Hiring or promoting a stellar candidate is not sufficient to guarantee successful leadership. According to DDI research, nearly half of external executive leadership hires, and over a third of internal promotions, fail in their new roles. Leadership searches and hires are costly to organizations, especially in today’s tight job market and uncertain operating environment; organizations need to improve their success rates.

The good news is that with strategic succession planning and executive development, learning leaders can help steer new leaders toward success.

Executive leaders need different skills

Success as a mid-level or senior manager does not automatically transfer to an executive role. The skills needed are different: more strategic and complex, in a higher-stakes environment. Add to that the uncertainty under which many organizations are now operating and the rapid and comprehensive changes to more flexible work, with many remote and hybrid teams—and it’s clear that leadership development and upskilling are essential.

Key skills that many new executives, and, really, all leaders, need to hone include:

  • Strategic planning: Moving into the C-suite means gravitating away from day-to-day task management and toward bigger-picture strategic thinking. Executives need to learn to step back from the details and understand how divisions or departments work together and what mid- and long-range goals they need to work toward.
  • Delegation: Freeing up time for strategic planning requires that executives trust their senior-level managers to do their jobs! Taking a step back lets managers grow, take on challenges—and, by succeeding, reflect well on the executive. Delegating effectively requires putting the right people in each role, clearly communicating goals and responsibilities, and then letting the team leaders figure things out.
  • Influencing others: As a mid-level or senior leader, it’s easy to get the team’s buy-in. But as a new executive, a person might be the least among equals; they will have to work a lot harder to get support for their ideas. That’s why it’s particularly important that executives learn to present their ideas in ways that can convince other C-suite executives to get on board.
  • Conversational capacity: This term, coined by author Craig Weber, refers to the ability to navigate power imbalances and their impact on conversation and “balancing candor and curiosity under pressure.” When a person with authority speaks, they need to temper their authority so that others will engage openly and be willing and able to discuss difficult topics.
  • Resilience and adaptability: The upper echelons of the organization are where changes happen first and where outside “shocks,” whether supply chain snarls, staff shortages, or natural disasters that close offices suddenly, must be resolved efficiently. Empathy is a necessary element of resilience and contributes to effective solutions. That’s one reason why empathy is mentioned frequently in discussions of essential leadership traits.

Commonalities include communication skills, especially the ability to listen to and reflect on others’ input, and a willingness to let others excel and take on responsibility and challenges.

A ‘training course’ is not the answer

Developing effective leaders requires more than an off-the-shelf leadership skills course. What does work?

Cultural orientation

Onboarding executives requires “cultural orientation,” according to Forbes. While this is especially true for outside hires, newly promoted executives may also have a lot to learn about company culture. “A new executive must be briefed on the existing culture and the key individuals and decision-making processes, as well as the organization's history, culture and traditions,” Forbes Council member Mike Ettore wrote.

Coaching & mentoring

Coaching and mentoring are great ways to shape up-and-coming leaders from within the ranks of the organization. Strong coaching programs keep the leadership pipeline robust and can help diversify leadership teams over time, especially if coaching becomes entrenched at all levels of the company’s management development.

A broad perspective

Professional networking outside the organization is a great way for senior leaders and executives to broaden their perspectives and learn to communicate with, persuade, and learn from others at their level—and the level they aspire to. Ensuring that promising leadership candidates have opportunities to participate in professional groups, attend conferences and gatherings, and pitch their ideas beyond their small circle of reports can build the kinds of skills and relationships that foster success.

Degrees and formal study

Formal education such as an MBA, other advanced degree, or a focused leadership program can help leaders develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, broaden their topical knowledge, or sharpen their business acumen.


Using 360-degree leadership assessments can also help learning leaders target training to an individual leader’s strengths and weaknesses. These comprehensive evaluations solicit feedback from people at the leader’s level, as well as superiors, mentors, and direct reports. Feedback touches on their leadership skills, effectiveness, behaviors, and ability to influence people and have impact. This information can point to whether formal training, mentoring, or other approaches to skill development would be most helpful.

Avert leadership failure with comprehensive development strategy

Learning leaders can help ensure the success of new executives, whether internal or external hires, by preparing a comprehensive employee and leadership development strategy. This bigger-picture approach encompasses upskilling for future needs, creating a strong leadership pipeline—as well as delivering targeted training and coaching focused on specific skills that new executives need.

Enlist the support of peers in your leadership development journey

Shifting learning culture, building a leadership pipeline, and adopting new training strategies can be an uphill climb. Explore these and other challenges and issues with other learning leaders in the Learning Leaders Alliance. Share what works, and sharpen your skills and examine strategies that will prepare you to navigate today’s ever-changing workplace.

The Learning Guild’s Learning Leaders Alliance offers a vendor-neutral global community for learning leaders who want to stay ahead of the curve and for aspiring leaders seeking to build their skill sets. The Alliance Membership package includes access to monthly networking and learning opportunities, exclusive digital events, and content curated for today’s modern learning leader, as well as opportunities to attend in-person learning leadership events held around the globe. Join today!