Leadership on hold: addressing the L&D gap for emerging leaders

3rd July by Lee Robertson

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New data has revealed that nearly a quarter (23%) of employers are overlooking the development of their new young leaders by not providing adequate L&D support.

Published in research conducted by solicitors and parliamentary agents, Winckworth Sherwood, the findings also highlight that where organisations are providing some form of L&D, 69% of HR leaders believe it is inadequate.

Surveying 1,000 employees and 500 HR decision makers in a YouGov survey between March and April 2023, the Leadership Development report which contains insights and recommendations for employers, signals a concerning disconnect between learning and development and leadership.

Top three barriers to shaping tomorrow’s leaders

84% of employers reported barriers to L&D for leaders with time constraints being the most common issue cited by 50% of respondents. To overcome this, it says that there needs to be buy-in to L&D at the very top, so that leaders at all levels are supported with the preservation of sufficient, uninterrupted time to learn. It also recommends that consideration be given to how L&D can be designed so that it fits with the organisation’s strategy and culture so looking at self-paced, on-demand learning as an example can enable leaders to take charge of their own development.

The second barrier was financial constraints according to 34% of respondents. The report argues that senior leaders being influenced to recognise the purpose of L&D is key here in carving out a budget. As well as making sound business cases to the board, it suggests thinking about how L&D can be implemented without there being a significant financial outlay. It pitches informal learning including in-house coaching and mentoring, leadership shadowing, on-the-job learning, lunch and learning sessions and networking with peers as being just as important as outside training and can help organisations utilise a lower cost, highly effective opportunity to teach, coach, mentor and develop leaders.

The lack of internal resource was reported as the third barrier to L&D for leaders according to 30% of the sample. Its recommendation here is for organisations to be very clear on what the purpose or return on investment is going to be and linking this as much as possible to the organisation’s goals. It asserts what is crucial for the L&D programme should be carefully considered so that this can be concentrated on without overstretching internal resources.

Leadership skills and training rarely refreshed

Only a quarter of employers are regularly refreshing their leaders’ skills with a further 31% choosing to refresh their leaders’ skillsets every two to five years. Eight per cent admitted to never refreshing skills, while 19% stated that they do not provide their leaders with any skills or leadership training.

Given the rapid advance of technological change, shifting consumer demands and uncertain market conditions, the world is becoming increasingly unpredictable and volatile. The report’s authors argue that it is more vital than ever that leaders’ skills are regularly updated.

As well as having more formal refresher training and learning experiences, it encourages employers to have more informal strategies which are embedded within the broader culture of continuous development with leaders having a learning mindset and continually learning even at a senior leadership level.

Karen Smart, head of the AoEC’s coaching for companies’ service offering commented: “A lack of L&D support can really hinder effective leadership. Success as a first-time manager requires a major transition and while most organisations have onboarding programmes in place, not every new leader gets the right level of support needed to thrive when it comes to managing others. New leaders can be vulnerable at this juncture in their career so it is in an employer’s best interests to make sure that they are supporting their emerging leaders with development methods such as coaching or mentoring to enhance their soft skills and help them become more agile in the workplace.”