21st October 2019 Written by Dr Kirsteen Grant and Professor Maura Sheehan

Image: Professor Maura Sheehan and Dr Kirsteen Grant from the International Centre for Management and Governance Research at Edinburgh Napier University.One of the most significant findings from the recent Workforce Development Survey was that 81% of respondents stated that there is ‘room for improvement in the leadership and management skills within their organisation’.

Leaders and managers should be the glue that links all the parts of an organisation together; enabling all employees to understand where their personal contribution fits into that organisation. However, when leadership and management fail to deliver, the impact on all other aspects of an organisation – from its ability to recruit, retain and motivate employees – to the competitiveness of the organisation - quickly becomes apparent.

So, what are the gaps in leadership and management? Respondents highlighted the following concerns: an inability for leaders/managers to initiate and keep up with change, lack of experience and, possibly most worrying in terms of inspiring staff and creating a vision, almost a quarter of all respondents cite leaders/managers as lacking motivation. This is particularly troubling in terms of wider staff morale and commitment. If leaders become disenchanted and disenfranchised, their energy levels drop, they lose inspiration, have lessened influence and this is very quickly communicated (verbally and visually) amongst the people they lead. The tendency then is for a wave of de-motivation to spread through the organisation. This has significant implications for the performance and sustainability of organisations.

Another worrying trend found in the data was that almost a third of respondents did not rate the competence of their leaders/managers highly. Such competence gaps negatively permeate throughout organisations. The impact of poor leadership/management was reported to have a “critical/major” impact on the organisation’s competitiveness, including a loss of funding (72.2%); withdraw the offering of certain products/services (65.9%); and loss of business opportunities to competitors. Leadership gaps also adversely impacts on employees by increasing the workload of staff (60.5%); reduced motivation (62.3%); and higher absenteeism (53.2%).

So what can be done to address leadership/management deficits?

Traditional models of leadership need to be re-positioned to reflect rapidly changing and highly uncertain global political, economic, social, technological, environmental and legal landscapes. Leaders need to become much nimbler and agile. In the context of shrinking budgets and resource constraints, there needs to be greater recognition of the imperative for increased co-operation and collaboration within and between organisations and services. Coaching and mentoring programmes, both within and across organisations, can be excellent (and cost-effective) methods of developing current and future leaders and addressing the gaps identified by respondents. Leaders need to provide clarity of purpose, vision, and embed and instil the organisation’s values. Critically, leaders must communicate transparently and encourage employees to engage in constructive dialogue, even when such conversations might be difficult.

Increasing diversity among leaders and managers will be fundamental to addressing the leaedership deficiet. Leadership/management talent pools need to be expanded and succession management must ensure the retenstion, development and progression of leaders and managers from diverse backgrounds. Business leaders need to assess their organisation’s demographics and age profile, identify when employees in mission critical positions will retire, understand what knowledge and skills will be lost, and develop a plan to advance and onboard the next generation of diverse talent. The significant progress in technology and training of HR professions and leaders/managers in HR analytics can help to facilitate the implementation of diversity. We urge current leaders and managers to reflect upon these challenges and opportunities.

If you are interested in how we can help your organisation with your learning, management and organisational development, please get in touch.