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The Long Era of Lackluster Leadership

The Long Era of Lackluster Leadership

Mark Vickers | i4cp

September 24, 2010

The single greatest business failure of the last 20 years is the inability of organizations to excel at leadership development. Consider this: in 2010, three quarters of respondents to an i4cp study said developing leaders is a highly important issue, but less than a quarter said their company is highly effective in this area. This wildly disproportionate ratio makes leadership development the most critical human-capital issue of the year.

That finding wouldn’t be so important if it weren’t part of a long-term trend. i4cp has been tracking major issues for over two decades and has found that leadership is consistently at or near the top of any such rankings. It’s always a priority. Nonetheless, most companies still, taken as a whole, are mediocre or worse in this area. If progress in this area were anything like progress in, say, transistor innovation, there’d be nothing like Moore’s Law. We’d still be stuck with computers the size of washing machines.

There are many reasons for lack of progress, of course, from a constantly evolving business environment that requires a shifting set of leadership skills to the obvious truth that leaders just can’t be engineered and mass produced like new computer chips.

Still, my take is that, given all the resources poured into leadership development, organizations should be considerably better at this by now. I don’t have a silver-bullet solution but I do have two overarching insights based on the research.

Insight One: Leaders are NOT numbers and accountability oriented, but they should be.

I know this insight runs contrary to conventional wisdom, which is that most of today’s executives are overly focused on numbers, chronically concerned with the bottom line and swimming in a sea of spreadsheets.

Here’s the thing: Executives’ number orientation tends to be fixated on financials rather than on critical topics related to improving management and leadership itself. One example comes from our research on succession planning. We found that, even though today’s organizations are most likely to vest responsibility for succession planning with their executive team, the rigor and metrics associated with succession planning tends to be frighteningly feeble.

First, fewer than half of organizations even have a formal succession plan. This is nearly unforgivable for a company of any size. If leadership is critical, succession must be managed in a professional manner. Second, although study participants confirmed that their organizations tend to use one or more metrics to gauge succession planning success, none of those metrics is embraced as a “must-have.” Overall, there’s a worrisome underutilization of metrics in an area that helps determine the placement and development of leaders.

Next: Insight Two >>

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