Why We Have a Global Leadership Crisis, and What We Can Do About It
What is the Leadership Crisis?
We need to look no further than our television showing the US presidential election process to see with the alarmingly different characters of leading candidates. Each suggest they are worthy of leading entire nations. Perhaps it’s not surprising that a 2015 World Economic Forum report called Outlook on the Global Agenda stated that “A startling 86% of respondents think that we have a leadership crisis in the world today.” Their survey focused primarily on political and religious leaders around the world but also included business leaders.
Another 2015 study, this time from Gallup, called Employees Want a Lot More From Their Managers surveyed over seven thousand adults in the U.S. and found that 50% had left a job to get away from their manager to improve their overall life at some point in their career. Why has it been true for decades that so many people join a company with hopes of success only to quit their boss?
John Kotter is an internationally acclaimed guru on change management, is on the Harvard Business School faculty and has written several books on leading change. Kotter has said “After conducting fourteen formal studies and more than a thousand interviews, directly observing dozens of executives in action, and compiling innumerable surveys, I am completely convinced that most organizations today lack the leadership they need up and down the hierarchy. This is not to say that untalented, unenergetic people occupy management positions. The typical case is just the opposite, with bright, experienced, and hardworking individuals, some quite extraordinary, almost all trying to do what they believe is right.”
Three Startling Leadership Trends
Unfortunately the leadership crisis is intensifying and there are three main reasons. An exponential growth of complexity in the world and in business; the shortage in current leadership skills and ability to deal with these challenges, and the mass exodus of aging boomers in leadership roles from the workforce.
There is a growing concern that our leadership skills, in business, politics and the world are currently not good enough are rapidly falling behind the complexity of challenges we face. We now live in a VUCA world of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. VUCA was first coined by the military in Afghanistan. We could easily add three D’s to that challenging mix: Disruption (such as changes in government and the oil price crash); the latest and worst ever Downturn in the oil industry, and the significant shifts in the Demographics of the workforce.
The 2014|2015 DDI and Conference Board Global Leadership Forecast describes a “VUCA Vortex” and how leaders need more preparation to face VUCA challenges. Their study showed that up to 40% of HR professionals report that their leaders are incapable of meeting VUCA challenges.
Inadequate Leadership Skills
Secondly there is a growing leadership skills shortfall recognized worldwide. We’re in over our heads and we’re falling behind in how to develop better leaders. In their 2014 report, called “The Leadership Deficit”, the human capital management firm APQC describes leadership skills deficiencies as “large and numerous”. Their survey shows a startling set of leadership trends including 79% who agree that current business challenges require a different leadership style and 66% who agree that organizations are underinvesting in leadership development. The report shows not only that leadership development is underfunded, but also that “leadership practices are outdated and current leaders are thought to be resisting new ways of leading people.” In their “State of Succession Management 2015” the Brandon Hall Group survey showed an astonishing 84% of organizations said they were suffering from a lack of ready leaders. The DDI Global Leadership Forecast shows that only 40% of leaders say the overall quality of their organization’s leadership is high. Even fewer (only 25%) of HR professionals view their organization’s leaders as high quality! An interesting difference.
Let’s look at the third reason that the leadership crisis is deepening and focus on Canada and Alberta in particular - the inevitable retirement of Boomers. The Canadian workforce currently has about eight million Baby Boomers employed and the same number of Millennials. Despite this and previous recessions causing a delay for some, Boomer retirements are continuing inexorably. Unfortunately, there are only half that number of Gen Xers in Canada to take their place. When it comes to replacements for all those important roles Boomers occupy such as technical experts, executives, managers and supervisors we’re four million people short!
Now in this drastic downturn the oil patch has eliminated over 100,000 direct and indirect jobs. Most organizations have cut staff and have drastically cut or eliminated training costs just to survive. With huge numbers of people laid off, more are currently available in the workforce, but this is masking the underlying demographic shifts. Many supervisors, and managers have been given early retirement packages. Organizations have had to lay off leaders at all levels in the company, and those Boomers who survive the cuts continue to move towards retirement.
Many Boomers who are leaving the workforce are in leadership positions. We need to look deeper into our organizations to develop tomorrow’s leaders and currently we’re losing the race. There is a growing leadership shortage both in volume and ability with inexperienced individuals being asked to step up into leadership roles before they are ready and with little or no help.
What Can We Do About It?
There is no doubt that the world needs better leaders. Today’s leadership in business includes a mix of inadequate leaders and exceptional leaders everywhere. Unfortunately we continue to experience or hear stories of leaders who get hired based on experience or results, then fired based on behavior; Leaders who are experienced but unwilling to change or are out of date; Leaders who are well intentioned but need help; Technical experts promoted to leadership who are not so good at leading people; And newer, younger leaders with not enough training who are keen to lead but lack the skills and self-awareness required. We need to develop more, and better leaders with some urgency. Current leaders need help adapting to a VUCADD world and younger leaders need a lot of help to develop their leadership skills because we desperately need them.
The good news is that in the dense forest of increasingly deficient leadership there are many great leaders shining brightly. There are also many highly skilled and capable managers and individuals who just need some support and development to become great leaders. The type of leaders our organizations need today and in the future. However there remains a further challenge. The world of leadership development, of leadership models and competencies, tools and programs is also a dense forest. Billions of dollars have been spent on leadership development in the last few decades yet it doesn’t seem to be working well enough. How do we find the right path through this forest?
As before in history, every so often someone comes along to show us what great leadership looks like. The leadership that is required for the times. A beacon of light. This time we can look to the lifetime dedication of Bob Anderson and Bill Adams and the development of the ultimate framework for leadership development which they have called The Universal Model of Leadership. The Model took 30 years to develop and has been used to great effect in organizations for the past 12 years. It’s not brand new. It’s proven. Late in 2015 Bob Anderson and Bill Adams released their book, Mastering Leadership that describes the astounding integration of most of the leadership development research to date and also the psychology behind our behavioral reactions because of our beliefs and motivations. The model is also proven by scientific research and statistical validity that confirms what effective leadership comprises and how effective leadership generates better business results every time. This elegant and profound Universal Model is the most important development in leadership since the early philosophers such as Plato first started asking questions such as, “What qualities distinguish an individual as a leader?”
As Bob Anderson and Bill Adams say, “We need better leaders at all levels – men and women who create thriving futures, healthy cultures and competitive companies; who balance short-term profitability with long-term sustainability; who create a better world. Mastering leadership is now a strategic priority, a competitive advantage and a global imperative.”
The same World Economic Forum report stated that four out of the five global regions prioritized three strategies as the best way to develop tomorrow’s leaders: Training, Coaching and Mentoring. Great leadership for today’s world is developed using all three.
Our business leaders are dealing with dramatically difficult times in Alberta, in Canada and worldwide. This changing world is not for the faint of heart. The Universal Model of Leadership and The Leadership Circle development framework is a beacon of light that our organizations and the world desperately needs. It has been described as revolutionary. We encourage you to read Mastering Leadership and review The Leadership Circle. We encourage you to find the money and the time to develop the effective leaders we need today and for tomorrow. They will make your company more successful and make and the world a better and happier place.
First published in the Human Resources Institute of Alberta HRIA Essentials eNewsletter, April 12, 2016