The Leadership Development Gap


Many executives at leading companies believe that, in general, the quality of corporate leadership is on the wane. This is backed by research done by Development Dimensions International, who, in their 2015 Global Leadership Forecast,1 found that only 40 percent of the executives they surveyed are happy with the quality of leadership in their organizations. HR professionals are even less satisfied with their organizations’ leadership, the study found.

Why is leadership quality so low, according to the very leaders themselves? Possibly because leadership development efforts have stalled, despite the estimated $50 billion being spent by companies on leadership development every year. Indeed, only 37 percent of leaders in DDI’s study rated their organization’s leadership development program as effective, indicating no improvement over the past seven years.

Without effective development initiatives, today’s business leaders are not sharpening their leadership skills, to the determent of the organizations they work for. This trend is set to continue, with large amounts of money being spent on ineffective programs. However, companies that do run successful leadership development programs are equipping their own personnel with the skills they need to navigate the forces of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) and take their companies into a strong future.

So where do companies start when it comes to improving their leadership development? First, they can focus on developing future talent by providing both on-the-job learning and informal learning initiatives. Secondly, those who receive training from such initiatives must be ensured a chance to practice and hone their newly acquired skills. DDI reports that organizations whose leaders practice and then receive feedback on the skills they are developing are five times more likely to have high leader quality compared to those that do not.

Finally, leadership development should not be viewed as the sole driver of leadership quality. Companies should make sure that they focus on the qualities they seek in their future leaders from the beginning, during the recruiting process, and should also conduct careful succession planning when a current leader steps down or retires.

By putting more thought into leadership development, and by making more strategic use of the funds they are already spending on it, companies can ensure their leaders are equipped to tackle the VUCA forces and take their organizations to the next level.

1 Development Dimensions International, “2015 Global Leadership Forecast,”