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  • Writer's pictureLeeanne Carson-Hughes

The Savvy Leader #7 - Teaching old dogs new tricks

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

I have a confession to make.

As an Executive Head of HR for the past 20 years, when someone came to me and complained about the behaviour or knowledge of someone senior, I would usually bat it away and say they are too well established in their role, they think they wear their undies on the outside (like a super hero) and I really don’t think we can change them.

I’m sorry, but my experience is that we can’t teach old dogs new tricks.

Best we work around it!

Thankfully I have been proven wrong lately.

I have been humbled recently to see a few CEs and Executives put up posts on LinkedIn about some of the things they are learning and about the journeys they are on.

Not only are they willing to learn new tricks, they are vulnerable enough to say it publicly.

Good on you.

So, I have completely changed my mind and not only is it worth developing senior leaders, after some research, I now think it should become the key development focus of the organisation.


The world has changed.

Business is now even more fast paced and complex and societal expectations are significantly different now.

We now have no option but to teach all senior leaders the skills they need in this modern business environment.

Because if our senior leaders are not skilled in the art of executive leadership, the people and organisations they lead w

ill not reach their full potential.

And you can expect unhelpful silos, mixed communications, over work, over burden, confusion, slow adaption to changing dynamics and poor change management.

There simply is too much at stake now.

So what skills do executive and senior leaders need to build?

In August, I asked seven Chief Executives what they valued in their executives and they told me:

Your technical expertise is a given and gets you in the door but you also need....

1. Enterprise leadership skills – the ability to prioritise organisational agendas and goals over your personal or functional agenda and to lead at an organisational level.

2. The ability to be strategic, think from the future and have curiosity.

3. To have highly developed people leadership, social skills and EQ.

And for good measure, given the environment we operate in, lets add in the skills we looked at in The Savvy Leader #1 (skills for the modern CEO).

  • Be socially aware on issues like sustainability, cultural issues, inclusion, politics and global issues.

  • Be Technology, cyber security, risk and data literate.

  • Be a Decision-making legend so you can convert strategy into outcomes.

And that now enables a big opportunity for Executive Teams and Heads of P&C to have an intentional and relentless focus on senior leader development.

What would this look like?

  • Relentlessly look for ways to build skills and intentionally develop cohesive executive teams.

  • Actively upskill senior leaders in enterprise leadership, strategy and all things people leadership.

  • Focus on skills in technology, decision making, data driven decisions and social issues for all senior staff.

  • Be brave and get rid of those that are not willing to learn or change – your people in the organisation will appreciate it.

The future of your organisation could well rest on the modern skills of your senior leaders.

You can teach old dogs new tricks.

Many are willing to learn.

Make it a priority


If you want to go fast, let your senior leaders go alone.

But if like me, you want your organisation and people go to far, then develop your senior leaders and go together.


Please reach out if you want to explore what senior leader development could look like in your organisation.

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