courses. Notable institutes include the Chris Croft Training, Institute for Outdoor learning, and Gapforce UK. These institutes are unlike traditional leadership training classroom-based programs in that the entire training takes place outside.

The outdoor leadership programs focus on team-based leadership model. Participants are provided the opportunity to develop leadership skills by taking part in challenging expeditions. These expeditions let leaders practice and improve communication, team building, collaborative, and other critical leadership skills. The program leaders improve their leadership skills as they lead a team across mountains, sea, coasts, lakes, and rivers.

Participants in the outdoor-based leadership program learn through situational appropriate actions in order to achieve group goals. They serve different roles such as peer leader, designated leader, self-leaders, and active followers. The participants have to make personal goals, take initiative, collaborate and show respect to team members. They have to communicate effectively and show tolerance under uncertainty and adversity.

The best thing about these outdoor based leadership training programs is that they teach environmental awareness. Participants of the leadership program learn about the connection between the natural and corporate world. They find out how different business decisions affect the environment — both positive and negative impact. It will help the leaders become aware of developing sustainable and environmentally friendly policies.

The Importance of Hiring the Right Candidate for the Executive Level Position

Apart from an effective leadership training program, it's recommended that you devise an effective program to recruit the most talented and experienced individuals for the leadership position. You need a top executive with experience, qualifications, skills, and expertise required to perform strategic decision.

The executive level managers will be at forefront of your company tasked with achieving overall corporate objectives. Most likely, your top executives have accumulated decades of experience with several milestones under their belt. They utilize their experience and knowledge to play a significant role in setting the strategic direction of the company.

It's best that you hire an executive search company to find prospects who will be ideal for the leadership position. This will save costs and time involved in searching for a leadership position. However, for an experienced executive search agency to find you the perfect candidate, you need to define the position to them, so they can focus their search on finding candidates that fall under your criteria.

Here are some of the things that you need to tell the headhunting firm.

  • What the position entails?
  • What will the everyday responsibilities and duties of the employee?
  • What attributes, skills, experience, and talent you require the employee to have to perform their responsibilities and duties effortlessly?

Since executive search agencies have worked with several companies in your industry, they can help you refine your search criteria. This will result in hiring of professional leadership who can steer the company to achieve corporate success.

Jefferson Maguire Executive Search can track down and recruit the best candidates for a leadership position in the UK. We have a unique executive search and headhunting process. Our staff can help your company fill a vacant leadership position in quick time. We can provide you with a list of high calibre candidates with a different background, experience, and salary expectations.

Contact us today for more information about our executive search services. Through our searches, you will be able to home in on a candidate with the right combination of interpersonal and technical skills for a top executive position.

Cited Sources

1. http://www.ijird.com/index.php/ijird/article/viewFile/86207/66068

2. https://www.amazon.co.uk/New-Leaders-Transforming-Art-Leadership/dp/0751533815

3. https://hbr.org/2014/01/strengthen-your-strategic-thinking-muscles

4. https://www.amazon.com/Habits-Highly-Effective-People-Powerful/dp/0743269519

5. https://www.inc.com/peter-economy/10-secret-communication-skills-of-top-leaders.html

6. https://www.itgovernance.co.uk/blog/cyber-attacks-are-the-top-threat-to-organisations/

7. https://www.nols.edu/en/about/custom-education/


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