New Survey Shows That the Leadership Gap Is Wider Than Ever

OMGoodness! A recent survey by SuccessFactors, an SAP company, found that 34 percent of executives say “a lack of adequate leadership is among the major impediments to achieving workforce goals.”

Another 42 percent say company growth plans are “slowed by lack of access to the right leadership.”

Well, none of this surprises me. (I’ll bet you aren’t surprised, either.) The past few years have been particularly hard on leaders, with most everyone agreeing we’re practically in a leadership drought.

(Question. Do you think the leaders responding to the survey consider themselves part of the problem? I’m not saying they are. Perhaps these leaders are prone to self-reflection and open to improvement — as evidenced by their willingness to selflessly answer survey questions. Just wondering.)

The responses, detailed in Workforce 2020: The Leadership Cliff, were culled from 5,500 executives and employees across 27 countries and indicate that the “leadership gap,” as SuccessFactors calls it, cuts across industry and geography.

It’s not all bad …

On the bright side, the majority of employees rated their leaders as doing a fine job. When asked how well managers were delivering on their leadership expectations, 53 percent of respondents answered “well” or “very well.”

Here’s the rest of the answers to that question: “How well does your manager deliver on the following expectations?”

  • Leadership — 53 percent;
  • Regular performance reviews — 49 percent;
  • Flexibility on time off  — 44 percent;
  • Regular informal feedback on my performance  — 43 percent;
  • Flexibility on working location  — 43 percent;
  • Acknowledging superior performance — 42 percent;
  • Mentoring — 41 percent;
  • Supporting a healthy working environment  — 39 percent;
  • Availability/approachability  — 38 percent;
  • Sponsoring me for training and development programs  — 35 percent;
  • Well-defined career path — 30 percent.

Shucks. I take it back. It IS that bad.

Another black eye for HR?

The survey found that just 38 percent of hiring managers look for leadership candidates with soft skills, while noting that more than half of the executive participants are in HR.

Ouch. Come on, HR! You know how important soft skills are! What gives?

And the hits keep coming …

Some 35 percent of executives say turnover and lack of loyalty are roadblocks to establishing a future-ready workforce, “ranking it above all other obstacles,” according to the study. Meanwhile, more than two-thirds of employees perceive their employers as not caring about loyalty at all. Instead, employees chose “the ability to learn and be trained quickly” as the top employer concern.

Article Continues Below

It should be noted, however, that none of the attributes received a majority response, making me question whether employers really are that different, or if most employees simply have no idea what their employers value.

Other noteworthy findings? Just a smidgen over half of respondents say their managers “possess the skills to effectively manage talent,” and less than half (44 percent) “have faith that their leaders are capable of driving and effectively managing change.”

The survey cites Magellan and India’s Tata Communications as among those companies doing the right thing — providing and supporting leadership training for employees — but then goes on to point out that they’re in the minority.

It’s not rocket science

So if nearly two-thirds of companies don’t have a succession plan, and if only half have specific processes for developing talent, what in the world does the future hold? I guess we’ll have to wait to find out.

As usual after reading one of these surveys, I find myself speculating when companies will start giving more than lip service to the notion of good leadership.

Reams have been written about what makes an effective leader. You can’t convince me it’s rocket science.

In the meantime, surveys like the one from SuccessFactors will continue to yield the results we’ve all come to suspect.

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at


1 Comment on “New Survey Shows That the Leadership Gap Is Wider Than Ever

  1. When I saw these results I actually thought the numbers were better than expected in many areas. For example, I was pleasantly surprised that over 50% of employees said managers were meeting expectations related to leadership. We definitely have a long way to go, but I suspect if this survey had been done 5 years ago it might have been much worse.

    The two things at the bottom, lack of career paths and access to training resources also struck me as not necessarily being issues with HR processes or leadership. The could be consequences of changes in the world of work itself. I question if the traditional concept of “career paths” is relevant in industries where companies restructure constantly and new jobs suddenly emerge that didn’t even exist 5 years ago? Similarly, the traditional notion of “training programs” as something done outside of the workplace rather than something embedded in work itself can be called into question given research on adult learning and recent advances in social learning technology (for a discussion of the concept, check out: )

    Maybe part of the issue is a need to educate employees on how to build careers in a world of constant change. Which means a world of constant career development opportunities or a world of constant employment threats, depending on one’s mindset.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *