As always, the CIPD HR Outlook survey is fascinating reading, although some of the survey findings make disturbing reading. Particularly worrying is the data on how ineffective senior leaders are at the leadership skills believed to be most needed over the next three years.
Dr Jill Miller, Research Adviser at the CIPD, comments: “Given that a business is its people, it’s very concerning that leaders are rated so poorly on their people management and development capabilities. In order to lead people effectively, leaders need to have a variety of skills – but while technical skills are critical in organisations, they do not always go hand-in-hand with people skills. Organisations need to respond to this mismatch by making targeted investment in their leadership’s people management capability. A strong talent pipeline, which promotes both strong people management and technical excellence, will support people to reach their full potential at work and is essential for a sustainable and high-performing business.” (source: CIPD Press Release)
Based on the data provided, I’ve ranked the leadership skills by ineffectiveness (both ‘somewhat ineffective’ and ‘very ineffective’):
The first thing I notice from this is that the majority of senior leaders can do the ‘technical’ aspects of their job, but are ineffective at most of the people skills required to actually be leaders. This doesn’t surprise me as I spend most of my time helping leaders to figure out how to get the best from themselves and others. Sometimes, leaders have had no training or support to equip them with those people skills and they’re just doing what they think is right based on what they’ve experienced themselves. Sometimes, they’ve had training but it has been ineffective.
At its core, I don’t believe the people skills of leadership are that complex and we can radically improve them if we help leaders to do the following things well:
- Agree expectations (the impact we expect people to make) and delegate effectively
- Trust and empower people (and get out of their way)
- Support people and provide quality feedback (which includes ‘catching them doing things right’ and appreciating them)
- Develop people by coaching them/helping them learn
Whilst I contend that this is not that complex, there are two areas that – in my experience – seem to present the biggest challenge:
(1) Providing quality feedback and having challenging conversations
I’ve written previously about how feedback is simply compassionate truth and how we need to say what needs to be said and say it well. We need to equip leaders to value feedback (both giving and receiving), to give feedback well (definitely not the so-called ‘feedback sandwich), and to appreciate people for things done well. Despite any initial discomfort, this is something that we can equip leaders to be much better at.
(2) Leading people who are different to them/have different strengths/succeed at things in a different way to them
A common thing I hear from leaders is that there are some team members who they find easy, and others who they struggle with. A common reality is that leaders struggle to get the best from people who are different to them. I’ve previously shared a performance management role-play I created to illustrate the challenge of getting the best from someone who is different to you. This is where both good leadership (empowering people to deliver outcomes and not constraining them by your own approach), coaching skills, and an appreciation of strengths really helps. I make a lot of use of Gallup StrengthsFinder to help leaders understand their own strengths (how they best succeed at things) as well as the strengths of the people they lead and how they can make the most of each others’ strengths. Also, I don’t believe a leader can be a leader unless they have some coaching skills.
In summary; thanks to the CIPD for another excellent piece of research. Leadership skills are much-needed and sorely lacking. We can do something about it.