Overcoming the Leadership Gap

Overcoming the Leadership Gap 150 150 Tony Chatman

Leadership or rather a deficit of available, competent leadership has risen to become one of the most pressing talent challenges faced by global organizations. Deloitte University Press stated, “nearly 9 out of 10 global HR and business leaders (86 percent) cited leadership as a top issue.” This, coupled with the widening gap between organizational leadership needs and leaders available to meet those needs indicates what many of us already know, most companies have been unable to successfully develop their current leaders as well as build an effective leadership pipeline for the future.

Many organizations propose leadership training as the recommended solution for this problem (and trust me, I am all for leadership training), but I believe that ignores the core leadership deficiency in most organizations. Before training, must come selection and most organizations do a poor job of selecting leaders.

Most supervisors and managers are promoted first and foremost because of their technical skills and often that is the source of the problem. Starting with first time supervisors, many are promoted for the wrong reasons and this is the source of the problem. Many supervisors become supervisors because they were good at their previous position. If they worked as customer service representatives, they stood out as customer service representatives. If they worked as engineers, they were stood out as engineers. If they were sales people, their sales were above average.

But there is an inherent problem with this: The skills necessary to succeed in a leadership, supervisory, or managerial role are completely different than those necessary to succeed in a non-managerial role. Yet, as people’s roles travel from contributing to leadership, the skills necessary succeed go from technical and specific, to tactical and social. Where as a contributor, the ability to handle specific task, may have been critical, as a leader the ability to motivate and instill vision within people is an absolute must.

Although the ability to perform is an absolute must when looking for candidates who can take on greater leadership responsibility, data shows that high performance does not equal high leadership potential. CEB, a member-based executive team advisory company, says that just one in six high-performance employees also exhibit the attributes that indicate leadership potential. Research from the Corporate Leadership Council of the Corporate Executive Board indicates that only 15% of high performers show high leadership potential. There are many other surveys that have produced similar results. The bottom line is clear, being a top performer is not an accurate indicator of leadership potential.

Many organizations never consider this when promoting people into leadership positions. Instead it is assumed that because they excelled beyond their peers, they should be promoted above their peers, yet in reality many of these new leaders do not posses the skills needed to succeed in management. For these individual, the words of Marshall Goldsmith ring true, “What got you here won’t get you there.”

Unfortunately, most organizations have no alternative method of rewarding their top performers. There are many who are subject matter experts in their field, who in the best interest of everyone involved should remain as such. But too often, the only way to work your way up the ladder and increase your compensation is to take on a supervisory role.

Let’s use baseball as analogy to show how unreasonable this really is. Let’s say that a baseball team has an all-star catcher. This catcher is the best player on the team. No manager in his (or her) right mind would entertain the idea of moving that catcher to the first base in the name of upward mobility (on average 1st basemen make approximate 74% more than catchers). That would be a horrible idea, but unfortunately, in the workplace it happens everyday. Lineman are moved to receivers, catchers are moved to first base, centers are moved to point guard, and left wings are moved to goalie, and the team suffers.

Not only is this not in the best interest of the organization (we need more people who really know their areas of expertise inside and out and who love learning more about them), its’ not in the best interest of the people they will attempt to lead. And many of these individuals end up resenting their new roles and miss being “in the trenches” of whatever they were doing before. But what are they going to do, turn down the opportunity to be more highly compensated for what they bring to the table? Stall their career path because there is no alternative?

Organizations must decide to choose potential over performance as a basis for leadership selection. In addition to this, an alternative career path needs to be developed that rewards high performers who are not capable of effectively taking on leadership roles. Until this occurs, we will continue to see a shortage of effective leaders.


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