Are you worried your organization’s next generation of leaders may be ill-prepared to step into executive roles?
If so, you’re not alone. According to a new survey from Pearson and Executive Development Associates Inc. (EDA), 57 percent of business leaders said their leadership talent pipeline was the same or weaker today than it was two years ago, and 75 percent said increasing bench strength will be their top business priority for the next two to three years. They also pegged leadership as the No. 1 topic on their minds today.
When asked what skills were lacking in the pool of talent that is primed to assume executive positions within the next three to five years, respondents cited strategic thinking, leading change, the ability to create a vision and engage others around it, the ability to inspire, and the ability to understand how the total enterprise works.
“There’s been a real shift — primarily driven by demographics — in the last 10 years,” explained Judy Chartrand, consultant and chief scientist for Pearson’s TalentLens practice, relaying that a demographer the company consulted with reported that Baby Boomers are retiring at a rate of one every eight seconds. “So there’s really quite a gap between the number of people going out and the number who are available. There are programs in place, but there are still a number of people we need to get ready and make sure they’ve got those critical skills.”
The reason this combination of skills is so difficult to find is because it takes just the right blend of personality, time and experience, Chartrand said.
“You need somebody who’s got really good critical thinking capabilities, somebody who’s got really good interpersonal personality qualities, they need to have courage to be able to make those tough decisions under fire, [and] they also need to have had the right experience,” she said. “That’s quite a combination. And that’s a competency that’s going to develop over years, if it develops at all.”
These are also the softer, more complex skills that high potentials may not have had to exercise yet, as they likely have moved up the ranks based on organizational and operational excellence.
“[As] people typically work their way up through an organization, they’re rewarded for getting results, their business acumen [and] their competency. There’s probably been a little less emphasis on rewarding people for some of those skills that underlie the ability to inspire others or to engage others around a vision,” Chartrand said.
The good news is 70 percent of respondents to the Pearson and EDA survey said they have a formal leadership development program or process in place and 40 percent feel it’s an area of excellence within their organizations. But learning leaders must do more to ensure the next generation of leaders is ready to hit the ground running in their new roles — especially given the harsh economic climate, which demands immediate results.
“We need to push development lower in the organization; if people in organizations are waiting until they get up to the VP level [to work on leadership], they’ve waited too long,” Chartrand said. “There’s going to need to be a drive much lower and much more aggressive throughout the organization.
“Other ways to accelerate development and best practices would be to use the 70-20-10 rule,” she continued, referring to the popular belief that the most effective ratio for learning is 70 percent on the job, 20 percent informal through peers, and 10 percent formal classroom training or e-learning. Many of Pearson’s respondents also pointed to “the effectiveness of stretch assignments, using mentoring and then using coaching and assessments as a combination to really round out high-potential individuals and accelerate their development.”