Strategic Executive Development – why CEOs need to make it a top 2022 priority

The modern business landscape has gone through a major upheaval over the past three years creating new trends and complications that haven’t been seen in generations. More than ever, CEOs are having to navigate through turbulent and unknown waters – not just to keep their company afloat, but also pointed in the right direction.

Strategy is everything and strategy is now, and has always been, the purview of the CEO. But for even the most experienced CEO, executing strategy during times of upheaval can lead to doubt, miscalculation, and wrong decisions. The big question then becomes where does a CEO look to for help with leadership decisions or proper strategy development when they themselves are the final decision makers? The answer to that question can best be found with experts in executive leadership development.

One such expert, Jenn Lofgren of Incito, says it very succinctly. 

“Something we’re seeing more of right now, mostly due to this unusual business environment we’ve been in for the past several years, is CEOs gravitating towards the known, or issues they’ve dealt with before because it provides a level of comfort. But CEOs should always be pushing into the unknown and identifying strategic direction when things are more uncertain.”

Jenn Lofgren is the Managing Partner at Incito, an international executive development firm, whose mission is “to uniquely elevate executive and leadership team mindsets, creating the foundation for the highest and most meaningful outcomes in their business and personal lives.” A valiant goal from our points of view.

We spoke more with Jenn, and Executive Strategy partner Shawn Gibson, to get their insights on the latest trends impacting CEOs and the best options available to help – specifically ones CEOs may often overlook.

What are the top trends you’re seeing with executives currently?

The big three hot trends right now fall into the categories of reactive strategic planning, being overwhelmed and issues with building alignment.

Specifically, CEOs are having an especially difficult time with focusing on the post pandemic business environment that includes changes in available labor, rising interest rates, inflation and high commodity prices. CEOs face reacting to a set of tiered business problems that take up nearly all their available time and leave little for strategic development meant to chart the course of the company’s future. This directly leads to the second issue.

The number of CEOs dealing with being overwhelmed is critically high. Everything is a priority and a lack of agreement on the top strategic initiatives often leads to internal strife and mistrust on direction withing the C-suite.  This has been especially acute in organizations that have been successful in making acquisitions over the last few years and the integration work is still in progress (or not started). As before, this can directly lead to the third issue.

Building alignment among the executive team has become extremely difficult. Remote work has reduced the time executive teams spend reflecting on the longer-term view, building trusting relationships and engaging in the strategic discussions necessary to build alignment. 

The negative impact of these trends is executives are putting less priority on alignment within their own leadership team, creating more gaps in strategic planning which inevitably leads to more executives being overwhelmed. 

What are the most common issues faced specifically by CEOs?

Identifying strategic direction in an unknown, uncertain world.  Rather than strategically addressing the specific challenges there is a tendency to do everything – ironically this can work in the short term however it can again lead to being overwhelmed and reduce motivation. 

Another common issue CEOs are facing today is not being challenged enough by their executive team.  Executive teams without strong and trusting relationships tend to be nice rather than engage in healthy dialog where important, difficult and perhaps conflicting decisions need to be openly discussed.

What are three things every CEO should be doing today, but largely are not?

Most important is prioritizing time for the executive team to work on strategy together and get out of the weeds. This is essential to building team alignment necessary for proper strategy development that can look past the near-term and focus on the future direction of the company.

Second, intentionally building relationships amongst the executive team and getting them to understand the strengths different leadership styles bring to the team. 

Finally, asking more questions to truly understand what things are holding people back and then working to really solve those challenges to help lift the entire team.

CEOs are notorious for terrible work-life balance. What are your best recommendations for small things CEOs can do initially to improve that balance.

First, identify one-to-three things that bring them balance, then make those a top priority equal to work priorities.  For example, one CEO prioritized her youngest son’s basketball games as he completed his senior year in high school.  She worked with her EA to ensure she was at as many as possible.  She missed a lot of other things with her kids, but she was consistent with that. It’s important to realize you can’t do everything, but it’s as important to prioritize what brings you balance and commit to that.

Second, block strategic and critical thinking time during the workday to be able to reflect and do the work.  Otherwise, CEO’s tend to do this thinking in bed unable to get to sleep, or waking in the middle of the night with “busy mind.”

Third, take stock of important relationships in both work and life.  Come to a conscious decision point about how this is working.  Awareness of what we want is a good first step to finding balance.

What are some examples of the most successful turnarounds you’ve seen from CEOs you’ve coached?

One first time CEO, at 38. was spending 90% of his time on tactical day-to-day firefighting and working 70 hours a week.  Within a year of working with Incito, he flipped it to 90% of time on strategy and going home to his family at 5pm regularly. The key here was making small steps and focusing on mindful choices.

Another CEO spent three years trying to help his executive team understand and buy into his vision.  He was criticized as being overly optimistic and unwilling to acknowledge the real challenges faced by the industry. He shifted his approach to asking questions vs telling, which helped others walk through their thinking and talking more openly about the challenges and how he sees them being overcome.  In six months, the executive team started to support and even drive his vision forward.

Asking questions is always a great tactic. Our three favorite questions are:

  • “Help me understand…”
  • “Tell me more about…”
  • “What is important about…”

Any question that starts with “what” or “how” with the intention to understand.  Conversely, “why” questions are tricky and lead to defensiveness and justification.

Do you find that CEOs, compared to other C-level executives, are hesitant about leadership coaching? Why?

Often yes. They think the budget is best spent on succession development for their teams and leaders lower in the organization compared to themselves. They don’t realize yet that their coaching is critical to developing those below them.

Many CEOs draw an analogy to coaches for sports teams and feel that they are meant to be the coach for their team, i.e. they do the leadership development.  

That said, CEOs that have a growth mindset are aware that outside objective executive coaches are essential to both develop their team and to develop themselves as the best possible leader of the future – similar to how the best coaches in any sport bring in outside experts for coaching on special teams.  Simply having outside support helps with the burden some CEOs have that all of the challenges and gaps for the organization falls on them alone to resolve.  

As an overview, what can a CEO expect from working with you? What are the reasons to seek leadership coaching when someone has already reached the pinnacle of leadership?

We ask the questions they may not be asking themselves. We’ll listen to understand and then push and challenge their thinking and perspective like no one else will.  We’ll hold them to becoming even better and it will be impactful for any CEO personally and have a better outcome for their team and business.

We usually know the instant a CEO truly gets what we’re developing together – it’s a specific smile. It represents the sudden awareness, the instant of realization that intentional choice requires baby steps and micro risks. These small things turn into big changes once the CEO makes that mindful choice to develop themselves further. This also has a near immediate positive impact on the entire C-suite and executive team.

For more information on how CEOs can gain positive outcomes from strategic leadership development, go to to get strategic insights from experts Jenn Lofgren and Shawn Gibson.


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