Courage Can Lead Workers to the C-suite

Learning leaders can use immersive and experiential learning experiences to teach business executives how to be bolder on the job.

leadership courageThink of competencies that executive-level leaders acquire; what comes to mind? The ability to inspire? Or, advanced level skill in organization? Promoting high performance? What about courage? Think about courage for a second. Not many people realize the benefits of going into a company and being bold.

Korn Ferry Institute conducted an analysis of assessment data from 1,100 professionals, executive assessments leaders took over the past year or so, and data that revealed courage as one of the top competencies needed to propel someone into the C-suite. The research also detailed the differences in how professionals scored in a variety of competencies depending on their engagement and job level. Analyzing data from five different industries — professional services, technology, consumer goods, financial services and government — Korn Ferry concluded that high-level executives are nearly 2.5 times more likely to have increased levels of courage than midlevel leaders.

“There are a lot of reasons why different competencies can be important to different industries,” said Stu Crandell, senior vice president, Korn Ferry Institute. But according to the findings, courage was imperative across all of the different industries.

Courageousness may seem like a hard trait to improve on, but Crandell said group learning techniques that put workers in the position to learn by doing can help. “In terms of the development, we’ll look at the kinds of capabilities that one needs to develop. You might work with a team, and over a period of time, we’ll help them build those capabilities,” Crandell said.

He said making the learning experiential can have the most impact, even in a group setting because many immersive learning experiences can make it easier for executives to develop more innovative capabilities. “You want to make it very interactive in order to apply it to the situations in which they are currently struggling with because that’s going to make it hit home more.”

For example, to gain technical expertise or a deeper understanding of the often risk-friendly startup business environment — which traditionally rewards its executives, or anyone’s, bold ideas — he suggested a group of executives take a field trip to a company in Silicon Valley to observe how the executives work and which capabilities they display. He also suggested groups reconvene and debrief on what they experienced in order to make the learning more effective.

This interactive, out-of-office learning strategy is not generally a single event case; it can occur over a period of time, anywhere from four to 18 months or more as people would come together to teach models and frameworks, and then apply what they’ve learned and shared in their respective roles. There also should be some individual coaching. “It’s an ongoing process,” he said.

With the right learning and development techniques in place, executives can develop more courage and cascade the trait down the line to midlevel workers, and so on — especially when organizational objectives align with the learning — creating a broader structural initiative around change. “Our objective with the study was to see how our C-suite executives differ from other workers in the organization,” Crandell said. “We tried to pinpoint what the specific skills were that were different and how might that vary by industry, so it’s not a ‘one size fits all.’ ”

He said most learning leaders are looking for effective ways to execute leadership development and build their leadership pipelines. The findings from this study could potentially be used to help CLOs target their efforts to build the most critical capabilities that will drive business strategy.

Camaron Santos is an editorial intern for Chief Learning Officer. Comment below or email editor@CLomedia.com.

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