The Most Important Executive Education Trends of 2024

January 17, 2024

Individual and expert skills in focus

While 2023 was all about personal and entrepreneurial resilience, strategic foresight, and a strong pioneering spirit, this year business leaders will need to fall back on their BANI skills more than ever, focusing on individuality, AI, and sustainability. Barbara Stöttinger, Dean of the WU Executive Academy, has analyzed two particularly crucial leadership skills for the year 2024.

Which executive education priorities should you definitely pay attention to in 2024? Image: shutterstock, tete-escape
Which executive education priorities should you definitely pay attention to in 2024? Image: shutterstock, tete-escape

As we are experiencing sweeping change all around us, we are constantly coming across new challenges that force us to let go of our pre-formed convictions and question tried-and-tested methods. This time of abounding uncertainty, however, comes with the opportunity to reset one’s ways to be prepared for the future. For this kind of change, managers will need novel resources, which often requires them to tap (yet) unknown networks to discover new paths.

Individual vs. Expert Skills

Against this backdrop, WU Executive Academy Dean Barbara Stöttinger and her team will focus on two central pillars of executive education this year: the personal growth of individuals and tailored training to develop new skills and expertise.

“This year, executive training will have a stronger focus on your individual and personal growth as a leader while simultaneously catering to current skills requirements. As a manager, you need to know who you are and what you and your organization need, but you also have to make sure to keep up with new technologies.”

Barbara Stöttinger emphasizes 2 fundamental trends that will shape the executive training demand in 2024:

1. A Focus on the Individual

It’s All About the People

It is all too easy to forget about the people in the busyness of business, resulting in pressure building up to not only achieve operational goals but also convey purpose to employees and be perceived as an attractive employer.

Barbara Stöttinger, Dean of the WU Executive Academy

Barbara Stöttinger

  • Dean of the WU Executive Academy

A manager’s individual stance is becoming more and more important. More than ever, they must – within the limits set by their organization – define their own values, objectives, and plans to be able to confidently lead the way in uncertain times.

What’s more, staff members and their respective values and needs must be considered and addressed as well. “At the end of the day, an enterprise’s success is the product of every individual’s performance and commitment, which is where every kind of transformation needs to start. This also means that sustainability needs to be more than just a corporate goal: every individual staff member should live and breathe it.” For this reason, the Dean advises executives to empower their teams to start and realize their own projects and initiatives, confident that “this not only boosts motivation, it also frees up the capacities of team leaders.”

Peer Coaching and Mentoring

“Peer coaching and thus also mentoring are playing an increasingly important role in the personal growth journey and decisively impact leadership and career development,” Stöttinger underlines. Both peer coaching and mentoring are more and more frequently included in the MBA programs and alumni activities of the WU Executive Academy. “Talking to peers can bring forth creative approaches to solving shared challenges. In this sense, networking is not only a means to a professional end, it can also be a source of support in overcoming personal crises or achieving growth (as a manager). Many times, problems a company experiences have already been solved by a different industry, segment, or market, and both mentee and mentor can benefit from tapping this fountain of experience. Particularly reverse or cross mentoring and peer coaching can be useful, because they help managers – not least through the cross-generational exchange – get a grip of the newest technological developments and gain new perspectives on and approaches to situations that, at first sight, appear impossible to solve,” Stöttinger says.

Mentoring offers a cross-industry, cross-market, and cross-generational exchange. Image: shutterstock, stoatphoto
Mentoring offers a cross-industry, cross-market, and cross-generational exchange. Image: shutterstock, stoatphoto

2. A Focus on Deepening Expertise

AI and Digital Humanism

Managers must weigh their decisions in dealing with artificial intelligence with a great deal of diligence because if we take the notion of digital humanism seriously, natural and artificial intelligence can only coexist peacefully if new technologies are used for the benefit of the people and not the other way around. Leaders and their (ethical) values will play a decisive role here.

“Executives must approach the topic of AI consciously and intently, collect experience and gain an understanding of what AI can and cannot do. And joint efforts must be taken to analyze if and where AI applications could help the company,” Stöttinger explains. “Small experiments can help to gain a clearer picture of the issue and prevent any unnecessary drama related to the dangers of AI. As a rule of thumb, use AI where it creates additional value for the people in the organization, and do without it where it increases complexity or causes disadvantages for staff.”

Sustainability as a Non-Negotiable Priority

Strategic sustainability management has shifted from being nice to have to absolutely imperative for any company today. In addition to improving a business’s reputation on the market, it helps organizations meet social and regulatory expectations and positively contributes to a company’s long-term financial stability. Integrating sustainability in the corporate strategy makes for better risk management and also often drives innovation. This increases a company’s competitive edge and forms a solid foundation for a long-term and responsible corporate governance.

The topic of sustainability is no longer a "nice to have” but must be anchored in the corporate strategy in some form. Image: shutterstock - chayanuphol
The topic of sustainability is no longer a "nice to have” but must be anchored in the corporate strategy in some form. Image: shutterstock - chayanuphol

“But as sustainability is way too complex to simply enforce its integration into business processes from the top down, it’s extremely important to involve the whole organization so that everybody understands what it’s about,” Stöttinger says. “Sustainability goals are as much linked to a company’s values as they are to the individual values of its employees. The key to success thus lies in breaking down such gigantic issues into smaller bites so that people can gain a clearer picture of what’s at stake.”

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