It’s been more than a decade since the first alarm about a shortage of leaders.

Who can forget the countless surveys that indicated a significant decline in the confidence in leadership bench strength, or the reports that leadership gaps were a top concern among talent management professionals and CEOs alike?

Common causes of the leadership gap contributing to a leadership shortage include recruiting wars for high-potential talent, generational shifts in the workforce due to the retirement of many Baby Boomers, changes in the nature of work itself, and poor organizational practices identifying, selecting, and developing talent.


digital learning leadership training banner center for creative leadershipUnderstanding the Leadership Gap & Its Causes

At CCL, we’ve conducted extensive research to explore the leadership gap. We found that crucial leadership skills in organizations are insufficient for meeting current and future needs.

Businesses, government agencies, nonprofits, and educational organizations need leaders who can effectively navigate complex and changing situations. So, organizations need to ask “Who do we have?” and “What do they need to do?” as well as “Are they equipped to do it?

We also released a white paper based on our research to determine if the current level and type of leadership skills are sufficient to meet organizational needs.

The project was designed to understand which leadership skills are critical for success, now and in the future; how strong current leaders are in these critical skills; and how aligned today’s leadership is with what will be the most important skills in the future.

As our white paper notes, a leadership gap can be caused by either:

  • A lack of mastery of the required competencies, or
  • A lack of focus on necessary skills.

The first is a matter of degree; the second is a matter of substance. But either can be a problem, in both the short and long term.

Organizations  — and individual leaders — want to avoid a discrepancy between areas of strength and areas of need; however, the data from our study indicates that most organizations today are experiencing a current leadership deficit and can expect a leadership gap in the future.

Needed Future Leadership Skills That Are Weak Today

The research has raised the alarm about the limitations of current leadership skills, identified high-priority competencies, and flagged areas of particular concern.

Our study found that today’s leadership capacity is insufficient to meet future leadership requirements, and identified the 4 most important future leadership skills that are among the weakest competencies for today’s leaders:
  • inspiring commitment,
  • leading employees,
  • strategic planning, and
  • change management.

Notably, the leadership gap appears in high-priority, high-stakes areas. Other areas where there is a significant gap between the needed and existing skill levels were employee development and self-awareness.


Infographic: The Leadership Gap

What Can Be Done About the Leadership Gap?

As our white paper notes, ’here are 5 steps that organizations can take to help bridge the leadership gap between current leadership talent and future leadership needs:

  • Perform a needs assessment. Identify the capabilities that managers need now and in the future to execute and sustain the organization’s strategy. Our Leadership Gap Indicator is one way to determine organizational needs and leadership gaps.
  • Create a leadership strategy. A clear understanding of the leadership behaviors and business goals allows executives to develop a leadership strategy. In turn, development initiatives can be aligned with the operational needs.
  • Develop clear, specific goals and strategies for individual leadership development. Assess managers’ strengths and weaknesses as leaders against the core competencies identified in the needs assessment. Other assessments — including 360-degree feedback tools — can be helpful in evaluating individuals’ strengths and development needs. Be sure to factor in feedback, coaching, and assessment towards goal attainment.
  • Create systems. Excel at recruiting, identifying, and developing talent as well as performance management and retention.
  • Evaluate. Build in systems for measuring how these efforts are paying off across the organization. What additional resources are needed? What metrics are in place to assess impact?
When important competencies are found to be weak spots, targeted development initiatives can be put into place. Evaluating your managers’ opinions about development needs can help you create a plan for developing leadership talent and closing the leadership gap. We have developed a Leadership Gap Indicator to help companies examine their own data and better understand particular strengths, challenges, current leadership deficits, and anticipated future leadership gaps specific to their organization. This information can help senior management facilitate conversations about the identification, development, and retention of key leadership talent.

Learn more about our recommendations on bridging the leadership gap and barriers to overcoming it.

The sooner organizations understand the reality of their leadership situation and leadership gap, the quicker they can move to adapt by refocusing leadership development efforts and rethinking recruitment priorities. To increase leadership capacity, organizations need to take both a strategic and a tactical approach. On the individual and tactical level, managers need to align the development experiences of managers with organizational objectives.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Increasing effective leadership in an organization requires you to identify the leadership gap that currently exists. We’re ready to partner with you to help close your leadership gap, building critical leadership skills and competencies that are right for your organization’s unique context and culture. Learn more about our custom Talent Development solutions.

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