Leadership must start with learning

Written by Armin Hopp on 18 September 2018

As more individual tasks become automatable, jobs are being redefined, re-categorised and revalued, according to PwC’s 21st CEO Survey: Talent, based on 1,293 interviews with CEOs in 85 countries.

It reports: 'Success in an automated world will mean people and machines working together, rather than one replacing the other. Exceptional skills and leadership will be needed through this transformation and beyond.'

PWC points out that 69% of those responding to the Edelman trust survey believe that building trust in their company should be the CEO’s most important role but, despite this, just 21% of CEOs say they’re communicating about the potential impact on jobs of automation and AI ‘to a large extent’.

Managers stand in the way of effective learning

Effective learning is key to preparing leadership to meet challenges and to communicate change. Almost three quarters (72%) of CEOs believe that the next three years will be more critical for their industry than the last 50.

If the company’s top managers buy into the importance of soft skills development, they can then play an important role in leading by example.

Yet more than half of respondents to the same Towards Maturity learning and development survey of the C suite say that they face reluctance from managers when it comes to implementing learning and development programmes – and that management is one of the main barriers standing in the way of organisations having a successful and innovative learning programme.

This lack of buy-in from leadership to the critical importance of learning and development is also concerning because leaders, perhaps more than anyone else, stand to benefit from communications skills development themselves. There are three things training professionals can do to drive soft skills development at the C-level:

  1. Focus on business objectives. Top executives are typically time-pressed and will not engage with learning and development unless they have a clear understanding of the business benefits it will bring. It is important to set up a clear two-way channel of communication so that executives can give feedback on where they see areas of weakness for development and so that training professionals can promote the business benefits of soft skills which are key to leadership. These soft skills include negotiation, communication and even language skills.
  2. Promote authenticity. Companies that come across as authentic, honest and ethical are increasingly those that perform the best. As millennials begin to form the majority of the workforce and the customer base, they are demanding higher standards of communication and accountability, and it is important that leadership recognises this changing world. C-level employees may no longer hand out edicts from on high. They need to be able to communicate with all levels of staff and customers in an honest and authentic way. Some people are better at this than others to start with, but these skills may be taught.
  3. Foster peer learning. It can be lonely at the top. C level executives may feel that admitting they would benefit from learning and development weakens their position as highly paid, highly skilled business leaders. Training professionals have a part to play in breaking down this preconception and building a culture of ongoing self-directed learning that includes collaborating and learning with and from others, even at this level. This is particularly the case with soft skills that can bring hard business benefits.

If the company’s top managers buy into the importance of soft skills development, they can then play an important role in leading by example. If a CEO demonstrates her willingness to learn German in order to communicate better with a major client, she is in a good position to demand more from her team by setting the bar high for self-directed learning.

At the same time, she is providing clear evidence of drinking her own champagne – not only does she encourage others to participate in soft skills training, but she also takes her own good advice. This way, when leaders demonstrate that they value learning, they can play a key part in helping build a self-directed learning culture for the benefit of the business as a whole.

For more information about what success in learning means, download this Speexx white paper.


About the author

Armin Hopp is the Founder and President of Speexx. Speexx helps large organisations everywhere to drive productivity by empowering employee communication skills across borders. 



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