Me? Exec. development? Of course: Because I’m worth it

Exec developmetn

What tends to happen to your own development the more senior you become as a leader?

Yep. It tends to be put on the back burner and you – often for very laudable reasons – support everyone else’s opportunity to grab some L&D, before or in the place of you engaging in development for yourself.

The reasons executives tend to do this are many and varied, including:

  • Selflessness
  • Cost consciousness
  • Sense of being skilled enough
  • Not a priority
  • Insufficient time

Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail in order to help you make a case (to you) for keeping up some development for yourself:


When the reason for senior execs not engaging in development is genuinely that they want to give others the time and the space to do so, it can be a very generous gesture and one that others appreciate deeply. As a strategy it is fine to adopt in the short or medium-term, just make sure it doesn’t become a long-term approach as the pace of change in the business world requires that your own skills as a leader need sharpening often,

Cost Consciousness

Nah, Not having it. I appreciate the sentiment for quoting cost awareness as a reason for senior execs not engaging in their own development but in my experience it is usually an excuse for not actually wanting to undertake development at all. Cost consciousness also misses the key point for me: As the most senior leaders in the organisation you have the greatest reach and influence. As a result you have the opportunity to add the greatest value to the greatest number. Therefore, the better you are able to lead, the greater the positive influence you are able to exercise.

It maybe that you are unable to afford any development as a company – fine. But when things improve, ensure senior leader development is back on the agenda early.

Skilled enough

This is a regular mistake. You may be skilled enough as the Lawyer, Finance Director or Human Resource Director but what about as a person and as a leader? Are you the finished article in these areas and disciplines? I know you are not arrogant enough to suggest you are, so please don’t stop developing your leadership skills and evolving as a human being just because you have a seat at the top table – it’s short-sighted and will limit your career and effectiveness.

Not a priority

Wrong. In order for you to meet the ever changing situations and contexts in which you lead, development should always be a priority. Getting better at what you do is not just a result of attending a Business School programme or engaging a mentor. It might be that you prioritise reading a respected trade or leadership journal every month; it might be as simple as creating an hour a week to review your own performance as an Executive in order to inform how you might do even better next week. Whatever routes you pursue to access your development, ensure that it remains a priority.

Insufficient time

Of all the reasons Executives give for not engaging in their own development this (closely related to several other reasons) is the most oft quoted. I don’t buy it. If you prioritise development sufficiently then you can and will find the time for it. I find it ironic that people often talk to me about their time pressures during a two hour coaching session … ? The other option is to engage in your development outside of work hours, especially where that work is much more strategic in nature, such as developmental coaching. Stop watching the latest season of Game of Thrones or The Crown and use an hour or two of your own time to invest in yourself. Indeed some senior Execs I have worked with see development as part of their own reward strategy for a job well done. Is that an approach you could adopt?

At the nub of much of the obstacle to executive development is understanding its significance to the organisation. If the most senior leaders are well developed human beings, who can lead effectively even when under the often extreme pressure that goes with the role, then the organisation is much more likely to thrive. Yes, those in more junior roles also need development opportunities too but if you can begin to lead effectively from the top, your impact on the success of the business is multiplied simply by dint of the reach that you have. Engage in your development today because “you’re worth it”.

Glenn Wallis provides executive development for senior leaders. He also speaks and writes on leadership. If you want to discuss your own development needs, contact Glenn here.

First among equals: The main reason you have a leaky leadership pipeline

 – A 5 minute read –

There are many reasons why your organisation may not have a high quality leadership pipeline upon which to call when a current leader moves on, or a new position is created that requires someone to head it up. However, one reason above all others is the most significant contributing factor to the lack of leadership talent patiently waiting in the wings. It is the reason why reports such as Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends Report regularly suggest leadership development is so high on the list of concerns for Executives.

Get a handle on these

If you are experiencing a dearth of people who are ready or willing to step up into the role of your most senior leaders, it could well be because:

  • Your current cadre of senior leaders provide a really poor role model for aspirants
  • More junior leaders don’t get an insight into senior leadership roles and so make assumptions about what it must be like to be in such a role
  • Talent programmes alienate both those inside them and those excluded from them
  • Regulatory pressures, such as the Senior Manager Regime, are debilitating and putting a lot of talented people off making the leap into the most senior leadership positions
  • The culture in your organisation fails to support and promote female leaders in the right kind of numbers into the most senior roles.

Whilst these reasons are all important and you will do well to explore them, they are not the largest single reason for your currently empty (or leaky) leadership pipeline. The largest single reason for the very real challenges that exist around leadership succession is that the current in-house leadership population do not typically do an effective job of developing the next round of leaders.

Skills shortage

Senior people tell me they are under such pressure to deliver that they don’t have the time to dedicate to mentoring and coaching their successors. I get it but it’s not the whole story. Time pressures exist, certainly. So do ego, insecurity and self-centredness. Yet even these negative traits, in my experience, are nowhere near as prevalent as some would have you believe.

No, it’s much simpler than that: Developing very senior leaders requires a skillset that many current leaders just don’t possess, even where they are willing to try and where they could prioritise sufficient time to do so. Whilst there are doubtless technical skills required to lead at the highest level, so much of the role requires a highly developed personal psyche and social-cognitive profile. All of which allows for nuanced, responses and complex personal and interpersonal responses to the challenges faced when in the ultimate leadership positions.

A range of solutions

For the technical areas a ‘wannabe leader’ can turn to an external mentor or their current boss, either of whom may have excelled in the role and can share really important insights. Yet, those same people rarely possess the abilities to develop a human being, in order that that person is able to step into a senior leadership role with confidence, able to hold their own in the highly charged environment, from Day 1.

Acknowledging such difficulties in developing pretty deep elements of a person’s make-up, prompts many large organisations to look to experienced leadership development providers, who can provide the highest quality one-to-one support for would-be leaders. It is only through such an approach that many potential seniors leaders will be able to succeed in the long term, as the Executives and CEOs of tomorrow.

Dr Glenn P Wallis provides leadership consultancy and executive coaching to senior leaders in organisations. He also provides keynote presentations and writes extensively from his experience of nearly 20 years in the field. If you would like to find out more, please contact us here.