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Executive development is personalized to leaders everywhere

August 19, 2021 - 18 min read


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What is executive development?

Why has it become so urgent?

The main goals of executive development

Executive professional development and leadership skills

How to choose an executive development program

Implement executive development in your organization

An organization would be nothing without its people.

And even the best people need skilled leaders to:

But leaders don’t appear from thin air. If organizations want leaders to step up in executive positions, they need to develop them.

It’s possible to hire leaders, and many companies do. But developing them further can help organizations gain a competitive edge in their industry. It can also help them develop leaders with values that align with the organization's values and vision

This is where executive development comes in. It can solve all of these problems and more.

Let’s explore the definition of executive development and what it can do for your organization. We’ll also show you how you can choose the right executive development program based on your organization’s needs.

What is executive development? 

Executive development is a way to help develop performance and skills in executive employees. Another name for it is management development.

Typically, an executive development program will focus on developing leadership skills specifically.

Though this type of training is usually designed for executives, it can also be used for upper management, even if they aren't technically an executive. 

Organizations can also put new executive hires through executive development training before they step into a leadership position. For some companies, particularly those that fill leadership positions from internal promotions or start-ups that grow very rapidly, executive development is critical for ensuring leaders are competent and confident in their new roles.

Executive development aims to:

  • Improve managerial performance
  • Prepare people for the challenges they’ll encounter in future roles 
  • Help people handle challenging situations in a more efficient way

It can also help leaders evolve and mature before a promotion or change in roles.

While executive development is often offered as a one-off training program, it’s more effective as a systematic and ongoing learning process for managers and leaders. Indeed, learning and development at any level should be thought of as a set of practices and approach rather than a one-off event.

Why has executive development below the executive level become so urgent? 

With remote work now becoming a part of many companies’ new realities, there’s a new urgency for executive development. Managers need to adapt to new realities and a quickly evolving landscape.

According to Deloitte’s 2021 Global Human Capital Trends report, 70% of executives say that a shift to remote work has had a positive impact on the well-being of employees. But this shift requires changes to make remote work sustainable.

24% of executives agree that investing in team leader training is the top factor in achieving this sustainability. And it makes sense.

Traditional leadership styles don’t always work in a remote environment. As a result, leaders need to develop new skills, including soft skills and inclusive leadership skills, to adapt the way they orchestrate work and lead and develop their teams.

Based on Deloitte’s report, developing human capital and capability is critical to transforming work positively. 45% of executives agree that the most critical factor is to build an organizational culture that celebrates growth, adaptability, and resilience.


41% say that building workforce capability through upskilling, reskilling, and mobility is what matters most. Both of these factors require leadership that models growth, resilience, and continuous learning. 

Leaders can become more thoughtful about what they are modeling, and also actually become more adaptable and resilient, through the right type of executive development.

The right type of executive development can help leaders grow, personally and as leaders, making them more adaptable and effective in a changing hybrid world.

The main goals of executive development 

Here are three of the main goals you can fulfill using executive development in your organization.

1. Close a skill gap for future leaders

Rarely will a potential manager have all the necessary competencies to become the best leader they can be. In fact, some widely quoted studies have found only 10% of people are natural leaders — everyone else has to work at it.

Executive development can help fix the skill gap for these developing leaders. And even natural leaders may need some development within the context of the organization and where it is going.

Executive development can also close a skill gap at an organizational level. 78% of leaders say that skill-building is necessary for long-term business growth.

2. Keep a competitive advantage

It’s not easy to keep up with the competition in an increasingly competitive landscape. But highly developed leaders can give your organization an edge against that competition.

What’s more, your leaders — knowledgeable, committed, inspired — are a unique resource that no other organization can replicate.

Unlike a product or service, leaders have their own unique sets of strengths, perspectives, and skills that can set an organization apart. They have their own approaches and problem-solving techniques unique to them.

3. Develop leaders with strategic thinking

It’s possible to hire leaders from outside the organization. But developing leaders from within can help increase employee retention.

That’s because it can help increase their sense of belonging.  Seeing a commitment to leadership development from within can also help employees understand their own career path and aspirations.


By developing your own employees into leaders, you can also shape them to have the exact skills you need. And, effective leaders are crucial for businesses for many reasons.

For one, powerful leaders can use creativity and innovation to find new solutions to old problems. They also have the decision-making skills necessary to make difficult choices

Good leaders can also develop their own teams to grow and evolve, too. They can develop new leaders through mentoring. So, by developing one leader, you’re actually developing several leaders.

Executive professional development and leadership skills 

Executive coaching can help develop crucial executive leadership skills. Here are seven of these important skills that you can help your leaders develop in your organization:

1. Communication

At the heart of any leader’s role is communication. 

Communication skills are crucial for leaders to: 

Communication also helps them facilitate teamwork and be more collaborative.

2. Creativity

Employers consider creativity to be a top skill in the workforce.

