Lack of confidence in leaders to guide and direct organisations

Journal of Management Development

ISSN: 0262-1711

Article publication date: 1 April 2000



(2000), "Lack of confidence in leaders to guide and direct organisations", Journal of Management Development, Vol. 19 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Lack of confidence in leaders to guide and direct organisations

Lack of confidence in leaders to guide and direct organisations

The majority of staff do not have high confidence in the abilities of their leaders to guide and direct the organisation in the future - according to the latest research by Development Dimensions International (DDI).

Of the three groups surveyed (HR professionals, leaders and employees) in DDI's "The leadership forecast: a benchmarking study", less than half (36-47 per cent) have high confidence in their leaders' ability. Of the top 14 skills regarded as important for leadership positions, leaders identified potential problems in almost half. Employees' views of leaders were even more alarming, as they believe that their leaders lack 13 of the 14 most important leadership skills.

DDI's survey found that leaders at all levels need to develop core leadership skills: adaptability, successful team building, communication, decision making and positive relationship building. Not only are leaders not prepared in the current environment, they are also lacking the very different skills which will be required for leadership positions of the future. More long range skills such as strategic decision making will become increasingly important as will innovation, empowering leadership, aligning performance for success and visionary leadership.

Michael Gregg, principal consultant at DDI, comments:

If you consider the emerging global leader, in the future more and more leaders will need to transcend cultures and geographic boundaries. Such change makes it difficult to prepare leaders in the skills they need to be successful. But organisations are not helpless; they can give leaders the resources they need to adapt to changing circumstances. Adaptability is one of the most important skills that leaders will need to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

This lack of leaders needs to be viewed in the context of the growing global shortage of leaders. The large baby-boom generation currently filling the nation's upper management positions is nearing retirement age. Of senior management in the UK and US, 50-60 per cent are going to reach retirement age in the next three to five years. This is due both to a demographically smaller generation, and the downsizing that has taken place over the last decade. Unsurprisingly therefore, the task of identifying and developing leaders is the single most pressing issue for large companies.

Organisations need to develop their leaders, or those leaders will go elsewhere. In this survey, almost three-quarters of the leaders indicated that they pursue development activities to make themselves more marketable for other jobs. In this age of corporate downsizing and rightsizing, organisations have failed to show loyalty to their employees. Thus, they should not expect employee loyalty in return. No organisation will survive the impending leadership crisis by relying solely on acquiring outside leadership talent. They must be serious about succession management by focusing on developing tomorrow's leaders from today's workforce.

Generally, organisations are not prepared for the future. There has been a relative lack of growth of succession management systems over the past 15 years. Of organisations, 68 per cent reported having a formal succession plan in place in 1984. Today, according to DDI's latest HR Directors National Survey, only 51 per cent of organisations in the UK reported having a formal plan of this nature.

However, organisations are gearing up for the projected leadership gap by increasing their budgets for training and development. Of surveyed organisations, 84 per cent indicated that they would increase their leadership development expenditures in the next year.

Michael Gregg comments:

Leader development cannot be promoted simply by throwing money at it. Leaders already use a wide range of development activities. So why do today's leaders still lack strength in critical leadership skills? What are organisations not doing right? Perhaps they should think of leadership development as a joint venture, with leaders taking responsibility for their own development and organisations empowering them to do so. Organisations can increase the impact of development by paying attention to leaders' preferred learning styles and by offering solutions that are tailored to each person's needs. Training is not always a solution, nor is mentoring or Internet-based learning resources. It's easy to jump on the technology bandwagon and believe that doing the latest thing is the best thing. Organisations need to listen to their leaders - they will say what they really need.

A copy of DDI's "The leadership forecast: a benchmarking study" is available on request from Jean-Michel Beeching, DDI. Tel: 01628 642718.

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