I recently met with a client who was the head of human resources (HR) for a financial services company. She was really frustrated with the development of her organization's leaders.
“We did all the right things,” she exclaimed. She said that the organization had identified its high-potential leaders and created a development program for them. “We then gave them all promotions, with fancy titles and increased compensation. And now we are waiting—waiting for them to lead,” she said.
I asked her to explain further what she meant by “waiting.”
“They aren't leading,” she said. “They are waiting for permission and direction from the executive team on every issue. Or they're acting like bystanders, watching problems persist or projects derail.” She then shared what I thought was her most important insight. “It's like they don't know what it means to be a leader!”
I'm hearing more and more of this kind of lament from senior executives in all industries. About a decade ago, my colleagues and I wrote about the need for organizations to make leadership a strategic priority.1 We also provided a pathway to help organizations build leadership in a disciplined way.2 And since that time, organizations have done both—they have heeded our calls and have indeed taken leadership seriously and have invested in it.
Yet, despite all the investment in leadership development, there is a gap between what we expect of our leaders and how they are performing. I ...