In early 2014 Harvard Business Review Analytic Services conducted a survey where 77% of business leaders said that front line managers were important in enabling the organization to reach its business goals, but only a third or less rated those same leaders as competent in key leadership skills.
Even more perplexing is the apparent lack of attention within those companies to addressing these gaps: only 12% of respondents thought their company provided sufficient development to their front line managers.
Does this provide an opportunity for savvy recruiters to help mitigate the leadership gap? I think it does.
Buying critical leadership skills
Many hiring managers are focused on short sighted goals in hiring talent primarily based on specific experience in the jobs they are trying to fill. I think this focus may be adding to the leadership gap described above. I am not suggesting that we ignore specific experience, but I think that guiding hiring managers to select for critical leadership skills will bring better long term results. Especially for companies that lack robust development programs, buying leadership skills through recruiting front line managers who already demonstrate them will help to fill the gap.
What are the critical leadership skills?
The leadership skills cited in the HBR study were business based decision making, organizational savvy/judgment, strategic thinking, innovative thinking, developing talent and inspirational leadership. In a pinch these would work, but consider conducting a little informal research to discover the skills that will bring the most return on investment in your organization.
A good place to begin is with your organization’s strategic planning documents. Have leaders identified the leadership skills they will need to take the organization in the direction they want it to go? Have they published mission and vision statements, values statements or other guidance documents that mention leadership skills?
For example, if a company has identified new objectives to improve customer service, then you want to include problem solving and conflict management skills in interview and selection guides for relevant positions. Is your organization facing major transformation? Recruit for personal resilience and experience in leading others through change.
Finally, identify the current leadership gaps in the organization as a whole or the department for which you are staffing. Perhaps your current front line managers are weak in coaching for improved performance or need the savvy to surmount organizational silos.
Don’t get me wrong – I am a strong proponent of robust leadership development programs. But, especially in organizations where training may be lacking, new hires who already demonstrate critical leadership attributes will help to fill the leadership gap and spread those skills even in their absence.
About the Author: As a senior product analyst at Halogen Software, Sean Conrad helps HR teams improve their organization’s performance management processes.
He’s a regular contributor to the Halogen blog writing about talent management trends and best practices.