For Senior Executives, Personal Development Is Professional Development

As leaders work their way up the corporate ladder, it’s likely that they have taken advantage of professional development opportunities along the way. They may have taken courses, attended conferences and upskilled where they could. But what happens once you get to the top? How can executives continue to grow as leaders?

Why Executive Leaders Need To Keep Growing

As you progress into executive leadership, professional development might look different. Just because you have reached the perceived pinnacle of your career does not mean that you have reached the pinnacle of your effectiveness and impact. 

Executives have the difficult job of thinking about the world from different perspectives, including those of their employees, stakeholders, customers and everyone in between. One day you might have to speak with a business partner experiencing challenges. Another day you might have to work with a department that has just gone through budget cuts. As an executive, you need to be attuned to all of that at any given time, having to navigate through situations where there is no set outcome.

Executives must be able to maintain composure and stability amid tough situations and practice compassion and empathy. They need to develop a systems-thinking view and make connections between ideas or decisions and have an understanding of the interconnectedness of those within the organization, within the industry and beyond. They also need to be able to balance compassion with boundaries.

Shifting Professional Development Needs

In the early years of your career, professional development opportunities are plentiful. It is easier to identify any skills gaps that you may need to fill, whether you want to specialize in your role and pursue further education or you want to master a wider range of skills and therefore seek complementary opportunities. Not only are you able to identify the skills that you would like to develop, you are also able to find a variety of professional development opportunities to fulfill your needs.

However, once you move into senior leadership, professional development is not as straightforward. Demands and responsibilities change as you move up within an organization. These roles typically require less specific skills and technical knowledge. Executives need to be proficient in people leadership, business management, strategy, systems thinking, vision, inspiration and innovation. Therefore, professional development for leaders now calls for opportunities to develop not skill, but mindset. 

Where C-Suite Leaders Can Find Professional Development Opportunities

For CEOs, personal development is professional development. Exposure to different perspectives helps shore up the leadership mindset, moving away from functional expertise and into strategic thinking. However, there are no specific courses or workshops for that. CEOs might plan for leadership retreats for their teams or boards but not really seek opportunities for themselves. Here are some examples of experiences in which senior executives can develop the leadership mindset.

• Board roles in non-profits. The boards of nonprofit organizations are often composed of professionals from varying backgrounds working for the same cause. Joining such a board gives you exposure to different ways of thinking, ideas and situations that you may not normally run into.

• Mentorship (peers, same industry and diverse industries). The benefits of mentorship are well known, but at this level, senior executives may have outgrown their internal mentors. They could seek peer mentorship, even in the same industry with someone who might be further along in their role. The most overlooked opportunity is mentorship from individuals outside of their industry. The perspective of someone in a similar role but in a different industry is essential for innovation, vision and strategic thinking.

• CEO roundtables. Much like peer mentorship, CEO roundtables provide a safe space for senior executives to share their experiences with others and, depending on the forum, could offer perspectives from a wide range of organizations.

• Executive coaching. While mentors can provide valuable insights, they may not always be objective since they are bringing their own experiences into the partnership. An executive coach can be a valuable resource for leaders. They come from a place with less bias and can challenge you in a different way because they are not attached to what you want to do next like someone connected to your business may be.

• Personal board of advisors. Just as a board advises a CEO, you can build your own personal board of advisors for “Me, Inc.” This is a group of people from different backgrounds who can advise you on different areas of your life because they are supporting one thing: you.

• 360° assessment. I always start my clients with a 360° assessment because there is so much to learn from the results. These assessments ask for both your personal view of your leadership as well as that of your team and where they do or do not line up. It provides the leader with a starting point to create an action plan based on what they learned from the assessment: a perfect growth opportunity.

• Reading about strategy, leadership and managing people (emotional intelligence). In this case, valuable reading materials for CEOs are ones that are about expanding your perspective, not teaching specific skills. Business-focused books can expose you to other ways of thinking and develop your judgment, risk-taking, direction and strategy.

Leading a different business function outside of your functional expertise. Although you might have some understanding of the different roles or departments within your organization, there is no better way to learn than to work within those functions and enrich your knowledge of their perspectives.

Always Make Time For Growth

Some leaders think about development for everyone else but not themselves, not out of complacence or arrogance, but perhaps because they have forgotten about themselves or don’t know where to begin. You never know it all or have it all figured out. This world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) is ever-changing, and you must evolve with society, your industry and your organization to lead your teams into the future.


Article by:

Jenn Lofgren


Return to list