Note to c-suite: flaunt your learning and development

Some of those in the c-suite of some organizations want to keep it a secret when they are involved in any kind of leadership development. This manifests itself when individuals in those hallowed positions either believe that they are beyond learning new things (they have shut themselves off to new learning opportunities), or they receive “special” learning opportunities, in a sequestered and secretive way so that the rest of the organization doesn’t know that they are receiving “training” or “development”. I fear for these senior leaders and their organizations.

Although there may be special learning needs for this group (just like there might be special learning needs for first line supervisors or middle managers) – when those at the top of the organization deny or hide their learning behind a wall of invincibility, it can create a dilemma – or damage – in the rest of the organization.

The fact of the matter is that we all need to continue to learn. We all have developmental needs, and this doesn’t mean we’re weak or bad leaders. It means we need to continually reinvent ourselves to keep up, and that is a good thing. It means that there is always something to get better at. It’s unfortunate that some executives want to cover up or deny their own learning.

Suggestions for C-suite executives

Be open about your own learning and development. Don’t think for a second that leaders throughout the organization don’t notice the absence of discussion about c-suite development and learning. They notice, and because you are hiding or denying your own development, they may be scoffing at any attempts at their own development too. You are creating an environment that values invincibility and downplays learning. The downside of that culture of invincibility may include such serious side effects as a reluctance to take risks and covering up errors. The upside of your openness about your learning may be an increased focus on creativity, risk taking and ongoing learning.

Encourage learning throughout the organization. Your support of learning and development at all levels in the organization is crucial. It will set your organization up for the talent pipeline that you need to be successful in the coming years. Become aware of the development programs that are offered in your organization and volunteer to assist with them. Support your staff in their learning and development by discussing it with them. Coach them through the obstacles of applying what they learn in the workplace.

You aren’t ever too smart or too invincible to stop learning and developing. Set the example for the rest of the organization by engaging in learning experiences and letting others know what you are learning and describing how you are using what you learn. Don’t hide it, flaunt it!


I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

6 comments on “Note to c-suite: flaunt your learning and development

  1. I enjoyed this article. And, it is good advice. In competition for blog attention today is an article that talks about the high rate of boss bullying on US leadership teams. If leaders took a serious look at their effectiveness and manner of delivery this rate would come down significantly.

    Likewise, when US business adopts the concept that workers (all workers) can actually self-actualize within the work they perform – leadership takes on a higher meaning.

    I think the problem you are raising also speaks of the internally competitive business mindset. Learning new things makes people feel vulnerable until they master the new skill. There could be a 90-day lag period where performance is less than stellar. In internally competitive organizations with people competing for scarce positions of autonomy, this doesn’t play well.

    In the collaborative mindset culture, catalytic coaching and learning new things is more expected.


  2. Welcome Dianne,

    I’d love to see the article about the high rate of “boss bullying on US leadership teams” if you could provide a link. Because I don’t believe it. The press loves to write about this, but rarely do they focus on the high rate of really good leaders. Their focus makes us believe that leadership is in a very sad state. I disagree.

    I will agree that there is internal competition within many organizations, and hadn’t thought of that as one thing that is responsible for leaders hiding their vulnerability. This is likely to have become worse with the economy we’re in.


  3. Trained staff perform better, but motivation can be a problem. Bosses on training courses or encouraging people to undertake learning is not enough – we all have that ‘what’s in it for me’ and being good or better at a job I do anyway does not always cut it.

    Plus what standard do you use to determine whether the person is competent. In-house training is usually good, but moving within the company or to a new one how do you prove your good. Mapping qualifications – which we do for people in the UK – provides an aspiration, looks good in a frame on the wall and works well for executives as well as staff.

    The ‘look at me’ attitude cuts in and people become proud of their achievements rather than as the article states “cover up or deny their learning”. Step up to the plate out there, show how could you are and can really be.

  4. Mary Jo,

    Here’s a great quote that pretty much sums everything up: “Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn.” – John Cotton Dana

    I’m a lifelong learner. I’m a firm believer that if you set out each day to learn just one new thing about your job, life, etc., you’ll be a better person and leader. Things change – change with them. Know about the change. Help others adjust to the change to become more effective. That’s what a leader does.

    Great post! Keep up the great work!

    Kirk Baumann
    Director of Career Connections

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