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Soft Is the New Strong

Chief Learning Officer contributor Sarah Fister Gale presents a powerful case for developing soft skills to prepare your high-potential millennials for leadership.

A set of discouraging key indicators led CFO Philipp Schramm to question his decision to join Webasto Roof Systems in Detroit in 2014. having worked in their German headquarters, he expected the U.S. office of the global automotive supplier to operate smoothly.

What he found was a disorganized and often hostile work environment where people made excuses for why work wasn’t getting done. Initially brought in to turn around the financial side of the organization, he soon realized that deeper issues were causing them to lose both money and customers. “Something on the culture side was broken,” he said.

Without clear corporate values, HR only focused on administrative tasks and training was determined individually by managers’ budgets. To address the cultural breakdown, Schramm worked with the executive team on a culture change project that introduced soft skills training on leadership, communication, collaboration and problem-solving along with the financial and operational changes he’d been brought in to implement. “The soft skills training focused on a lot of the emotional aspects of leadership like using ‘I statements’ and active listening,” he said.

Many of the courses were taught by managers who went through instructor training to reinforce the importance of the change to the business, a detail that Schramm said added needed authenticity and made the biggest impact.

Shocking Results

The effect on employees and the business was profound, Schramm said. Within 15 months of launching the program, the division returned to profitability, turnover dropped significantly and employee engagement survey scores showed double digit increases.

In a global marketplace where companies need to rapidly adapt to changing market conditions and woo customers with excellent service and timely solutions, business leaders can’t afford to not invest in soft skills training, said Leslie Knowlton, partner with Deloitte Advisory Services who also heads learning and development for Deloitte US.

“Whatever your role, success comes back to your ability to collaborate and build relationships.”


In LinkedIn’s “2017 Workplace Learning Report,” more than half of learning and development professionals said developing managers and leaders is the No. 1 objective for their organizations and that coaching, leadership communication and team collaboration are specific leadership skills in greatest demand.


Leadership Lab
February 16, 2018

Mid-level managers strengthen interpersonal skills, increase accountability, enhance team performance using interactive experiences (30 HRCI/SHRM credits)

Step-Up to Lead Others
April 12, 2018

Give front-line managers key insights and specific skills to strengthen their leadership capabilities and create a more engaged workforce (21.75 HRCI/SHRM credits)