The Leadership Deficit: The Problem, Its Causes, and Solutions as Identified in Research Study

According to a new study from APQC, the nonprofit leader in benchmarking and best practices research, nearly 80 percent of respondents indicate that current business challenges require a different leadership style, but only 21 percent said that their organization’s leadership practices are very effective, thus indicating a broad inability to build new leadership skills. Further, 46 percent report that their organization places little or no priority on leadership development. As outlined in APQC’s report—The Leadership Deficit—solutions for overcoming these challenges are not easy but may start with something as simple as developing necessary leadership capabilities in ALL employees, not just high performers.Sponsored by THEaster Consulting, the research garnered survey responses from 547 professionals.“In this study, we found that leadership deficiencies are big and there are many of them, largely because leadership development is underfunded, outdated, and resisted,” said Elissa Tucker, SPHR and Human Capital Management research program manager for APQC. “These findings suggest that organizations may need to adopt a number of cultural changes and revise human resource policies and practices to help alleviate the leadership skills shortage. From new compensation models, to how and for whom leadership training is conducted, our study provides a number of potential solutions for what is seen as a growing business challenge.”The ProblemAPQC’s study identified the top leadership skills organizations need to succeed, and then what leadership skills employees currently possess. When skills needed versus skills employees possess were compared, APQC identified the following as the top five leadership skill deficiencies:

  • Strategic planning
  • Change management
  • Knowledge sharing
  • Listening
  • Emotional Intelligence

What’s Driving the Gap?To identify the key contributing factors to the leadership skills shortage, participants were asked how much various leadership and business trends described their organizations. APQC then investigated the relationship between the different leadership trends and the total leadership skills gap. The top four leadership trends significantly associated with the largest leadership skills gaps are:

  • selection, development, and reward practices encourage an outdated leadership style;
  • leaders are resistant to changing their leadership styles;
  • organizations are underinvesting in leadership development; and
  • current business challenges require a different leadership style.

APQC conducted the same analysis with business trends impacting organizations and found the following four trends to be associated with the largest skills gaps:

  • unpredictable events;
  • reduced employee tenure;
  • aging work force;
  • and emergence of Generation Y/Millennial work force.

Potential SolutionsSurvey participants rated how well a number of leadership practices described their organizations, after which APQC examined whether each practice is associated with a larger or smaller leadership gap. The results indicate that the top four practices associated with the smallest skills gaps are:

  • leadership capabilities are developed in all employees;
  • a leadership competency model is used to select and develop leaders;
  • employees selected as having leadership potential take part in a formal leadership development program;
  • and compensation is based on performance.

One leadership practice was significantly associated with a larger skills gap—having a significant difference between leader compensation and compensation of other employees.“These results suggest that, contrary to common practice, leadership capabilities should be developed in all employees,” said Tucker. “Doing so provides a larger pool from which to choose candidates for formal, high-potential leadership development programs. More importantly, organizations that go a step further to establish work cultures and practices that empower all employees to act as leaders can respond more quickly and precisely to unpredictable events. Other practical measures, such as using leadership competency models to guide development efforts and aligning monetary incentives with organizational strategy, will help encourage the right behaviors in leaders and the best outcomes for their organizations.”“Our clients at THEaster Consulting come to us seeking innovative, informed solutions to the toughest human resource management challenges, and The Leadership Deficit report from APQC provides us with actionable data to build support for cultivating leaders who proactively address the needs of today’s workforce, not just continue doing what they’ve always done,” commented Terri Hartwell Easter, principal at THEaster Consulting. “The reality is that present-day business challenges require a sustained investment in leadership development, and organizations who take the lead on leadership are the ones that will come out ahead now and in the future.”

Originally published in heraldonline


Keeping Up With the Demand for Talent

While most organizations recognize the need to identify and develop future leaders, many struggle to do so. Among the problems are inconsistency in search criteria and inability to forecast potential.

Identifying, developing and retaining high-potential talent could be the single greatest challenge organizations face during the next decade, but few organizations are confident in their ability to meet this challenge.

Eighty-four percent of talent development professionals surveyed by UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School reported that the demand for high-potential talent has increased in the past five years, driven primarily by growth (74 percent) and competitive pressure (61 percent) (Figure 1). Almost half (47 percent) of those talent development professionals stated in the “UNC Leadership Survey 2013: High-Potential Leadership” report that the current pool of high-potential talent does not meet the anticipated future need (Figure 2). Another 18 percent of those surveyed didn’t know if the current pool of high potentials will meet future needs.


In addition, organizations expressed only moderate confidence in their ability to fill mission-critical roles and develop talent. Survey respondents rated their ability to forecast the skills and competencies needed for success during the next three to five years as good. Participants gave a similar rating to their ability to forecast potential shortages in the talent pipeline during the next five years.

