The Leadership Skills Gap

Leadership IQ surveyed 3,018 leaders about their self-rated expertise across 18 critical leadership skills, and the results are likely to surprise you....

What skills do you need to teach your future leaders? What are the specific leadership skills that today's managers and executives are lacking? And what skills(s) should your leadership development programs actually teach to managers and executives? This study surveyed 3,018 leaders about their self-rated expertise across 18 leadership skills. And the results are likely to surprise you. Among the key finding are the following:

  • ONLY 19% OF LEADERS ARE ADEPT AT REDUCING EMPLOYEE BURNOUT
  • ONLY 26% OF LEADERS HAVE MASTERED DEVELOPING MIDDLE PERFORMERS INTO HIGH PERFORMERS
  • ONLY 28% OF LEADERS ARE ADEPT AT MANAGING HYBRID TEAMS
  • ONLY 31% OF LEADERS ARE HIGHLY PROFICIENT AT MANAGING DIFFICULT PERSONALITIES 
  • ONLY 33% OF LEADERS ARE HIGHLY SKILLED AT MANAGING REMOTE EMPLOYEES
  • ONLY 40% OF LEADERS ARE WELL-VERSED IN OVERCOMING RESISTANCE TO CHANGE
  • ONLY 40% OF LEADERS ARE HIGHLY SKILLED AT SETTING INSPIRING GOALS FOR EMPLOYEES
  • ONLY 43% OF LEADERS ARE ADEPT AT DELIVERING CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK THAT CHANGES BEHAVIOR
  • ONLY 44% OF LEADERS ARE HIGHLY CAPABLE OF KEEPING EMPLOYEES OPTIMISTIC AND RESILIENT

STUDY METHODOLOGY
Leadership IQ surveyed 3,018 leaders in the United States during the week of August 23, 2021. Respondents answered more than two dozen questions about their leadership skills.  Respondents represented the following demographics. POSITION: Top Level Executive (10%), Senior Vice President (9%), Vice President (13%), Director (30%), Manager (38%). The margin of error is plus or minus 2 percentage points. 

Leaders were asked to rate their leadership skills using the following seven-point scale: 
--No Experience (have not attempted or been trained on this skill)
--Beginner (have learned about this skill but have not used in real life)
--Struggling Novice (attempted a few times without much success)
--Advanced Novice (attempted a few times with moderate success)
--Intermediate (use this skill consistently, with a mix of successes and failures)
--Advanced (can successfully and consistently perform this skill)
--Expert (recognized authority on this topic)

LEADERSHIP SKILLS FINDING #1: ONLY 19% OF LEADERS ARE ADEPT AT REDUCING EMPLOYEE BURNOUT

In 2021, employee burnout is one of the greatest challenges that every successful leader must be able to address successfully. Yet the typical leader has never received meaningful training on reducing employee burnout. A shocking 12% of leaders have never received training on the leadership traits that enable a leader to reduce burnout among their team. And another 17% of leaders describe themselves as either beginners or struggling novices.

leadership skills burnout

LEADERSHIP SKILLS FINDING #2: ONLY 26% OF LEADERS HAVE MASTERED DEVELOPING MIDDLE PERFORMERS INTO HIGH PERFORMERS

A hallmark of today's effective leader is that they can transform a middle performer into a high performer. Not every organization will consistently hire only high performers onto their team, so it will fall to the leader to take average hires and transform that human resource into something far more impactful. A great leader sees the untapped potential in every employee and is able to harness that potential to achieve great results. 

leadership skills middle performers

LEADERSHIP SKILLS FINDING #3: ONLY 28% OF LEADERS ARE ADEPT AT MANAGING HYBRID TEAMS

It's tough to find an organization today (outside of hospitals and hospitality) that in 2021 won't have to address the hybrid workforce (i.e., having a mix of both remote and in-person employees). Managers and executives with good leadership skills will be able to successfully balance the different demands of their in-person and remote employees. But it's highly concerning that the average leadership training curriculum has not taught this issue.

