A Leadership Crisis or a Branding Issue?

It sure has been a tough year to be a leader.

In the summer of 2009, Development Dimensions International (DDI) surveyed 1000 US workers employed across industries and throughout the United States. Concentrating on specialists and professionals in non-leadership positions, they asked individual contributors how they feel about their jobs, their opportunities for growth, engagement levels, and skills they desired to develop.

There were 6 key findings in their “Pulse of the Workforce” report.

One of them was……. drum roll please….

Individual contributors are disappointed in their bosses and managers.

Shocker. No surprise her

e. And dissatisfaction with leadership isn’t just a US issue.

A survey of the UK workforce (3,000 adults surveyed by OnePoll), conducted on behalf of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) revealed that 50% believe that they could do a better job than their current manager and a similar number (49%) said they would be prepared to take a pay cut, in order to work with a better manager.

We’ve been hearing about the “leadership crisis” for years now. Just for fun, try searching “leadership crisis” and you’ll find thousands of headlines going back to 2001, from every industry, and from every part of the world.

There is also no shortage of Monday morning quarterbacks, bemoaning the lack of leadership and telling leaders what they need to do to snap out of it. Lee Iacocca wrote a bestselling book a couple years ago, “Where Have All the Leaders Gone?”, where he “sounds a howl of anger against the sad state of leadership in the U.S. today”.

I hate to say it, but I’m almost getting numb to the whole “leadership crisis” thing. It’s getting tired.

However, there was another finding from the DDI survey that I found even more troubling:

Sixty-two percent of the individual contributors surveyed have no aspiration to assume a management role.

This anti-leadership sentiment showed up in several other areas of the research. Survey respondents were asked if they could leapfrog to any position in their organizations, what role would they take on. Very few, just 32%, find their boss’s job or even more senior positions appealing.

It seems leadership has a serious branding issue. I wouldn’t be suprised to see “leader” on next year’s “Worst Jobs” list.

If you think we’re in a leadership crisis now, we’re going to be in an even deeper crisis if we don’t do something to make the role of a leader more appealing to our best and brightest.

So what can we do to address the real or perceived lack of leadership talent, as well as the branding issue?

First of all, I really don’t believe we have a leadership “crisis”. In any population, you’ll always have a bell curve of performers. So for leaders, 10% of them are bad, 10% are great, and the other 80% somewhere in the middle.
So based on that assumption – her
e’s my 5 step proposal:

1. Cut the Deadwood.
See “Real Leaders Fire Underperformers”. Let’s start holding leaders in all sectors accountable. Its a few bad apples – the 10% – that are getting all the attention and causing all the problems. Throw the bums out.

2. Stop the whining.
See Marshall Goldsmith’s “Bashing the Boss”. In it, he says when you complain about your manager “You demean yourself. If you are so brilliant that you can consistently judge your boss, and your boss is so stupid that he merits endless hours of critique, why do you report to the idiot? Ultimately, when we discredit our boss, we discredit ourselves. The people around you will not say so on the outside, but on the inside they may be thinking you are an even bigger loser than your boss.”

For another similar perspective, see Jack Welch’s “Are You a Boss-Hater?” Welch says “We realize there are days when it can feel as if everyone around you is inept. Companies, after all, are composed of people, and people screw up, reward mediocrity, play politics, and otherwise commit myriad organizational sins. But the “everyone’s dumb but me” attitude is dangerous. Not only is it a career-killer, but it’s also simply not a realistic perspective on business.”

It’s true. It’s way to easy to point the finger at “leadership” when times are tough, and stand back smugly on the sidelines and complain.

3. Recognize and Celebrate the Great Leaders.
To some extent we do this, but no where near as much as we should. Bad news never has sold as well as good news. Great leaders are all around us, and we need to expose people to them as role models and mentors. Here are some, and here’s some more, and some more. And how about this guy!
These are the people we need to think of when we think “leader” – not the bums.

4. Improve the Selection Process.
Help aspiring leaders make the right choice. Promote for leadership potential, not just high performance.

5. Develop Leadership.
For all those leaders in the 80% category – let’s help them become better leaders, through training, coaching, and development. The idea of a natural born leader is a myth, and we need to stop perpetuating it. Leadership is a skill that can be learned. The great ones are great because they’ve worked hard at it, harder than anyone else.

What do you think? What else can we do to improve our worldwide leadership brand?