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updated: 8/17/2021 12:45 PM

Executive education and development — A unique journey of commitment

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  • Eric Kurtz

    Eric Kurtz

By Eric Kurtz
College of Lake County

As an executive, or executive wannabe, do you wonder what successful executives are doing to educate and develop themselves?

There is no perfect professional development path. Each executive's education is a unique and ongoing journey similar to but different from other executives. There is no one size fits all plan, but there are a few noteworthy themes observed in the journeys of successful executives.

Based on formal and informal assessments, all professional development plans are fluid and dynamic, changing based on the skills, competencies and behaviors needed to succeed in the current economy, industry of employment and environment. The most common theme is the self-driven commitment to an executive's own learning and development.

Formal and informal assessments are the multilayered foundation of any worthwhile professional development plan and are applicable for executives, too. Assessments help an executive maximize their skill and professional development outcomes with a judicious use of time.

More time spent participating in learning activities does not equate to skill development or time well spent. Prior to jumping into any formal or informal education, executives must self-assess to identify their learning preferences. An executive should ask themselves if they learn best in workshops, online courses or programs, reading books, listening to podcasts or audio books, watching videos, coaching or intensive conferences. They must also self-assess whether they learn best alone, one-on-one or in a group. Each executive has a proclivity for a unique mix of these.

Regular assessments of skills are necessary to identify and confirm strengths and gaps, the latter of which indicate opportunities for development. This is best accomplished through the lens of current leadership competencies at least once a year through a formal self-assessment. These assessment results should then be filtered through the executive's learning preferences.

Such assessments can often be accessed through an employer's talent management system, but are also available through other sources, including the Workforce & Professional Development Institute at College of Lake County.

Many successful executives have an annual independent development plan they revisit at least quarterly. This plan is the result of merging the skill gaps with the solutions to foster development of deficient skills.

These solutions represent a broad definition of education. Although the right solutions could be formal education, such as an undergraduate or advanced degree, the right solution could also be listening to podcasts on the commute into work or during a workout, watching TED Talks over lunch, regularly reading recognized trade journals, meeting with formal or informal mentors and more. The list of possible solutions for executive education has grown and broadened in recent years to the benefit of all aspiring executives.

Assessments and learning solutions are great, but they are nothing to an executive without a personal commitment to their own development. Successful executives own their intellectual and experiential growth. They do not leave it up to their employer or anyone else. They do not follow a prescriptive plan touted to benefit all executives.

They do not complain about being too busy to learn. Successful executives understand their professional development is an important priority and they find a way to do it. And a great by-product is that they model the value of learning for their employees.

The Workforce & Professional Development Institute offers one-on-one as well as group face-to-face, self-paced and live online programs to improve executive competencies. Some of the most popular programs offered include: decision making, emotional intelligence, influencing others, change management and coaching.

There are also a broad range of communication programs, from presentation skills to business writing.

All too often, executives and those aspiring to be executives seek a step-by-step predetermined plan to advance their skills to succeed. There is no one book, workshop, degree or activity that upon completion will make anyone a successful executive.

Furthermore, executives are never done learning and developing the skills they need to succeed. It's a journey. Commit to it and enjoy the ride.

• Eric Kurtz, M.B.A., is executive director of the Workforce & Professional Development Institute at College of Lake County.