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The Learning Glass Ceiling (or, is your leader a Know it All?) – Part 1

Working as a consultant with senior leaders in major corporations for the last 25 years I’ve observed a disturbing pattern: once they get to the top (CEO and other C-suite level positions), many of them refuse to participate in learning experiences, even though they expect other leaders in their organizations to do so. What’s that about? And why is it a problem? There are two important issues: 1) the message it sends to the rest of the organization, and 2) the inability of the top leaders to role-model and reinforce what is being taught.

Working as a consultant with senior leaders in major corporations for the last 25 years I’ve observed a disturbing pattern: once they get to the top (CEO and other C-suite level positions), many of them refuse to participate in learning experiences, even though they expect other leaders in their organizations to do so. What’s that about? And why is it a problem? There are two important issues: 1) the message it sends to the rest of the organization, and 2) the inability of the top leaders to role-model and reinforce what is being taught. I like to keep these blogs relatively short so I’ll cover these in two sessions.

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First issue: what are messages that the rest of the organization receives when the very top leaders are seen an advocating learning for the leaders below them but do not participate themselves? They may be seen as sponsoring and funding internal executive education programs and other development events such as coaching, mentoring, etc. They might even “teach” in the company leadership programs. But……. they do not participate in any internal programs as “students”, and probably not in any external development either. Whether they intend to or not, these are some of the ways that their actions are likely interpreted by the organization:
•we already know it all
•we’re smarter than everyone else
•learning and development isn’t as important as the other things we have to do
•when you get to the top, you don’t need to continue to learn
•do as I say, not as I do
•learning and development is for everyone else, not for us
•………………………….fill in the blank, I’m sure you can think of some others

Of course these leaders think they are too busy. But do you think they are aware of, or even consider, the message they are sending to their organization? Do they think about the unintended consequences of being “missing in action”?

Could there be something else going on? Is it possible they don’t want to admit that they have something to learn? Now that they have reached the top, aren’t they supposed to have all the answers? Would it perhaps be embarrassing to be in a session where you had to admit you didn’t know everything?

In my next blog I’ll talk about the other big problem, i.e., if the top doesn’t participate, how can they role-model what their leaders are learning and reinforce what’s being learned?

Jim Bolt*jbolt@executivedevelopment.com*www.executivedevelopment.com

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