Unveiling Courageous Leadership
Blog Leadership Nordic Business Forum 2024

Unveiling Courageous Leadership: Insights from Executive Learning Research

In anticipation of Nordic Business Forum 2024 focus on Courageous Leadership, we sat down with Pasi Aaltola, the Director of Executive MBA Education at Jyväskylä University. He brings a unique perspective on executive learning, with research that dives deep into the learning goals of executives and their impact on leadership development. Here, we discuss how these research findings are crucial for addressing the demands of courageous leadership and the role of executive education in this process.

Nordic Business Forum: What inspired your research on learning goals for executives?

Pasi Aaltola: Our inspiration came from observing a significant shift in the landscape of executive leadership, where traditional models no longer suffice in addressing today’s complex challenges. We noticed a gap in how executive education programs prepare leaders, particularly in fostering the necessary courage and adaptability. Our research aimed to delve into the learning goals of executives to understand how these goals could better align with the demands of courageous leadership in today’s complex business environment.

NBF: You emphasize the importance of setting specific learning goals. How does this practice influence the development of courageous leadership in executives?

PA: Learning goals are instrumental in shaping a leader’s journey toward becoming more courageous and effective. Our study revealed that when executives set learning goals that challenge their existing perceptions and push them beyond their comfort zones, they engage more deeply with the learning process. This engagement fosters a mindset of continuous improvement and adaptability, crucial for courageous leadership. The ultimate goal of executive learning is not merely an increase in knowledge, it is a change in action!

“Courageous leaders not only tackle current challenges bravely but also constantly prepare for future ones.” – Pasi Aaltola


JYU EMBA Director Pasi Aaltola

NBF: With Nordic Business Forum 2024 emphasizing ‘Courageous Leadership,’ what key findings did your research uncover related to this theme?

PA: Our research indicates that executives prioritize goals that not only advance their strategic leadership capabilities but also enhance their self-confidence and influence. By focusing on personal development areas such as increasing self-esteem, becoming more assertive, and pursuing influential roles, executives are laying the groundwork for courageous leadership.

Another compelling finding from our study was that even experienced executives are actively seeking to become more courageous—in their thinking, actions, and how they influence others. This stands out because we often think seasoned leaders have it all figured out, including unwavering confidence. Yet, this focus on building courage shows that leaders at all stages are striving to grow and better face new challenges.

“Learning in an executive position is not a one-off event, it is a constant state of developing yourself.” – Pasi Aaltola

NBF: Could you also share some practical advice for executives who aspire to cultivate courageous leadership within their organizations based on your research insights?

PA: Executives should begin by establishing clear, challenging personal development goals that push their capabilities and stretch their comfort zones. Moreover, they should foster a culture of continuous learning and resilience within their organization. For instance, they could encourage their team to identify three concrete initiatives they should undertake this year as learning experiments. This method not only cultivates personal courage but also promotes it throughout the organization, laying the groundwork for innovative and adaptive leadership.

NBF: Finally, as the Jyväskylä University Executive MBA is an official partner of Nordic Business Forum 2024, what are you most looking forward to in September?

PA: For speakers, I’m particularly eager to hear insights from Adam Grant and Sanna Suvanto-Harsaae; I am a huge fan of both. But beyond the program, to be honest, what I’m most excited about is the chance to meet again with many individuals at our booth—EMBA alumni, current students, and potential students alike. For me, NBF is primarily about connecting with people.

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