7 Ways Executives Can Continue to Improve Their Basic Professional Skills

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As leaders of their organizations, executives need to be able to identify their weaknesses and work to improve them to ensure they lead their teams to success. A 2021 study found that a significant portion (between about 40 percent to over half) of all new leaders fail within their first 18 months. This failure is not the result of their innate intelligence or their business strategy but rather because they are unable to learn and adapt to shifting professional environments.

An executive might be at the top of their career — but an executive can always update their knowledge, perspective, skills and more. Here are seven ways executives can continue to improve themselves and set their teams up for success.

1. Engage in Personal Growth

There are a number of ways for executives to continue to further their professional growth. Investing time and energy into executive education online is an excellent way to keep professional skills honed, and executives can also find a plethora of interesting courses to further their education in areas of personal interest. Continuing to learn and grow provides a strong model for the rest of an organization’s workforce to emulate in their personal and professional lives.

2. Improve Your Communication Skills

Communication is easily among the most important business skills however, it is a skill that requires continuous commitment and development. Executives should pay attention to the different ways they communicate with their peers, superiors and subordinates — the tools and language they use to communicate — with the benefit of improving their ability to realize their vision for their organization. By observing one’s communication, an executive will have the opportunity to recognize weaknesses and make improvements. Some tactics executives can use to communicate more effectively include:

  • Listen actively. Regardless of who is talking, executives should pay attention to the words, tone and body language of their conversation partners.
  • Lead with empathy. The desire and ability to understand the emotional state of a conversation partner is invaluable in communication.
  • Be a team member. Though executives are at the top of their organizations, they should never stop considering themselves as members of a business team.

3. Form Meaningful Connections

Executives need to form deeper relationships with the members of their team. When deep connections are made, people develop trust, which in turn can create a culture of accountability and high performance. Executives should spend time getting to know their employees, including their personalities, strengths and weaknesses, preferences and interests and home lives. As a result, executives will feel more allied with their workforce and gain extra insight into individual goals and motivations in order to work together more effectively – to get the best out of their team.

4. Develop an Optimistic Worldview

Executives tend to have a lot of responsibilities which can cause higher levels of stress, and that stress can impact an executive’s attitude and behavior. Unfortunately, an unproductive attitude from a business leader can affect the rest of the organization, resulting in low morale and low performance. Executives should always strive to see the positives of a situation as well as the negatives. Research shows that optimism has vital benefits to executive function, allowing leaders to bounce back from failures and to continue pursuing their dreams. Executives can consciously improve their attitude by:

  • Paying attention to their internal dialogue. When negative thoughts arise, executives should strive to find a positive side.
  • Controlling their language. There is a difference between providing honest feedback and providing brutal feedback. Executives should control how they communicate to be effective without being rude.
  • Being kind. Executives have plenty of opportunities to build kindness into their daily routines, from holding the elevator door to giving positive feedback to workers who earn it.

5. Focus on Mentorship

While many executives can handle the day-to-day management of an organization which means executives might struggle to develop employees’ skills to ensure the team grows and improves as a whole. As a result, workers are rarely able to reach their potential. Executives should work with HR to develop a mentorship program that allows all team members to grow and thrive.

6. Set Clear Goals and Expectations

Executives have goals and expectations for how they want their workforce to function — but if they do not clearly communicate those goals and expectations to their workforce, performance will not be aligned with the direction the leadership is focusing on. Clarifying goals and expectations within different roles is especially important during the onboarding process for new workers to feel connected and aligned with the company’s priorities and understand the prioritization of various goals. However,  goals need to be reevaluated regularly and as a result executives’ visions shift, they then need to keep their staff informed of new objectives to ensure everyone is working toward the same type of success.

7. Be Open to Receiving Feedback

Executives should be open to receiving feedback from anywhere in their organization, especially from below. Workers can provide invaluable feedback on existing systems and processes, leadership behavior, customer reactions and other critical elements of business that executives might not be close enough to the ground to recognize. It might be valuable to create a cadence for collecting feedback for executives to review on a regular basis.

There is always an opportunity to improve some aspect of an executive’s professional life. Upskilling, fostering meaningful relationships with staff and changing other ways an executive interacts with an organization could be the keys that unlock even greater career success.

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