/ 29 March 2019

Future-proof your leadership

Professor Nicola Kleyn
Professor Nicola Kleyn, dean of the Gordon Institute of Business Science

We are living in a fast-paced world, where technological advances are driving change at an unprecedented rate. Not only is the way we work, and the nature of our roles within organisations evolving — the idea of a lifelong career in a single company is a thing of the past. To succeed in this new world, executives are continuously seeking to reinvent themselves and future-proof their impact as leaders in a disruptive global market.

Managing this reinvention is important and requires an understanding of what changes you want to make in your career, and then planning for those changes. Change is typically being spurred on by evolving industry demands and by people wanting to find a more challenging and rewarding way to apply their skills, especially for executives at a senior level.

However, change generally requires new skills. And this is where executive education steps in, whether you are looking to build on your existing experience and knowledge with the aim of getting a C-suite promotion, or if you are planning to embark on a whole new career path and need a new, diverse set of skills. A business degree such as an MBA can offer a holistic view of the business environment, but shorter executive education programmes can hone in on specific needs in a shorter time, with fewer demands.

Making a change

Any sort of training requires a significant investment. Yes, there will be a financial outlay, but the process also puts demands on family time and often requires juggling work commitments. So to ensure there is a guaranteed return on the investment, it is important that before you embark on this journey you do so with a good dose of self-reflection together with input from managers, colleagues and family.

It is generally advised that the first step to deciding on a programme is to understand what you are looking to achieve. What are your career aspirations? If you are looking for a promotion, you may need a course that trains you in a particular area, for example developing your leadership skills. If you are a professional, you may feel you need more financial training to allow you to better manage your department. But if you are looking to change industries, you will want a programme that has a specialist industry curriculum.

Once you know what you want in terms of a career change, you can then start bringing other people into the picture. Getting recommendations on courses from your colleagues can be hugely invaluable as their insights may help you decide which course might best suit your needs. Then talk to your line manager. Ask them what skills they think would be suited to your further development and would best support your goals. To grow within the organisation there needs to be alignment between your and management’s expectations for your career trajectory; so get them on side from the start.

The next step is to find the best school. Look for accredited courses with good professors. Don’t be shy to ask for their biographies. It is also important to interrogate the way an institution teaches. Do they focus on a more traditional lecture style, or do they rely heavily on case studies? Do they encourage group work? Many of the top institutions’ approach to teaching may encompass all of these aspects and others. The University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) combines all of these approaches, and often concludes courses with a trip to a top global institution to further broaden the learning experience.

Another critical consideration is to find out what calibre of people are attending the course. Will you be able to learn from their experience and insights? Will they offer you a good network in the future? Executive training is as much about gaining understanding from a diverse range of people as it is about being taught by academics.

Finally, if the best school requires travel, and if you can afford it, then do not be afraid to hop on an aeroplane to get the qualification you need.

What’s on offer?

Top business schools such as GIBS offer (in addition to full and part-time MBA programmes) a range of shorter executive training courses to help executive-level talent adapt and build skills. To keep up with developments, leading global institutions must ensure that they partner with the right organisations to ensure that their course content is continually updated and remains highly relevant, so that the skills imparted not only impact executives individually but can also filter down into their organisations and teams.

The range of courses offered by GIBS extend from international courses such as the Harvard Business School Senior Executive Programme, which gives students international exposure, to the Leading in a Digital Economy programme, which offers insights into the technological developments required to keep businesses relevant in a Fourth Industrial Revolution world. In addition, GIBS courses cover African business imperatives such as the Social Entrepreneurship Programme, which focuses on the complexities of doing business while driving social change, as well as the Nexus Leadership Programme, which brings business, civic society and government together to help students master adaptive leadership across diverse working environments.

Ultimately, change requires a brave step in a new direction, but you do not have to travel the journey alone. By understanding the environment in which you are operating, and what you hope to achieve, then garner the support of managers, colleagues, family — and the right institution — and you’ll set out on your executive education path with all the right ingredients to ensure success.