With this skill, leaders can go from crisis to creativity by thinking outside of the box when they encounter challenges.

Leaders who are creative can also help organizations innovate and stand out in their industry. 

3. Listening

Knowing how to communicate matters, but knowing how to perform active listening is just as important as a leader in the digital era.

According to an Emtrain Workplace Culture Report, 10% of employees believe that their leaders wouldn’t listen to them if they made a complaint.

Employees can trust their leaders more if these leaders show that they’re able to listen. As a result, those employees can share their opinions but also feel heard and validated.

This, in turn, can lead to a better-performing team.

4. Empathy

Listening is closely tied to empathy

According to Emtrain’s Workplace Culture Report, 86% of employees say that empathy is important at work. But only 42% say that people in their workplace show empathy.

Plus, 31% say their leaders lack empathy. This is why it’s important to develop empathy in leaders.

We are born with the capacity for empathy, but empathetic leaders often have to be developed. An empathetic leader can't just understand someone else's feeling. They have to also understand what it is like to be in their shoes. Combined with compassion, empathy can be a powerful force for finding effective solutions and motivating action.

5. An ability to motivate

Employees won’t always be naturally motivated to perform well at work. Sometimes factors like performance bonuses or an exciting challenge can help increase motivation.

But motivation usually falls with time. It’s a leader’s responsibility to find ways to keep their people inspired.

When a leader can motivate their team, they can keep both productivity and morale high.

6. A strategic mindset

While it’s important to have attention to detail, leaders also need a strategic mindset. This can help them see the bigger picture and overcome business challenges.


They can then delegate the details to their team while they focus on the big-picture business strategy.

7. Delegation 

Speaking of delegation, this is another important skill that business leaders need to develop.

Being able to delegate doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Some high-performance employees will be able to focus on the details and achieve great work. But when it’s time for them to focus on the big picture, they’ll struggle to delegate the tasks they used to do.

It can be easy to default to the mindset that anything is done better when you do it yourself. 

But, this mindset can be detrimental to a team. It’ll especially be the case when team members don’t feel like their leader trusts them to do the job they were hired to do.

Luckily, delegation is like any other skill — people can develop it over time with guidance and practice. With leadership development, emerging leaders can learn to delegate effectively. In turn, this can increase the performance of an entire team.

How to choose an executive development program 

Executive development matters, but it doesn’t happen on its own. Organizations will usually need outside help to deploy a leadership development program and manage the enrollment of their leaders. 

Insiders can train other leaders in the organization. However, it’s important to also seek outside help to fill gaps in skills since there can be institutional blindspots to the gaps. Over time, if leadership development is left only to insiders, these gaps can perpetuate and create larger cultural issues.

But more than one outside solution exists. Here are three tips for choosing the executive development program that’s right for your organization.

1. Determine where and how leaders can access training

Executive education programs traditionally happen face to face. But if your organization relies on remote work, you need executive development that meets your leaders where they are, often online or virtual instead of physically in person. 

Meeting virtually doesn't mean they aren't meeting "live" and engaging with a real leadership coach or peers. This type of interaction and live practice tends to be more engaging and result in more measurable growth than an asynchronous leadership course, no matter how convenient.

This is especially true if you have leaders working across the country or even the world.

Even if you had the best program available, it wouldn't be of much help if you cannot deploy it for your developing leaders.

2. Understand your leaders' development needs

Not all organizations have the same executive development needs. Understand the unique business and workforce challenges of your company and industry. Check in on pulse and other workforce surveys as well as exit interviews of those leaving the company. This can provide valuable insight into what needs your people have, where they find leadership lacking, and how they'd like to develop themselves.

Which skills need development or improvement? What weaknesses will you need to account for?

This will also help you pick the right development program for your team.

Think about the learning experience based on those needs — not necessarily on the name of the organization that provides the training. You want a solution that can best fit your organization’s unique needs.

3. Find an ongoing solution

The best executive development programs provide an ongoing program experience. That’s because one of the most important roles of executive leaders in today's environment is that they constantly grow, stay open to learning, and remain humble to all that they don't know.   

No one is ever done learning. Executive development can be about adopting the mindsets and practices to stay in a curious, open, learner mode regardless of how much power or responsibility you achieve. But this type of development — and what gets in the way of this type of growth — can be very personal. That's why for the very top, personalized, ongoing executive development has long been the standard.

To become the best version of themselves, the leaders in your organization need to keep developing their skills and resilience over time.

Implement executive development in your organization 

If you want to develop resilient leaders with valuable skills, it’s important to implement executive development.

BetterUp uses whole-person growth to drive company performance. We help organizations develop leaders by giving individuals the tools they need to thrive — not just at work but in all aspects of their lives.

We use technology and science to empower leaders to learn new skills, ignite fresh passions, and become the best version of themselves.

Request a custom demo to see how BetterUp can help with your organization’s executive development.

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Published August 19, 2021

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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