Addressing Today’s Leadership Skill Gaps

by Pat D’Amico

“I’m confident our leaders know how to lead.” These words uttered far too often sum up one of the biggest reality gaps facing businesses today.  

Over the past 3 decades, while employed by companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic and start-ups, I had the opportunity to experience, design, and deliver numerous leadership development programs. Today, as a leadership/management development consultant and Executive Coach, I work with Fortune 500 companies developing and delivering programs to advance their leadership/management skills.  

Some of the things I’ve learned (and continue to observe) have brought me to the following conclusions regarding gaps in leadership/management development and how organizations can address them: 

1. Leadership/Management Development is NOT a Nice-to-Have 

Arguably, more than any other factor overall, organizational success hinges on the abilities of its leaders to drive employees to meet performance objectives and goals. The World Economic Forum survey on Global Agenda revealed that 86% of almost 2,000 respondents agree there is a leadership crisis in the world today. These skills are not innate; they must be developed, guided, and honed. While organizations will state that leadership/management development is a top priority, few offer even the most basic development in this area.  I am no longer shocked by its often-total absence. The reality is that when it comes to training, companies almost always prioritize areas such as job, product, services, and process training. When I press them to understand why they do not focus on leadership/management development, most commonly they reply with answers such as “We don’t have the budget, “We can’t afford the time away from their jobs,” and the most disturbing, “It’s a nice-to-have.” There is some irony here in that I am usually being engaged to assess why the organization is not achieving its objectives.   My subsequent discovery is often a lack of management competence.  

*Organizations need to accept that leadership/management competence is a critical driver of success, and commitment to its development is a top priority.   

2. Leadership/Management Skills CANNOT be Developed with a Fire Hose 

A recent Korn Ferry survey revealed that more than half of the business executives rated their leadership development efforts as “fair to very poor.” The 2018 Harvard report on the State of Leadership Development stated that only 5% of business leaders believed their programs were “Best in Class.” If this data sounds concerning, it should be. One of the primary reasons for this is that today’s corporate leadership/management development programs violate many, including some of the most basic things we know about human learning and development. One of these is attempting critical skill development with a fire hose/blitz approach. What does that look like? Leaders (often only the new ones) are brought in a couple times a year for 1-2 days, and they are “trained” on numerous (often as many as 5-10) competencies. These sessions only achieve limited knowledge transfer but get nowhere near skill development. The leaders drink from this fire hose and are kicked out the door “ready” to lead, without any pull-through, follow-up, or reinforcement to develop these skills.  

*Organizations need to understand that leadership/management competency development will only result from a sound and continuous development program for leaders at ALL levels.

3. Your Leadership/Management Development Needs ARE NOT Innately Different from Others 

Organizations often believe that their leadership/management development needs are different from others and require a more complicated and costly assessment to define. This often results in an abandonment of its pursuit. At face value, this may seem reasonable, but research has shown this argument is flawed. Matrix’s analysis of over 50 years of data on leadership/management competencies and programs suggests that the competencies themselves do not vary based on industry or function. Yes, nuances may exist as to how the skills are applied, but most organizations would be greatly served by simply admitting and addressing the total absence of leadership/management competency. Arguing about one’s micro-needs ends up as an excuse to avoid it altogether.  

* Organizations with an identified leadership/management development gap need to admit that their leaders lack basic competency and that addressing it does not require an advanced assessment to uncover and define.  

Becoming a capable leader is a life-long journey. No matter what level an individual has achieved, the continually changing landscape will always dictate that leaders have more to learn and develop. To have any chance of success, organizations must focus on providing development to this critical asset.

Pat D’Amico has more than 30 years of management and leadership experience, including combat tours in the US Army, and an extensive background in training. He has spent the last 25 years in the life sciences (medical device and pharmaceutical) in functional leadership roles, including sales, marketing, recruiting, commercial operations, national accounts, and training. He holds a BA in World Politics and a Master’s in Education. He can be reached at

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