From the Archive: Future Friday: The impending leadership cliff

by Michael Haberman on March 17, 2015 · 2 comments


The leadership cliff is rapidly approaching and companies are not prepared.

The leadership cliff is rapidly approaching and companies are not prepared.

I am on vacation this week, so I am reposting some of my favorite posts. This post was originally published on October 10, 2014 and was retweeted a good number of times. Obviously our situation has not improved. It is still a critical area of concern that all companies need to pay attention to.

Demographics don’t lie. A well-known fact is that baby-boomers will be gone. Some may hang around longer than others, but the inevitable fact is that they will be gone and with that many leadership positions will go vacant. This leadership cliff is a major threat to the success of many an organization.

Leadership talent is not being developed

Gen X turns fifty years old in 2015. Many of them are taking on leadership roles. According to Susan LaMotte “the average age of an S&P 1500 CEO is 50. And they’re already leading the majority of growing companies: 68% of Inc. 500 CEOs are Gen Xers.” The problem is there are not enough of them to take all the leadership roles and companies are not doing enough to develop them. A new study by Oxford Economics and SAP finds that less than half of executives surveyed “indicate that their leadership team has the skills to effectively manage talent or inspire and empower employees.”

This leadership crisis is not just an issue of private industry. A study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers shows that the federal government is woefully unprepared to meet the leadership void that will be occurring. Some agencies are better than others at doing succession planning, but even those agencies have not done much about actually implementing succession plans and training future leaders.

Less than half are prepared

Despite the fact that surveyed executives talk about how important development of talent is less than half of them feel their companies are capable of doing it. The Oxford Economics study found “Lack of adequate leadership is cited by executives as the number two impediment to achieving their goals of building a workforce to meet future business objectives.” Organizations are not currently doing enough to develop leadership talent. In fact, according to the study “only 23 percent say they offer development and training as a benefit.”

People don’t want to be leaders.

Adding to the problem of not developing enough leaders a poll by CareerBuilder suggests that only 34% of younger workers even want to be in leadership. And women, who now make up half the workforce aspire to leadership roles even less. According to that poll of the 34% of workers expressing interest in leadership roles only 29% of them are women. In my opinion that is a bad omen for the future.

A great opportunity for HR

There is a great opportunity for HR to have a significant impact on their companies and organizations. The development of leadership talent is of such critical importance that it has the potential for spelling the difference between success and failure for many organizations.  Here are steps that can be taken by HR to help avert this impending crisis.

  1. Do your research and know exactly the demographics of your organization. Identify who is likely to leave and who is likely to have some leadership capabilities.
  2. Identify methods to provide training for leadership, many exist:
    1. Mentoring, work with getting women interested in particular
    2. Online digital education such as MOOCs. (Massive Open Online Courses)
    3. Help identify a set of books for reading. Establish a corporate library. For that matter buy everyone a Kindle and download a set of books to each and every one.
    4. Lunch and learns on leadership topics
    5. Traditional seminars
    6. Traditional in-house training provided by consultants
    7. Encouraging employees to take on volunteer roles with not-for-profit organizations
  3. Convince company leadership how critical this problem is.
  4. Convince company leadership to loosen the purse strings
  5. Get educated yourself

If HR does not step and lead the effort to bring leadership training to their companies they will be faced with a failing company at some point in the future. Do you really want to be involved with that?

Image courtesy of iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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