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posted: 8/15/2019 1:00 AM

Rethinking executive education: Embracing socio-emotional learning in the c-suite

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  • Anthony Fletcher

    Anthony Fletcher


When you consider executive education, many imagine a traditional, university-based system tailored to the needs of the individual business. These programs, which often included significantly condescended MBA-type programs designed to provide credentials to organizational leaders in preparation of more advanced roles. But, these programs don't necessarily teach leaders how to, well, lead.

Not all leaders know how to lead

We assume that a newly promoted executive can lead from day one. In my opinion, this is one of the biggest fallacies in corporate America. It's also one I've seen play out repeatedly in my 20-plus years working with Fortune 50 organizations and as the head of a top-ranked executive search firm -- often with disastrous effects.

This "leadership assumption" and ongoing focus on traditional executive education has resulted in a professional development model that has remained relatively unchanged in the past 50 years -- one that is primarily focused on functional skills training with only a minor focus on the "soft skills" like leadership and emotional intelligence. No wonder our leaders often cannot lead.

What should modern executive education look like?

Given that so much of executive education focuses on functional and not emotional skills, it shouldn't come as a surprise that workers continue to feel disconnected from their managers. In fact, as many as 85 percent of workers claim to hate their jobs -- especially their boss (Gallop, 2017). This type of job dissatisfaction breeds low morale, decreased productivity and high turnover.

By increasing the proportion of executive education dedicated to socio-emotional learning, imagine how much more connected many of these workers would feel! The impact on our corporate cultures and, by extension, our economy would be astronomical.

In addition to basic leadership and emotional intelligence training, successful executive education programs should also help prepare leaders for the changing business environment by going beyond the traditional business texts and out into the world around us.

Concepts like the generational differences, changing forms of communication, and greater workplace diversity are transforming organizational culture and should be represented in a well-rounded executive education program.

• Shifting Generational Landscape: Today's Baby Boomer and Gen X leaders are now faced with not one, but two, younger generational counterparts entering the workforce -- Millennials and Gen-Z. Millennials, which have been having an undeniable impact on organizational dynamics for the past 20 years, have helped bring the importance of generational understanding and socio-emotional learning to the forefront. However, today, we are beginning to see the entry of Gen-Z into the marketplace. It's easy to paint these younger workers with the same brush, but they approach work, careers and communication very differently from their Millennial counterparts.

• New Forms of Communication: Leaders need to be able to adapt to a variety of communication styles and tools to effectively engage their teams, and today, there is a seemingly endless list of ways to communicate. Smart executive education programs should not only address different communication styles but ground leaders on the various platforms and encourage technological curiosity.

• Greater Workforce Diversity: Generally, organizations have already made significant inroads in improving their approach to diversity education and sensitivity training.

But diversity-led insights deserve a much more prominent position in the executive education program and should expand beyond narrow definitions based on gender and race.

The best diversity programs will reflect the broader diversity around us to include the diversity of thought, experience, perspective, background. People bring much more to the table than their gender or skin color and great leaders know how to understand this and leverage these differences.

The future of executive education

By embracing socio-emotional learning in an executive education program, an organization can help develop individuals into well-rounded, successful leaders that better understand and thrive in the changing corporate environment.

• Anthony Fletcher is founder and CEO of My Future Consulting, Inc, a boutique executive search firm based in Orland Park. You can follow him on Twitter at @Real_AFletcher.