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How to Incorporate Leadership Development Into Your Executive Education Program

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College and university administrators purposefully design programs for adult learners that provide them with a well-rounded understanding of both technical skills and interpersonal skills. Education that includes leadership development components allows learners to make a more significant impact within their organizations.

Based on our research at the Center for Creative Leadership, we’ve found that the best leaders consistently possess these 10 essential leadership characteristics:

  • Integrity
  • Ability to delegate
  • Communication
  • Self-awareness
  • Gratitude
  • Learning agility
  • Influence
  • Empathy
  • Courage
  • Respect

While many managers and leaders are talented in one or many of these areas, these skills rarely come naturally. As with technical skills, soft skills can be taught and require training to develop.

Despite the documented importance of interpersonal skills as leaders within an organization, there is a marked lack of education in this area. Nearly 60% of leaders say they never received any training before transitioning into their first leadership role. This underscores the need for higher education institutions to provide quality leadership development curriculum.

Unfortunately, when human and financial resources are limited, it is difficult to carefully craft and offer a practical soft skills program to coincide with technical skill advancement. To design an engaging leadership development curriculum requires tedious attention, research, and the right expertise. But when higher education institutions must weigh their numerous priorities, dedicating resources to developing a new training course is often off the table.

At the Center for Creative Leadership, our experts in higher education leadership development with decades of experience recommend three best practices to incorporate a leadership development curriculum into your executive education programs:

1. Provide research-backed offerings according to leadership level.

While most higher education institutions offer leadership development programs aimed at a certain leadership level, the curriculum often doesn’t consider the unique challenges and skills needed to succeed at each level.

The most effective leadership development curriculum and executive education programs offer research-backed resources and custom tools for each leadership level.

For example, brand new managers’ challenges will be completely different compared to experienced executives. C-level roles seek to re-educate themselves as innovations and business processes come into focus. And everyone in leadership at all levels in between face their own challenges according to their unique experiences.

A leadership development curriculum is more powerful, effective, and engaging when it’s tailored to the needs of your student body. Here are some examples of the unique skills that can be associated with different leader levels:

Emerging Leaders

Emerging leaders are at the beginning of their leadership journeys, and they need the right supports to succeed.

Programs for first-time leaders should include offerings such as:

  • Learning how to self-assess and become more self-aware in their environment.
  • Leading a key functional project to improve their responsibility and accountability.
  • Mentoring and coaching opportunities to help them grow and get exposure to other parts of the organization.

Middle Managers

Leaders who fall into this category will have the most variance across their needs and competencies and require the most customization in their learning journeys. These supervisory, managerial, and director-level leaders need curated programs to enhance their current skills and create a path toward greater results.

Programs for middle management leaders should include offerings such as:

  • Exposure to higher leaders and roles within and outside of an organization.
  • Involvement in professional or industry associations to forge connections and gain deeper insights.
  • Acting as a coach or mentor to emerging leaders in addition to being mentored themselves.
  • Opportunities to lead a major initiative to stretch their leadership muscles and get experience in real-world scenarios.

Senior Leadership

When leaders rise to higher-level positions, they must become the visionary that drives an organization to act and reach new heights.

Development for this group should focus on enhancing senior leadership skills such as strategic thinking, influence, and learning agility. Executive education programs that include industry-specific skill sets are critical for enterprise-wide success.

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2. Leverage leadership assessments to determine competency.

Competency assessments are crucial for identifying leadership skill gaps and opportunities for improvement for learners and institutions. Regular assessments also provide a measurable gauge of the effectiveness of your executive education courses so that adjustments can be made to optimize your courses.

Universities, colleges, and other institutions can use a 360 degree assessment to determine which leadership competencies their learners currently have and what to target for future development.

Partnering with a leadership development curriculum provider that can tailor competency assessments to an organization’s individual programs, course offerings, and student population can be helpful. These providers allow continuing education institutions to understand the strengths of their adult learners, which areas require development, and even weigh them by the level of importance.

3. Create scalable and stackable leadership development journeys.

Digital transformation swept the globe as social distancing guidelines associated with the pandemic were enforced, and now organizations have shifted toward virtual experiences. It has become widely recognized that in-person events aren’t always necessary for adult learners to earn certificates.

Now, employers, colleges, and universities are changing their approach to continuing education. Instead of focusing on one-time learning experiences, leadership development courses should be crafted to take learners on a journey through the different stages of their professional development process – and be offered in formats that are both convenient for the learner and scalable to reach a wider audience in a shorter time frame. Leveraging scalable options allows institutions to reduce the bandwidth necessary to design programs from scratch, and at the same time, diversify their offerings by bundling or “stacking” multiple solutions together.

Designing an effective leadership development program curriculum includes a combination of lectures, resources, discussions, small group activities, and real-world experiences. All of which can take place both in persona and virtually.

Final Thoughts

Strong interpersonal skills are a key element that makes good leaders great, so intentionally crafting a leadership development curriculum is vital for the success of future leaders and the future of your executive education program.

Upon self-assessment of their own development experiences, there appears to be a growing need for organizations to partner with neighboring institutions to fill the gaps within their programs. Instead of shying away from these partnerships, institutions should see it as a strategy for creating a network of executive learning and development that has the power to impact the future of leadership and a create a rich talent pipeline.

By designing executive education programs that incorporate a strong leadership development curriculum, institutions can expect to produce professionals that are committed to continuing their education and growth throughout the life of their career. These professionals will go on to shape the culture of their organizations, drive innovation, and positively impact the world.

Evaluate your institution’s readiness for incorporating a leadership development curriculum or offerings into your program by accessing our free readiness checklist.

This content was paid for and created by Center for Creative Leadership.

The editorial staff of The Chronicle had no role in its preparation.

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