Five Strategies To Help CEOs Grow As Leaders

Ongoing professional renewal and development is critical for success in leadership roles. Yet education takes a meager 3 percent of CEO time and even that tends to fall prey to grueling schedules.

According to a 2018 article in the Harvard Business Review, on average, CEOs spend about 62.5 hours per week at work. Of that, 25 percent is spent on functional and business reviews, 25 percent on people and relationships, 21 percent on strategy, 21 percent on organization and 16 percent on cultural activities.

The relentless pressures of disruption and global volatility leads to increasing complexity, which requires agility of decision making, which in turn requires new learning patterns and skills. In view of this, CEOs today have to constantly unlearn past mental models which might have served them well before and work on ways to grow themselves continually as compared to CEOs of the previous decade and earlier.

CEOs are expected to have all the answers.

Unfortunately, this expectation can create a fear of failure or lead to over-reliance on past successes, which in turn creates blind spots as they are unable to acknowledge to themselves that they have a need for learning new skills. Further, the fear of being perceived as weak can lead to not acknowledging to their teams that they don’t know something, which hinders learning from their teams.

Finally, being in a constantly switched-on mode takes away from reflection and application time to integrate new skills.

Based on their natural mindsets and innate learning styles, CEOs can adopt the following ways to learn and grow which will not only help them, but also help their organizations grow:


Leaders must start by getting a deeper understanding of themselves in relation to their external environment in order to identify the areas they need strengthen. This ruthless self-honesty helps identify gap areas. Interaction with peers from across industries, exposure to thought leaders and formal development programs/MOOCS can help bridge this gap. Getting an unbiased view from mentors and trusted advisors helps in reducing existing blind spots.


Letting go of self-limiting mental models of having all the answers and moving on to become a catalyst of ideas rather than a fountainhead. This would lead to more ideation and capitalizing of institutional learning rather than a top-down approach.

A CEO who is willing to step up and say ‘I don’t know’ sends a powerful message.

Role modeling vulnerability can be instrumental in creating an organizational culture where learning is encouraged and not knowing something is not taken as a sign of weakness.

Embracing failure

The word ‘failure’ can evoke powerful painful emotions such as anger, shame and anxiety. Reframing failure as being a normal part of growth while trying something new helps CEOs move away from the mental model of the tried and tested ways of doing things leading to a growth mindset and willingness to try new things. As Einstein famously said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” Further cascading  these leadership behaviors which take away the risk of being punished for failing while trying new ways of doing thing would also build risk taking behaviors within the organizational culture.


Consciously working on acquiring and applying new skills so that they become part of the DNA rather than just theoretical knowledge. Many CEOs find great value in working with coaches or creating internal feedback mechanisms until such time they become masters of that particular skill.


Making time to replenish all elements of energy — physical, mental, spiritual or emotional. Exhaustion leaves no room for self-reflection and no learning. Consciously switching-off work mode, pursuing a passion other than work, spending time with loved ones and working on fitness levels leads to rejuvenation which impacts energy levels, which in turn impacts the ability to learn.

Shyamli Rathore is Founder of Sidman Learning Solutions, a boutique talent development firm offering customized leadership development initiatives for senior business leaders. Over the past two decades, she has designed and facilitated such workshops in manufacturing, consulting, IT, telecom, banking and financial services, and pharmaceuticals for several Fortune 500 companies. Rathore has also been consulting with Harvard Business School Publishing since 2011 for designing and facilitating workshops and webinars globally where she works with multicultural senior leaders.