leadership skills hybrid teams

LEADERSHIP SKILLS FINDING #4: ONLY 31% OF LEADERS ARE HIGHLY PROFICIENT AT MANAGING DIFFICULT PERSONALITIES 

Even a great leader will, at some point, have to grapple with difficult personalities on their team. While we generally teach transformational leaders how to grow and develop people's potential, the reality is that difficult personalities do exist and leaders need to know the scripts and techniques to control negative personalities, narcissists, blamers, and more.

leadership skills difficult personalities

LEADERSHIP SKILLS FINDING #5: ONLY 33% OF LEADERS ARE HIGHLY SKILLED AT MANAGING REMOTE EMPLOYEES

In 2021, one of the essential management skills will be managing remote employees or even an entire remote team. It is a trainable skill to maintain one's corporate culture, employee engagement and employee productivity while employees are out of the office. But because it is such a new skill, the typical leader has not been forced to address this issue. Managers and executives don't need to change their fundamental leadership style, but they will to tweak their communication skills to increase the frequency, timing and content of their interactions with employees.

leadership skills remote teams

LEADERSHIP SKILLS FINDING #6: ONLY 40% OF LEADERS ARE WELL-VERSED IN OVERCOMING RESISTANCE TO CHANGE

Every leadership role, regardless of their position in the corporate hierarchy, will have to lead change. But beyond the transformational leadership skills we typically teach to managers and executives, today's leader needs the leadership qualities to calmly and analytically solve employees' resistance to change. It takes a high degree of emotional intelligence to react to an employee's resistance without anger or disbelief. An effective leadership skill is recognizing that many employees will resist change, no matter how smart or necessary the change is to the company's survival. And not only must a leader know how to solve that resistance logically, they must show empathy and emotional intelligence to to overcome that resistance through their interpersonal skills.

leadership skills change management

LEADERSHIP SKILLS FINDING #7: ONLY 40% OF LEADERS ARE HIGHLY SKILLED AT SETTING INSPIRING GOALS FOR EMPLOYEES

It's a cliche that a strong leader sets inspiring goals for employees. A good leader inspires employees to reach beyond perfunctory SMART Goals while a bad leader is content for their employees to copy-and-paste last year's goals into this year's form. A true leader will challenge their people to stretch beyond a bland "attend a seminar" goal and find something that forces workers to learn and grow and develop.

leadership skills smart goals

LEADERSHIP SKILLS FINDING #8: ONLY 43% OF LEADERS ARE ADEPT AT DELIVERING CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK THAT CHANGES BEHAVIOR

When it comes to developing leadership skills, delivering constructive feedback without making people angry or defensive is at the top of the list. Yet it's clear from this study that delivering tough feedback effectively is not a leadership strength for most managers and executives. It's often presumed that it takes leadership experience to deliver great feedback, but the truth is that with practice and effective scripts, anyone, regardless of their leadership position, can deliver the kind of feedback that improves someone's performance.

leadership skills constructive criticism

LEADERSHIP SKILLS FINDING #9: ONLY 44% OF LEADERS ARE HIGHLY CAPABLE OF KEEPING EMPLOYEES OPTIMISTIC AND RESILIENT

Every business leader, regardless of their industry, needs employees who can withstand the hardships and burnout of 2021. That means that every leader needs to know how to keep their employees resilient and optimistic. However, because the typical leadership development program focuses so heavily on strategic thinking, critical thinking, financial and operational skills, most leadership training entirely misses the psychological aspects of great leadership. In this era, reducing burnout, increasing optimism and resilience, are every bit an essential part of leadership ability as financial, operational, strategic skills, etc.

leadership skills resilience

LEADERSHIP SKILLS FINDING #10: ONLY 47% OF LEADERS ARE HIGHLY PROFICIENT AT RESOLVING DIFFICULT CONFLICTS SUCCESSFULLY

It's doubtful that someone will be a good leader if they consistently avoid conflict. Among the leadership qualities required for exceptional performance is not only a willingness to not only wade into conflicts but the leadership traits to resolve it effectively. Conflict is one of those areas that will test whether one truly has effective communication skills.  

