Can You Teach an Experienced CEO New Tricks?

A CEO, by the very nature of their position, can be said to be at the pinnacle of their career. The appointment is reward for years of hard work, dedication and accumulated knowledge gained from years of experience. While CEOs would not dispute the importance of learning and development when it comes to their team members, the very best leaders understand that the same applies to them. 

In reality, every leader is duty bound to both teach and learn in order to have the greatest long-term impact on their team and organisation. For example, when it comes to implementing a mission, vision and values, the leadership team must not only live and breathe them, but also be prepared to review them in line with the rapidly changing external factors that affect every workplace. Not every leader is born with an innate ability to remain agile in a shifting market and sometimes this can only be unlocked through the necessary training and coaching.   

Learning hurdles

There are a number of obstacles that can stand in the way of leaders continuing their learning and development after they have made it to the top position within an organisation. A lot of CEOs face the challenge of finding time to fit learning into their busy schedules, which are often heavily populated with pressing commitments. There may also be the perception within an organisation that the CEO does not require further learning and development, leading to them getting overlooked when it comes to their training needs. This can also work both ways, with the CEOs themselves afraid to reach out in fear of appearing unqualified for their position.


This, of course, could not be further from the truth and some of the most illustrious leaders in recent history deliberately set aside time to ensure they keep developing their skills. An example of this is the famous five-hour rule that is employed by entrepreneurs such as Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates who each set aside at least one hour a day that is dedicated to learning. The method involves reading (Bill Gates reads 50 books per year with David Rubenstein clocking up a staggering six books per week), reflection and thinking time, and experimentation. The latter has been famously demonstrated by Google, who allow its employees to experiment with new ideas for 20 per cent of working hours.

Whether CEOs employ the five-hour rule or another method, the fact is that they must strive to keep an open mind when it comes to learning and development. Luckily, there are a variety of training programmes that are tailored specifically for CEOs to develop the skills that are unique to their role and the following highlights just some of the areas that CEOs can use training to improve upon:

The importance of collaboration

Isolationism in business is doomed to failure. No CEO can sit in an executive ivory tower, aloof and removed from day-to-day activities, and expect a business to thrive. A management structure which is based on collaboration has a much higher probability of succeeding. A CEO must learn how to lead by example, empower others to succeed, be receptive to both employee and customer feedback, and create an environment which fosters supportive teamwork.

Clear communication

A CEO’s ability to communicate effectively will impact on the whole of the business. And as well as communicating their thoughts clearly, a CEO must also be receptive and learn how to listen and take feedback effectively.

 Trust goes both ways

Trust in the members of an organisation who are charged with implementing the CEO’s vision is essential. The CEO must learn how to delegate authority while still being in overall control and their team members must trust that they have the best interest of the company, and therefore the workers, at heart. However, it’s also important that the CEO remembers that they have the ultimate responsibility for decisions which are taken on their behalf.

Commercial success at management level does not always equate to an outstanding performance as a CEO, and in life, as in business, we must be ready to acknowledge that there are always new things to learn. It is only when we close ourselves off to new learning experiences that we are in danger of failing, both as people and as exemplary CEOs.

Contact our team to find out more about what Fiona can do for you and your business.

Fiona McKay