Challenges in Identifying High Potentials

More than half of the survey respondents (56 percent) have a formal process to identify high-potential employees. Another 21 percent plan to start or restart a process to identify it. They are motivated by the need to meet demand for future leaders (83 percent) and the desire to retain key talent (83 percent). These organizations recognize that identifying and investing in high-potential talent improves commitment and engagement, laying the foundation for future success.

Originally published in Talent Management

Be Like Mary Barra: How HR Leaders Can Become CEOs

By now, most of you are aware that a former human resources leader has transcended the HR space to become CEO of a Fortune 100 company. And for the uninitiated (click here for some descriptive text on Mary Barra), the former vice president of HR at General Motors Co. will become the automaker’s new CEO. 

With that promotion in mind, many in the HR space trumpeted the ascension of a former HR leader to a Fortune 100 CEO spot as proof positive that HR pros can be anything they want to be. And while the promotion of Barra as the leader of General Motors is great news for HR, caution on what it means is probably warranted. Just because you’re in HR doesn’t mean you can be CEO. In fact, you still probably need to get out of HR to become a CEO.

Need proof?  Let’s look at part of Barra’s background/profile as captured by Bloomberg Businessweek:

Before becoming CEO, Barra served “as executive vice president of global product development and global purchasing and supply chain at General Motors Co. Ms. Barra served as senior vice president of global product development at General Motors Co. since Feb. 1, 2011, and served as its chief of product development. … She began her career with General Motors in 1980 as a General Motors Institute (Kettering University) co-op student at the Pontiac Motor Division. She has been director of general Dynamics Corp. since March 15, 2011. Ms. Barra serves on the Kettering University Board of Trustees and Inforum Center for Leadership Board of Directors. … Ms. Barra received a GM fellowship to the Stanford Graduate School of Business. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from General Motors Institute (Kettering University). She holds an MBA in Business Administration from Stanford Graduate School of Business in 1990.”

What’s all that mean? If you’re an HR leader with a dream, here are five things the Barra profile tells us you need to do to become CEO:

1. Get the hell out of HR soon. Let’s be clear: One look at the Barra profile tells you her HR experience was part of a power rotation to learn the business, not a defining tag on her résumé. That should tell you what has always been the reality: You need to rotate elsewhere to be enough of a player to become the CEO of a company of any size and scale.

2. Deep subject matter expertise in an area core to the business is desired. Barra is an engineer at heart, an area that’s obviously core to GM’s business. Your company also has a similar heartbeat. If you have an undergrad that matches that heartbeat, you could do HR, take a rotation elsewhere and become a player in the race to become the boss. If your educational background doesn’t fit, you have no chance. But you could find a company that provides a better match and values your non-HR undergrad.

3.  Depending on the company’s focus, you need to decide which rotational path is best. Most companies these days have cultures that are defined by product or by sales. If your company is product-focused and your educational background is a match, you take a non-HR rotation in that area. If your company is sales-focused, follow that path. A sales focus at your company also allows you to worry less about a lack of match in your educational background with the company’s core product or service as long as you’re willing to risk it all with a career in sales management.

4.  Top tier MBAs still rule. Barra is a Stanford MBA grad. The mail-order MBA isn’t going to cut it if you want to be a CEO of a big company. You need to go get the elite MBA.

5. Get the hell out of HR. I had to say it twice, because it’s that important. I know you love it, but if your goal is to be the CEO, you’re not going to get there from here.

Get to the rotational program and get out of HR if you want to be CEO. As much as we want to believe the Barra story says we can become CEOs, it’s only true if we’re brave enough to leave.

Originally published in Workforce


Our society and economy has gone through many changes over the years.  Organizations have changed the way they deliver products and services.  We have clearly moved into a new realm of business and yet, our organizational structures, our leadership practices, and the way we operate have remained relatively stable compared to the rapid change in technology, globalization, products and services, and the economy overall.  It’s time we rethink the way we operate as leaders and as organizations.  Below is a table that outlines the stark difference between where we’ve been and where we need to be, between what leadership used to be and what needs to be now.

Old View

New View

Bet on the leader Create a leadership culture
Compete Collaborate
Proven practices New practices
Idea generation Innovation
Structure/Hierarchy Networks
Manage Engage
Strategic plan Strategic purpose
Reward work roles Reward work contribution
Clone decision making Encourage individual decision making
“Go to” person – exclusive accountability  Ownership culture – inclusive accountability
Develop “High Potentials” Develop everyone

What other shifts do you see?  Where are we succeeding in meeting these new challenges?  Where are we falling short?