February 4

2021 Alert: Don’t Make This Mistake

The Conference Board recently released their “C-Suite Challenge” report. CEOs in the study are reportedly focused on 5 “external hurdles” in 2021:

  1. COVID-19-related disruptions
  2. Lack of quality talent
  3. Resource constraints relative to business needs
  4. Lack of innovation culture
  5. Regulation
In order to deal with these challenges, the report states that CEO’s plan to focus on the following strategies:
  • Accelerate the pace of digital transformation
  • Improve innovation
  • Modify their business models
  • Lower costs
  • Streamline processes

Nowhere on the list of issues is retention of key talent – also missing is the strategy of investing in key talent. Was this an error? I don’t think so. Does that mean that CEOs see more urgent issues and development is not a priority? YES! This is a big miss!

As I reported last year, with the increasing economic challenges resulting from the worldwide pandemic, organizations would be eliminating or dramatically reducing leadership development. That is exactly what is happening in many (not all) businesses. The downside of this choice is potentially devastating.

Making retention of high potential employees a top priority may feel like it’s a wasted choice because it is a ‘given’. The problem is that organizations don’t put resources into things that don’t end up on a CEO’s priority list. Of course, an organization will try to win back a high potential who announces they are leaving for a lucrative offer. But that reactive tactic usually doesn’t work long term.

When we stop development initiatives, it signals to high potentials that their development is not important. They begin to wonder if the business will return to meaningful development. If I am interested in growth and don’t think I can get it at my current employer, I am open to the other companies who are providing it. There is always a risk of losing a high performer/future leader and it is imperative that companies find innovative ways to continue to invest in their leaders even in difficult times.

Here are three ideas that a CEO should consider:
  1. Rather than provide executive coaching for one person, provide group coaching for a small group. A great executive leadership coach who wants to partner with a business will be open to charging the same amount to coach a group of people. They will consider charging the same amount if the approximate time investment is similar to the amount of time they would invest to coach one person.
  2. Rather than taking a 6 to 9 months to roll something out, consider doing a sprint or roll out an initiative faster than you would normally do something.

A lot of corporate leadership development programs start in the fall and end in the spring. If that was your program pre-pandemic, rather than not running the program altogether, I recommend shortening the process, teaching less material, and putting the emphasis on development activities. If the participants are told their leadership practices are the mainstay of the program and they are taught how to measure their progress, the learning can be fantastic. Participants who are held accountable to grow their own skills through practice, reflection, and journaling can establish new habits and become more effective in their leadership even in 120 days.

  1. Gather your best future leaders and help them learn about leadership effectiveness. Ask them to learn the information and teach their peers what they learned.

One of the most powerful and least used techniques is putting learners in charge of teaching. They will need help and the process must be observed and participants must be guided but it works very well. One facilitator/instructor can lead a train-the-trainer process and enable a small group of leaders to co-teach your leadership development program. The teachers learn more than they would if they were only participants.

More importantly, there is one thing that all CEOs can do and should seriously consider in 2021.

Everything in a hierarchy flows downstream. Therefore, a CEO’s personal development makes a difference and impacts whether others invest time and energy into their own development. In organizations that see and experience a CEO who is too busy to invest in their own development, are also too busy. This flows through the organization.

If CEOs don’t role model leadership development, only a few employees will do it themselves. It’s a big problem if a CEO says do as I say, not do as I do because it leads to mistrust and a lack of influence. People feel coerced and manipulated and do not follow through with their own development.

So, for 2021, I suggest CEOs focus on their own development. Create a Start, Stop, and Continue list. Here are two quick ways to determine where to start: Zenger Folkman’s 8-minute assessment and/or Marshall Goldsmith’s 20 Bad Habits from his book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.


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