What’s most challenging about leading organizations today? And do these leadership challenges differ around the world?
Our researchers conducted a study on this, going straight to the source to answer these questions about leadership challenges, gathering input from 763 middle- and executive-level leaders in organizations from China/Hong Kong, Egypt, India, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Spain, and the United States.
We found that leaders around the globe consistently face the same 6 challenges — even if they describe their leadership challenges and specific context in different ways.
It may be surprising to find so much consistency in these challenges, given that leaders came from all corners of the globe, as well as different industries and organizations. Yet it seems that, overall, these 6 challenges are inherent for leaders in the role of middle or senior manager, regardless of the context.
Thus, these 6 top challenges should be core focus areas for managerial development, everywhere in the world, and in all organizations.
So what are the top leadership challenges around the world?
1. Honing Effectiveness: the challenge of developing the relevant skills — such as time-management, prioritization, strategic thinking, decision-making, and getting up to speed with the job — to be more effective at work.
2. Inspiring Others: the challenge of inspiring or motivating others to ensure they’re satisfied with their jobs and working smarter.
3. Developing Employees: the challenge of developing others, including mentoring and coaching.
4. Leading a Team: the challenge of team-building, team development, and team management. Specific leadership challenges include how to instill pride, how to provide support, how to lead a big team, and what to do when taking over a new team.
5. Guiding Change: the challenge of managing, mobilizing, understanding, and leading change. Guiding change includes knowing how to mitigate consequences, overcome resistance to change, and deal with employees’ reactions to change.
6. Managing Stakeholders: the challenge of managing relationships, politics, and image. These leadership challenges include gaining managerial support, managing up, and getting buy-in from other departments, groups, or individuals.
Knowing that these leadership challenges are common experiences for middle and senior managers is helpful, both to the leaders and to those charged with their development, according to our researchers.
Individuals can benefit from knowing their experiences aren’t isolated, and can feel more confident reaching out to others for help facing these challenges.
How to Respond to the Top Leadership Challenges Around the World
Here are 4 concrete things that leaders around the globe can do to help address these common leadership challenges:
1. Set goals.
Be proactive in setting goals, as well as establishing the timelines — and deadlines — necessary to keep yourself and your teams on track. The distractions that you face can make it easy to lose sight of long-term and even short-term goals. You can easily get sucked into dealing with urgent issues that arise unexpectedly rather than staying focused on producing the outcomes that matter most to your organization.
While no leader can completely avoid surprises, goal setting provides a map that you can return to time and again to refocus on your top priorities while handling other leadership challenges.
One time-honored approach is the SMART method. When setting a goal, make sure it’s:
- Specific. Write down a detailed description of what accomplishing the goal would involve.
- Measurable. Set targets that you can quantify to assess progress.
- Attainable. Stretch goals are fine, but you also need to make sure that achieving the goal is possible.
- Realistic. Be sure you understand what you will likely need — in terms of time, resources, and talent — to achieve it.
- Timed. Create deadlines for hitting milestones on the way to your goal, as well as for achieving the goal itself.
Just be sure to avoid these 3 common mistakes when goal-setting.
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2. Delegate more.
You’ll be more productive tackling leadership challenges, and you’ll empower your colleagues to take more ownership if you delegate. Effective delegation requires more than just getting a task off your desk — it involves a repeating cycle of 4 key steps:
- Understanding your preferences. Effective delegators prioritize their workload and decide which tasks to keep and which to give to someone else. They also understand how much feedback they want as the person they’ve delegated to works on the task.
- Knowing your people. To delegate effectively, you must assign tasks to people that match their knowledge and skills. That means that you have to understand your people. Use delegation to help direct reports develop, allowing them to learn as they take on new tasks.
- Being clear about the purpose of the task. A task’s purpose gives it meaning. By aligning this purpose with team or individual beliefs and goals, delegation can become an opportunity for personal growth.
- Assessing and rewarding. You should work with your direct reports to develop ways to help them, and you, decide if a task has been completed properly, and to reward them appropriately.
You’ll build more trust on your team if you delegate more, as well.
3. Maximize your unique value.
Prioritize by focusing on doing the most important tasks that only you can do. There will always be more things competing for your attention than you have time and energy to do. Prioritize the most important tasks that only you can do, and delegate everything else.
Leaders overcome leadership challenges and create value for their organizations by focusing on the unique contributions only they can make. Understanding what those unique values are for you, and delegating everything else (or as close to everything else as you can), allows you to maximize the value you create for the organization. This is part of increasing your self-awareness and understanding your personal leadership brand.
4. Get role clarity.
Understand what the core responsibilities are for your role, and what are secondary responsibilities, or even work that belongs to someone else.
That won’t stop people from asking you to take on additional tasks and projects. And there are certainly times when taking on additional duties may be required due to unusual circumstances, or might be important for your own professional development. But the most effective managers understand that they will largely be judged based on how effective they are at their core responsibilities and how they can overcome leadership challenges.
This also means that there will be times when you’ll have to say no. That can feel uncomfortable. Practicing saying no and finding ways to do so with tact and professionalism are important. Turning down work that’s not part of your role helps keep you focused, and communicating messages effectively is a critical skill for leaders.
In fact, many of these suggestions for responding to the top leadership challenges around the world are part of developing the core leadership skills you need in every role, at every stage of your career.
Leaders who sometimes feel overwhelmed by their work can take heart in the fact that they’re not alone. By focusing on these 4 key behaviors, you can beat back those feelings and provide more value to your organization as you take on the most pressing leadership challenges.
In closing, for those who work in training and development, knowing the top challenges that leaders face around the world can be the catalyst for creating developmental initiatives that truly help leaders.
Developmental initiatives are more effective when they align with real challenges that participants are facing. So, we suggest that a majority of development content be the same, no matter where the training is taking place or who is going through the training.
We also recognize that what’s accepted in one culture may be unacceptable or taboo in another, and some behaviors may be the norm in one country but different in another. So, it’s essential to be aware of cultural nuances and make adjustments as needed.
But with leaders around the world having the same basic challenges, those designing training can more appropriately align developmental initiatives to help managers solve problems in these 6 common areas: developing managerial effectiveness, inspiring others, developing employees, leading a team, guiding change, and managing internal stakeholders and politics.
Ready to Take the Next Step?
We can help you and your organization overcome the most common leadership challenges. Partner with us to craft a leadership development solution that develops the critical leadership skills and competencies that are right for your organization’s unique context and culture. Learn more about our custom Talent Development solutions.