Leaders Without Leadership

One of the greatest threats to an organization is a lack of quality leadership.  We read, hear, and talk about it all the time, but we never find a way to solve the “leadership issue.”  Amazon.com lists more than 63,000 titles when you search for books on leadership.  Clearly, a lot of people have a lot of ideas about what makes a good leader.  I recently conducted a survey of several hundred national organizations regarding what the most important areas for improvement.  The results clearly ranked leadership is the number one issue.  Although the current economic environment was the most important issue for 21 percent of respondents, approximately 46 percent of respondents said the biggest issue is leadership in their organization.

Figure 1: Results of 2010 Productivity Survey

We know that a good leader creates value in a number of ways: the leader’s own productivity, productivity of direct reports, and overall organizational productivity.   A poor leader can impact all three areas by not meeting his or her goals, inhibiting the work or losing direct reports, as well as not contributing to the success of the organization as a whole.

Think about those that have left your organization in the last few years.  How many people left because they could not perform at a high enough level to stay compared to those that could no longer accept poor leadership from their immediate supervisor?  Most surveys indicate that poor leadership skills of a supervisor are one of the top three reasons an employee leaves an organization.  The average cost in recruiting, lost productivity, and training for replacing a professional level employee varies between $12,000 and $40,000 in most industries.  I have worked with numerous organizations where a single, poor leader resulted in significant turnover.  Moreover, I can think of more than a few organizations where those that left in a single year would form one of the best and most formidable teams in their respective industry.

Leadership is the biggest organizational challenge, has been, and stands to remain so in the future.

This is not to say we have not made some headway with new theories, more training, and better tools for identifying, challenging, and refining leaders.  The good news is that academics and practitioners are getting closer to identifying what does not work even if we do not have the definitive list of what does.  Over the next several weeks, our blog will discuss the Ten Failures of a Leader in order to explore what research have shown regarding those behaviors that are least desired in a leader.