leadership skills conflict

LEADERSHIP SKILLS FINDING #11: ONLY 47% OF LEADERS ARE ADEPT AT HIRING EMPLOYEES THAT BECOME HIGH PERFORMERS

One of the first steps to becoming a better leader is developing a better eye for talent; i.e. learning how to hire people who are virtually assured of becoming high performers in your organization. In the Hiring For Attitude study, for example, we discovered that 89% of failed hires were the result of poor attitudes rather than a lack of technical skill. But do your leaders truly understand how to hire for attitude? This data suggests that the typical leader is not hiring effectively.

leadership skills hiring

LEADERSHIP SKILLS FINDING #12: ONLY 48% OF LEADERS HAVE MASTERED CONDUCTING SUCCESSFUL PERFORMANCE REVIEWS

While far too few employees find their performance reviews of value, the exceptional leader will take this typically painful conversation and transform it into something constructive and deeply meaningful. But unfortunately, this data shows that most leaders are more trained in their company's specific processes (and HRIS systems, etc.) than they are turning the conversation into a transformative experience.

leadership skills performance appraisals

LEADERSHIP SKILLS FINDING #13: ONLY HALF OF LEADERS ARE ACCOMPLISHED AT HOLDING EMPLOYEES ACCOUNTABLE

Does someone truly have strong leadership skills if they're not comfortable holding their employees accountable? Perhaps one of the biggest drivers of leaders' inability to manage remote employees (or hybrid employees) is that they struggle to hold people accountable. So it's likely that this leadership skill has repercussions beyond this one finding.  

leadership skills accountability

LEADERSHIP SKILLS FINDING #14: ONLY HALF OF LEADERS ARE HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL AT MOTIVATING AND RETAINING HIGH PERFORMERS

Among the skills for which servant leadership is famous for teaching, retaining and motivating high performers is at the top of that list. And yet, notwithstanding decades of teaching about servant leadership and motivating employees, this is still an area where only half of leaders have demonstrated proficiency.

leadership skills motivation

LEADERSHIP SKILLS FINDING #15: AROUND HALF OF LEADERS FEEL WELL-VERSED IN COMMUNICATING PERSUASIVELY AND CONVINCING OTHERS

It's a truism that effective executive leadership requires persuading and communicating effectively. And while half of leaders seem to have mastered this skill, that means that the other half are still struggling (or remained untrained) in this area. Among the many leadership qualities that companies purport to train, this one should be near the top of the list.

leadership skills communication skills

LEADERSHIP SKILLS FINDING #16: MORE THAN HALF OF LEADERS FEEL HIGHLY CAPABLE OF MANAGING THEIR OWN TIME AND PRODUCTIVITY

Regardless of one's particular leadership style, every employee should be able to manage their own time and productivity effectively. Whether one has a more diplomatic leadership style, or even veers to a style closer to autocratic, the only reason why someone would struggle with this issue in their leadership role is that they're unable to balance the demands of their individual contributor responsibilities with their newfound leadership responsibilities.   

leadership skills time management

LEADERSHIP SKILLS FINDING #17: MORE THAN HALF OF LEADERS ARE HIGHLY SKILLED AT MENTORING AND COACHING EMPLOYEES

It takes communication, empathy and emotional intelligence to mentor someone. The command and control (or autocratic) leadership style is woefully inadequate to the task of mentoring and coaching people. Coaching and mentoring requires asking questions rather than giving orders, and these are leadership qualities that are, unfortunately, not commonly taught in many leadership training programs.

leadership skills coaching

LEADERSHIP SKILLS FINDING #18: LEADING TEAMS IS THE MOST DEMONSTRATED AREA OF LEADERSHIP EXPERTISE IN THIS STUDY 

Leading a team is an essential skill for any good leader. And of the 18 leadership skills assessed in this study, this is the skill where leaders have demonstrated the most expertise. Managing the dynamics of a team is something that every leader has likely been taught at some point. And given how widespread management by team is in today's modern organization, it's no surprise that this is the skill on which most leaders rate themselves highly.

leadership skills leading teams

MEDIA INQUIRIES:
For media inquiries about this study, including to interview Mark Murphy, CEO of Leadership IQ,  please contact media@leadershipiq.com

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