Originally published on Inc.com

Written by Tanya Hall, CEO, Greenleaf Book Group

Don’t wait until a threat is on the horizon to invest in yourself. Make your own learning and development a priority.

Skill Fade: perhaps the term is self-explanatory, but for the unacquainted, it speaks to a phenomenon that can impact anyone, especially people at the top of their career ladders. Once a leader gets to the point where they have a strong enough team to whom they can delegate the work they once personally did, they may find themselves leaning back and comfortably overseeing their seemingly well-oiled machine.

Of course, we all know how that story ends. An unexpected shift in the industry could require a quick pivot that the too-comfortable CEO may not be prepared to make…or worse, if circumstances that result in the leader being removed from his or her role, that person may be in a bit of a panic upon realizing that they are too rusty in certain business areas to easily transition into a new gig.

Here are some action items that smart executives can use to defend against skill fade.


Raising your hand to take a volunteer position in a charity, industry organization, or cause that’s important to you can give you the runway to try your hand at new roles and responsibilities. Look for opportunities that allow you to either gain exposure to a skillset that you wish you were stronger in (ie, marketing types might want to look for a treasurer-type role) or that reacquaint you with the hands-on work that you now supervise rather than perform.

Volunteering is first on this list because in addition to the skill-building benefits, you can also create good while building a new network of people who share your passions.

Keep Learning

If you’re in a comfortable position where everything is running smoothly, you may be inclined to let your own lifelong learning slip to the back burner as a general priority. The strongest leaders make lifelong learning a priority that is ingrained in their being. It is non-negotiable and a part of how they manage their life and time.

If you’re new to it, consider quick online courses through Lynda.com or Coursera to get back into the swing of being in a student’s mindset. From there, you can commit to certificate programs (online or in person) or advanced degrees which demonstrate your knowledge and commitment to learning.

Switch It Up

Learning is more than academic. Trying your hand at new hobbies and interests disrupts your typical thought patterns and can help you think and see the world differently. Take a welding class. Take a cooking class. Learn a new language. Try your hand at sculpture. Travel and tour other businesses. Providing your mind with new stimuli can spark energy, creativity, and innovative thinking while also helping you understand the nature of what you inherently like or dislike, and areas where you may have hidden gifts.

Find Accountability

We can be our own worst enemies when it comes to time management and prioritization. If you sense you’ll need some help sticking to your own development goals, find a way to create some accountability for that push. Join a professional organization like YPO or Vistage with a group of peers who will expect updates and who will challenge you on your own roadblocks. Or invest in a personal executive coach who can do the same on a one-to-one basis. Other local peer groups can serve similar purposes.

Whether the nature of your role allows you to continue to build skills or not, carving out time for the above priorities will go a long way towards helping you to be a more well-rounded person with knowledge and experience to draw from throughout the course of your career. Don’t wait until a threat is on the horizon to invest in yourself. Make your own learning and development a priority and you’ll be better positioned to weather any transition and still come out ahead.