Want to become a leader? Learning can take you forward

Leaders have the tough job of taking decisions and allocating resources, which is getting more challenging in a world that is getting complex by the day. Learning is the one skill that can help them tackle the issues and keep moving forward.

But what are their learning needs and how do they arm themselves with the right way to learn?

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The key learning needs
Shreyasi Singh, Founder and CEO of Harappa Education, says, “The top learning of C-suite executives are either people-linked or performance-linked. This includes how well they inspire their teams, peers, stakeholders and clients as well as how well they scale up the performance of a project by adding their personal inputs.”

With people reaching leadership positions earlier in life, they suddenly shift from needing technical expertise to be inspiring and thoughtful. They also end up being a co-CEO of culture in the organisation. Thus, understanding inclusion and individual strengths, as well as where to deploy what skills have become important learning requirements.

Sumit Kumar, Chief Business Officer, TeamLease Degree Apprenticeship, agrees with the need to focus on soft skills and upskilling on perseverance and positive attitude. “These remain constant, even if the nature of the problem they need to solve varies.”

AI will shape each function and job role and this is something CEOs cannot ignore. They need to understand this to improve revenue, Kumar adds.

Mohan Kannegal, CEO-India and APAC, Emeritus, says while traditional skills are still in demand, there is a rise in demand for certain types of courses. “Based on our experience running 50-plus programmes across the world for CXOs, the top learning needs are a mix of new-age and conventional skills. Digital, AI and data are critical new-age skills. The other skills that continue to be in demand are business strategy, corporate finance and managing external stakeholders; the board, investors, regulators and media.”

The more digital an industry is, the more the emphasis on digital skills. Similarly, in some industries like banking, regulation is central to everything. So a CXO should understand such aspects. “The most important thing in our opinion is the ability to make the transition — from a functional head or a business head to a CXO role. This requires strategy-level, organisation-wide, 10-year-horizon thinking,” Kannegal adds. Choosing the right ways to learn
Kumar of TeamLease Degree Apprenticeship shares his experience of reading a book on two historical leaders and their styles and finding a reference point on how to navigate today’s world of leadership — with authority or with collaborative influence. “Reading and dialoguing with other leaders are the best ways for leaders to learn, I feel. When I speak to leaders, I try to understand what mistakes they have made and how they resolve them. This dialogue with experts is critical and courses alone may not help get this contextual understanding,” Kumar adds.

Singh adds further context: “They choose learning methods based on the type of skill. More tactical and domain specific skills are tackled at the personal discovery level (podcasts, books, articles, etc). Softer skills, on the other hand, or leadership skills are expected from either executive education programmes or weekend retreats. One big factor for the C-suite is the choice of their peers in the open cohort programmes. They seek to network beyond their company and domain.”

Elaborating on the need for coaching, Kannegal says they have experienced a 40% rise in the demand for CEO and leadership coaching over the last 24 months.

Every model of learning delivers outcomes. “The key is to optimise for one’s goals. Classroom programmes are great for bonding with classmates and faculty but are a challenge from a schedule and travel perspective. They also tend to be delivered less frequently, so a learner may have to wait till when class starts. Online learning is great for flexibility, meeting classmates from different parts of the world and being available on-demand. But online learning may be a challenge for those who prefer face-to-face interaction. There is definitely something special about meeting people face-to-face. This is why at Emeritus, we offer a blended learning model – bringing together the best of online and classroom in most of our programmes,” he adds.

Learning from peers

Singh adds that peer learning is the strongest in this group in comparison to any other hierarchy in a company, as the cohort has a set of shared experiences and wisdom. They hate being preached to. Considering their mandates, they learn best with real-life case studies specific to their role. They like to participate and vocalise their thoughts.

“To use a line from the movie The Matrix, ‘there is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path’. We see our programmes as an opportunity for them to practise the skills, many of which they are already aware of. More importantly, the learning journey is really about self-discovery,” Kannelgal adds.

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