First, honesty. Now, action. Closing the gap in leadership development.
The strength of an organization depends, in large measure, on the ability of its leadership team to be honest with themselves and candid with one another about their collective strengths and weaknesses. If you believe that to be true, as I do, then you will be heartened by one of the key findings from a recent survey of global leadership development trends, conducted by Right Management and The Conference Board.
Amongst the questions posed to 650+ executives worldwide was this one: To what extent do you believe your company’s leaders are prepared to address business challenges in the next 12-24 months? Approximately 60 percent of respondents perceived their leaders to be “adequately” or “very” prepared. What got me excited, however, was the 40 percent who described their leaders as being “marginally” or “not” prepared to meet the business challenges ahead. This trend was fairly consistent across companies in North America, Europe, and Asia.
The finding is not surprising. We deal with these issues every day in our work and the leadership gap typically expresses itself in two ways:
Lack of general leadership capabilities – There are an insufficient number of leaders with the necessary skills and experience. Applied to one organization, the 40 percent finding might indicate that four out of ten people charged with leading the company are seen by their fellow employees as not being up to the task.
Limited pipeline of incoming leaders – Many organizations simply do not enough talent coming up through the ranks. In fact, only 6 percent of U.S. employers report having an ample pipeline to cover their leadership and management needs, according to Right Management research.
It’s not surprising that even experienced leaders in well-run organizations are struggling. In a recent Conference Board study, CEOs worldwide listed human capital as their number challenge. Businesses today operate in an environment of speed and rapid change – the so-called VUCA world characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. With the rising stress and demands of working globally, the time and resources applied to long-term strategic issues like leadership development have diminished.
It’s critical to reverse that trend now. I suggest that companies take a three-step approach to get their leadership development efforts back on track.
Acknowledge the situation at the organizational level and face the truth about your existing leadership capabilities and readiness to manage the business over the next three to five years.
Conduct open and candid discussions among company leaders about the leadership capabilities required for the future and how to strengthen the leadership pipeline.
Undertake an evidence-based assessment at both the organizational and individual level to identify critical gaps and make targeted investments in leader development that will deliver the best return.
Creating an effective leadership development program is no easy task but confronting a challenge like this is what leaders are wired to do. That’s why I think the 40 percent finding may herald a tipping point that will reinvigorate talent development efforts in many organizations. Teaching and stewarding the next generation of leaders is key to ensuring seamless business growth and continuity. It’s incumbent for this generation of leaders to tap into their inherent capabilities and get on with it.