Mind the gaps

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We recently asked 700 people what they expect from their leaders. The answers were not surprising, although each person will have their own bias. The top five expectations were:

  • ability to motivate others
  • vision
  • honesty and integrity
  • decisiveness
  • ability to handle crises

So far, so good. Be decisive and give yourself an honest score against these criteria. Typically, less than half the respondents were satisfied with their leaders on these criteria. There is an alarming leadership gap which the followers, if not the leaders, recognise.

We found a second leadership gap. The success criteria for emerging leaders lower in the organisation are completely different from the success criteria for established leaders. For emerging leaders the expectations were:

  • adaptability
  • self-confidence
  • proactivity
  • reliability
  • ambition

We can debate each of these at length. The important point is that the rules of the game change at each level of most organisations. Success at one level is consistent with failure at the next. Typically, technical skills are all important at the start of a career and people skills count later. Someone who is still cutting code or doing stock checks for an audit at the age of 50 is probably not a leader.

The challenge is to prepare the leaders of the future. One top consulting firm recognises that it wants junior analytical grunts and interpersonally smooth partners. They fire junior staff who are interpersonally smooth but are not grunting well enough analytically. They are firing their future.

Training courses can not teach vision, integrity or decisiveness. As leaders we need to trust emerging talent and give them the chance to lead early, to mess up, learn and prove themselves. If we can make the next generation of leaders better than we are, we have achieved something.

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