It's a rather unnerving thought that while we all look up to leaders and how they will steer our organisations and our futures, leaders themselves are not adequately prepared for that unknown future.
Companies, government agencies, and nonprofits are very sure they want their future leaders to be prepared. But leadership development can be messy and challenging, just like the environments organisations operate in. Digital disruption seems to be playing a key role in creating this gap. Fast-growing technologies and their consequent businesses, and business models change so fast that tailoring leadership skills to suit the volatile needs becomes impossible.
But organisations have no choice but to face these messy challenges. It is the only way to bridge the leadership gap and ensure that an organisation survives and thrives.
Studies documenting the gap between the readiness of future organisational leaders and their current leadership skills began a decade ago. But despite the backing of more than a decade’s worth of widely disseminated leadership-gap research from organisations like Centre for Creative Leadership (CCL) and others, a wide and growing gap remains between the future leadership needs of organisations around the world and their current leadership capabilities.
From 2006 to 2008, over 2,200 leaders from 15 organisations in three countries were surveyed and it was found that crucial leadership skills necessary to meet future organisational demands were missing. Surveys of 2,339 managers from 24 organisations across 3 countries from 2009 to 2015 found that the leadership gap persisted, and suggested that little progress was being made in addressing it. Other academics and leadership development organisations have documented similar shortcomings.
Change needed in perceptions and approaches
There are many challenges, both internal and external, hampering leadership development efforts.
For one, ideas about leadership are rather outdated. For many leaders and employees, the term “leader” still suggests an individual whose role is to provide all the answers. However, the most effective leaders are those who are skilled at influencing, collaborating, and helping a team or organisation discover the answers.
Research also indicates that some individuals view leadership roles as requiring tradeoffs with other priorities, such as family. Those perceptions, while they may not be true, are dissuading many high-potential employees from pursuing leadership roles.
The pace of technological innovation has reshaped markets, created new industries, and transformed the way we work. But many organisations and their workers are struggling to keep up. Training and adoption of new technologies — such as those required for remote working and distributed teams — hasn’t kept up. One study a few years ago found that more than 60% of organisations surveyed provided no training for virtual teams or virtual team leaders on how to deal with the challenges of collaborating virtually.
In our faster-moving economies, rigid hierarchical organisations have given way to flatter, more agile structures. While this helps companies respond faster to customer needs and changing markets, it has also eliminated the traditional “move up the ladder” leadership development path. Now lateral movement — perhaps to a different geographic or functional area — is required for individuals who want to become leaders. Mapping out these lateral-and-upward career paths is tough for individuals and organisations. Moreover, old ways of evaluating employees and rewarding them don’t make much sense when career growth requires lateral movement and employees may switch from one employer to another every few years.
There is also so much more intense competition for top talent and higher turnover. The days of a 30-plus or 40-plus year career with a single organisation are gone. Organisations find themselves focused on competing with others to attract and retain talent. In addition, as more workers reach retirement age, organisations may be challenged to identify new potential leaders and build a leadership pipeline.
The yawning leadership gap
Through its research on the leadership gap, CCL has identified 10 leadership competencies that were weak or missing. These represent both a gap between current leadership needs and skills as well as future leadership needs and current skills:
- Managing change
- Inspiring commitment
- Leading employees
- Taking initiative
- Building collaborative relationships
- Having a strategic perspective
- Knowing strategic planning
- Embracing participative management
- Being a quick learner
- Managing their own careers
Organisations that want to ensure they have the leaders they’ll need must take leadership development into their own hands. They need to be strategic in defining their goals; understand challenges to achieving those goals. Those challenges, in turn, should inform decisions about what leadership competencies the organisation requires. With those established, employers can develop leadership development programmes, talent management strategies, and leadership pipelines they need to nurture and grow future leaders.
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XEDGlobal Program Choices for bridging Leadership gaps
- MIT Sloan Executive Education - Closing the Gap between Strategy and Execution
- INSEAD – Leadership Transition