Study reveals leaders lack critical skills

13th May by Lee Robertson

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Study reveals leaders lack critical skills

Data from DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2021 shows only 28 per cent of leaders are being developed in critical skills for the future and that organisations are increasingly concerned about their bench strength when it comes to meeting new challenges.

In the largest study of its kind, DDI has examined the responses of 15,787 leaders and 2,102 human resource professionals from over 50 countries and 24 major industry sectors. Looking at best talent practices, the report provides key trends to guide the future of leadership.

DDI found that over the next three years leaders see their organisations undergoing rapid transformation and as a result, a high priority is being placed on the skills that will enable them to line up both the technology and people resources they will need to make that transformation a success.

It identified that the most urgent gaps relate to building talent, managing change, digital acumen, strategic thinking and influencing. In addition, leaders need continued development in building partnerships and delegation while two other core skills – coaching and delegation along with empathy - were especially important for leaders who are having to navigate more difficult conversations and provide support for stretched employees.

Fewer than half of the leaders DDI canvassed said they felt they are effective in most of these skills and many reported that they were not receiving any development in the skills they need most urgently. Just 28 per cent of the sample are being developed in critical skills for the future.

It also reports that leaders had sought out two times more learning and development at the onset of the pandemic. On average leaders said they spent 4.4 hours per week learning when they would prefer around 7.5 hours. One of the major trends the forecast highlights is that leaders have a strong desire for external validation and objectivity in their learning and want outside coaching and development assignments to help them grow their capabilities.

Above all, leaders’ learning preferences showed that they want to know they are truly applying their skills to new challenges. On average, leaders who said that their organisation provides high-quality leadership development stated being able to apply about 72 per cent of what they learned to their job. By comparison, those who rated their company’s leadership programmes as low, said they can only apply 53 per cent to their role.

Additionally, organisations where leaders practice and receive feedback from managers on key skills are 4.6 times more likely to have high leader quality and bench strength compared to those organisations that don’t. Leaders who said that their company provided high-quality assessment on their skills also agreed that they were more prepared to face business challenges.

DDI also explored what leaders value most in development experiences. Overall coaching and mentoring are the areas where leaders were least satisfied along with performance management programmes. DDI also reveals that for one in four leaders, these programmes are simply non-existent and for those who do have them, very few rate them as high quality.

The findings press home the issue that overall, leaders are not satisfied with their growth and development opportunities and neither do they value them. For the forecast’s authors, four factors stood out for leaders who had better experiences taking on their current leadership role:

  1. There were clear and realistic expectations for their performance.
  2. Leaders went through a formal assessment to identify their strengths and areas for development.
  3. They received feedback about their leadership skills and
  4. They received effective coaching from their manager.

More positively, focusing on what matters most to leaders and improving these experiences can pay off enormously. As the report outlines, organisations where leaders indicated that these experiences were consistent had 1.5 times higher leader engagement and retention and were also twice as likely to be voted as the best place to work by their leaders.

Karen Smart, head of consultancy at the AoEC commented: “This last year has been like no other and we are starting to get some hard data on the impact it is having on leaders and businesses. Covid has been a true test of leadership but it has also given us the ultimate playbook in how to work with a global crisis. The mood is that this is not the last crisis the world will face, but this report offers valuable insights into what organisations should be doing to keep themselves future fit. There are simple steps and easy processes leaders and employers can introduce to make working with uncertainty and learning new skills easily achievable with the reward of agility and continued success in the turbulent times."