Developing effective leaders is the biggest people challenge facing organisations at the moment. That’s what the majority (nearly four out of five) of HR managers said in recent research carried out by the leadership institute, Roffey Park.

The Institute’s 19th annual report, ‘The Management Agenda 2016’, of nearly 1,000 UK managers both in and outside of HR, found that many HR managers think appropriate leadership capability is lacking in their organisation.

HR managers in the public sector have the least confidence in their organisation’s leadership and management capability – 40%, compared to 50% of those in not-for-profit organisations and 54% of those in the private sector. HR managers in very small organisations have the most confidence in their organisation’s leadership and management capability – 69% compared to 48% of those working in organisations with more than 250 employees.

It is clear from the research that leaders know they have big challenges on their hands. When asked to describe the current organisational climate, three words were repeatedly mentioned: changing, uncertain and challenging.

What is also clear from the research is that many HR managers think there is a leadership capability gap in terms of meeting those challenges.

What is required is leaders that can effectively set direction, involve others in change and foster a culture that is both innovative and supports learning. Are the leaders of today able to do that? The Institute’s research indicates that many are not sufficiently able to meet these challenges.

Modern leaders are required to be agile, flexible and adaptive. However, what emerges in the report is a view of change that is top-down and driven, imposed upon the workforce, rather than a result of a shared, collaborative and open inquiry into how best to respond and adapt to changing conditions.

The reports goes on to talk about the need for leaders to lead and not just manage. Organisational structures are increasingly complex and diverse, meaning that leaders need really good people management and employee engagement skills. In this uncertain, constantly evolving business landscape, the Institute says leaders need to be able to set clear expectations and connect with employees on both a personal and emotional level. They need to praise employees and recognise work that has been done well.

Succession planning is also highlighted in the report as a serious concern – 70% cited it as a key issue. Under half of public sector HR managers (45%) said that their organisation was either ‘successful’ or ‘very successful’ at developing and appointing successors. This rose to 59% in the private sector. However, both sectors admitted that succession planning is a challenge that needs to be met – 70% said so in the private sector and 82% in the public sector.

In order to have a strong leadership pipeline, HR, leaders and managers need to foster an effective learning culture. However, this often does not happen. In the report, for example, one in five operational managers said their line manager never discusses their training or development needs with them. A third say such discussions only take place once a year and one in two say they never or rarely receive any coaching from their line manager.

The HR professionals polled are of a mixed opinion about how effective they are at developing and appointing successors. What is for sure is that they need to encourage and support leaders to have a greater focus on employee development, coaching and succession management.

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