Leadership : Leaders in Short Supply Just When We Need Them


Albert A. Vicere is executive education professor of strategic leadership at Penn State's Smeal College of Business, and president of Vicere Associates, Inc., a leadership consulting firm with clients around the globe.  He is one of the country's top leadership coaches, and is the author/editor of several books including Leadership By Design, The Many Facets of Leadership and more than 80 articles on leadership development and organizational effectiveness.

View his website by visiting www.vicere.com or e-mail him on a.vicere@vicere.com

Leadership is essential to an organization, especially in times of change. Yet, experts say there is a looming shortage of leadership talent. Is there really a crisis in leadership talent, what’s causing it, and what can organizations do about it?

Jay Jamrog, director of the Human Resource Institute (HRI), shed some light on the issue during a recent interview. HRI is a not-for-profit, trend-spotting research organization supported by more than 100 major corporations.

Every two years HRI conducts an in-depth survey asking participants to identify their most critical issues in people management.  It turns out that attracting, developing and retaining leadership talent has topped the list the past few iterations.

Jamrog expanded on the survey results during our Q&A.

What's at the heart of shortage of leadership talent?  Is it just demographics or is there something more?

Part of it is demographics. Typically, the 35-54 year old age cohort is considered the prime source group for leadership talent. But since baby boomers are aging--10,000 people pass age 55 every day, and because the generation X cohort is substantially smaller, we’re facing a 15 percent population decline in the prime age cohort while demand is predicted to increase 25 percent over the next 10 years.

But, other factors are at play, too. Turnover in senior management is reaching an all time high--40 percent of the top executives in the largest 2,500 companies churned over the past 3 years.

Then there’s retention and attraction. Today, companies need leaders at all levels to help deal with constant change. But often, people in leadership positions don’t have the experience or the training to do the job. Research tells us the leadership skills of immediate supervisors make a huge impact on the retention of talented employees. Without good leaders today, we can’t attract and retain top talent for tomorrow.

What aren’t we building the leaders who can attract and retain top talent?

Frankly, most organizations don’t measure and reward leadership capabilities.  They measure and reward management skills--making sure processes run smoothly and work gets done. They don’t measure and reward leadership, skills like communication, engagement, interaction, direction.  And without adequate measurement, the foundation for building leadership skills is missing.

Is this just a U.S. problem, or is it a challenge on a global scale?

It‘s clearly a global problem.  In HRI's 2004 Major Issues survey, leadership was ranked as first or second in importance by executives in Europe and Asia as well.

What can companies do about the problem?

Well, there are the basics--build processes to identify the best leaders, put programs in place to develop their leadership skills, do what you need to do to retain talented leaders and keep them engaged, and most importantly, measure and reward effective leadership.

Any insights on how to measure and reward leaders?

Some innovative organizations are using a two-tier performance appraisal.  One appraisal assesses how a person "manages"--did they get work accomplished in a timely manner and achieve their performance goals?  This assessment determines the leader’s bonus.  The second appraisal assesses the individuals leadership ability--how well did they develop, motivate and engage their people? This determines whether they get promoted. So someone may be a good manager and earn their bonus, but not as good a leader and therefore not eligible for promotion.

Any advice for up and coming leaders?

Most people learn leadership skills by observing their current leaders, but this works only when they have competent leaders to observe.  My advice is to seek out and find the very best leaders you can. Watch them, learn from them, get advice from them. Learn from the best because leadership skills will be a hot currency in the years ahead.

Ó Copyright Albert Vicere 2004

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