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Is Your Leader Only Half Full?

Recent discussions with many CEOs have shone a light on something we’ve been noticing for awhile now… we seem to be growing a lot of “leaders” lately. These leaders are charming, great communicators, solid collaborators, adapt/drive change, have presence and represent the culture that today’s organization needs to sustain.

Yes, you are anticipating a “but” here, and here it comes. These same CEOs that we were talking with, often express frustration with what’s missing in those “leaders” that they’ve been growing. Many are only half full.

Now the increased focus on leadership came from necessity in the early 2000’s as the conventional definition of leadership of the time was a unidirectional, top-down influencing process, drawing a distinct line between leaders and followers. In a world that had become more complex and challenging, a need emerged for leadership theories that support circumstances of rapid change, disruptive technological innovation and increasing globalization.

This led to a new leadership era…. a shift from Transactional Leadership to Transformational Leadership. From Leverage to Culture. From Direction to Engagement. From Duties to Collaboration. From Perspiration to Inspiration.

This shift to a new leadership model over the past ten years has been huge, especially for large corporations, as well as for many midsize and small businesses. As well as for educational institutions, authors, management consultants, and public speakers.

Hence, the equally huge focus on leadership development. As early as 2019, McKinsey identified that the “leadership development industry “was already a $366 billion (yes, billion) industry with plans for exponential growth yet to come.

Interestingly, the focus of participants in these leadership development programs was as follows:

· 34% wanted to Improve Coaching Skills

· 31% wanted to Improve Communications Skills

· 27% wanted to Improve Employee Engagement Skills

· 21% wanted to Improve Strategic Planning and Business Acumen Skills

But something, during the COVID pandemic, changed the workforce landscape that few anticipated in the newer leadership model. The change was the perspective away from loyalty to the employer and away from the “one company for life” model.

From GenZ to Boomer, the pandemic saw a shift from loyalty to the employer to the loyalty to the self. Many resigned to pursue other careers and dreams and many now view more than three years at one company as getting stagnant.

The effect revealed something that many companies hadn’t experienced before. A lot of key expertise left their business, and it revealed just how much that prior loyalty was keeping the business running. Years of experience, knowing the internal foibles that everyone knew how to fix was gone. Unique customer requirements or critical supplier conditions not only left with the minds of those who resigned, but potentially went to competitors to enjoy.

The result is that it has exposed that a lot of today’s “leaders” are only half full. And based on that McKinsey study, perhaps only 21% full.

With a lot of line-level expertise gone and internal training programs that are always in a state of flux, the remaining leadership in many organizations finds themselves unable to deal directly with the daily business issues that require attention. With a constant change of staff, leaders need to fill up their tanks with those critical management skills as well as a deeper knowledge of their business so they can answer those employee questions that keep the business breathing.

CEOs are relearning that Leaders don’t necessarily make great Managers and vice versa. Some CEOs are finding themselves with leader “celebrities” who are initially loved by their staff and then frustrated when that celebrity cannot support their questions that drive performance.

The Bottom Line

Today’s CEOs are expressing concern that we seem to be creating generic, mass-produced leaders versus ones that can engage and inspire with credibility within their own organizations.

The shift towards collaborative leadership has been a welcome and timely concept, and critical to surviving in today’s competitive pace of change… but it’s only a technique to managing the business. As increased staff turnover is likely with us for awhile, today’s leaders need to fill up their operational knowledge to ensure that impact is minimized with credibility.

HC2advantage – June 2023


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