Execs unhappy with their leadership development

Aug 21 2008 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Leadership development seems to be going nowhere fast, with most senior executives dissatisfied with their organization's development offerings. Meanwhile, confidence in the ability of leaders has declined steadily over the past eight years.

These are among the key findings of the Global Leadership Forecast 2008|2009 by consultants DDI, which sets out to examine why confidence in leaders is declining despite a heightened focus on developing leadership talent.

The study quizzed almost 1,500 HR professionals and more than 12,000 leaders from

76 countries, revealing what it described as "major shortfalls in leadership development initiatives around the world".

Although three-quarters of the executives surveyed said that improving leadership talent was a top business priority, just four out of 10 were satisfied with what their organizations were actually doing to help them, a decline of 12 percentage points since the last Leadership Forecast was published two years ago.

Meanwhile, confidence in leaders has fallen to a 10-year-low, with only 35 percent of the HR professionals citing high confidence in the latest survey.

"This deterioration of confidence is a sign that leaders aren't meeting the needs of the organization." said Rich Wellins, senior vice president at DDI and co-author of the report.

"Every business leader needs to take note of this if they want to grow their organization."

Yet what emerges from the report is a clear message that while executives want more opportunities to learn on the job, such as special projects or moving to a new assignment, their senior management seldom takes responsibility for making this happen.

For example, almost six out of 10 executives said that they and their manager had not agreed on a formal written plan for their development, while only around a third of senior managers were held accountable for the success of leadership development programs.

Moreover, just a quarter of organizations monitor their leadership development programs or formally measure their results.

"Great leadership doesn't happen by accident - organizations need to start listening to their leaders and make the right development investments if they want different results than they're getting now," Wellins said.

More surprising still is the fact that only three out of 10 multinational organizations had processes to help executives who cross borders are unprepared - which explains why six out of 10 considered their preparation for international assignments to be only fair or poor.

Nearly half also had an equally negative view of the support they had received from the organization on their multinational assignments, leading the report to suggest that by both accounts, multinational leaders are neglected leaders.

Another problem area seems to be succession planning, with only half of organizations globally have succession plans for their leadership team and US organizations even lower than the global sample.

"This is scary, considering the high rate of retirements we're expecting over the next 5-10 years," Wellins said. "Organizations will have empty seats in key leadership roles if they don't begin planning for their future leadership."

But having succession plans isn't the whole story - HR professionals indicated that one in three succession candidates fail.

"These aren't good odds for programs that are supposed to increase success," Wellins explained. "Organizations need to look at how they're developing those individuals and identify why the failure rate is so high."

Steve Newhall, vice president Europe for DDI, added: "When times get tough, leadership skills are really put to the test and organizations with the right quality and quantity of leaders will weather the storm better than those less well- prepared.

"In the face of pressure to reduce costs, organizations must remain firm in their commitment to invest in leader assessment and development."