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Global Leadership Storage

​THE DANGERS OF A POTENTIAL GLOBAL ENERGY shortage, or a global food shortage, are frequent discussion topics in the media, industry circles, and the public policy arena. But a new report finds another, less-talked-about deficit: a global leadership shortage.

Conducted by Stanton Chase International, an executive search company with offices in 46 countries, the report finds a lack of leaders with vision, high-level strategic thinking ability, and global leadership skills, all of which allow them to effectively rise above day-to-day operations. The report, 2013 Global Industrial Strategy Survey: Planning for 2014 and Beyond, surveyed 451 global executives—more than half of whom held management positions at the CEO, COO, or division president level, such as head of security. Roughly 33 percent of those surveyed were employed at companies with revenues greater than $1 billion, and they came from a variety of sectors, including automotive, power generation, oil and gas, aerospace, and engineering and construction.

Unlike some post-recession surveys, the new report finds a good deal of optimism regarding the global economy. Almost 75 percent of those surveyed view the current global economic climate as the same as or better than last year, and 65 percent are either optimistic or very optimistic that 2014 will be better than 2013.

But when it came to capitalizing on this favorable economic environment, those surveyed identified significant challenges. More than 70 percent said that a global leadership shortage had a dramatic impact on their organization and constrained it from reaching its goals.

More specifically, when asked about leadership qualities that are lacking worldwide, 71 percent cited the “big picture” skills of global leadership/vision/strategic thinking, and 66 percent cited entrepreneurship and creative thinking. While a majority, 55 percent, also believed there was a lack of management skills, that deficiency was not as frequently cited. Less than half of those surveyed cited a lack of personnel development (46 percent), an overall talent shortage (39 percent), or a lack of diversity (24 percent).

In addition, a majority of respondents said the leadership shortage was hitting close to home, and 60 percent of those surveyed said that their own organizations suffered from leadership deficits in the skill sets listed above.

Mickey Matthews, vice chairman of Stanton Chase and managing director of the Baltimore office, offers a few reasons why strategic thinking and vision might be in such short supply. They are qualities that cannot really be taught in a classroom. “It’s very difficult to get this in a business school,” Matthews says. “You can conceptualize, strategize, and you can talk about case studies, but that’s not real.”

Moreover, there are few executive mentoring programs where young executives can learn one-on-one from leaders. Some companies have no mentoring programs at all; others have them only for entry-level workers, not for experienced executives. (See page 93 for more on the ASIS mentoring program.)

The survey bears out Matthews’s view. When respondents ranked five strategies that their companies used to “ensure upward professional mobility,” engaging with a mentor ranked last of the five. The top-ranked strategy was continuous learning, followed by project team involvement, accepting international assignments, and taking risks.
“We were very surprised how little companies were taking advantage of mentoring as a strategy for leadership development,” the report says. “Mentoring is a low risk, high reward leadership development tool.”

And good mentors can act as an advocate for their protégés within the organization. They also encourage protégés to stretch themselves and strive for assignments and opportunities that will expand their skill sets and perspective. “When you don’t have that mentor, you don’t have that champion,” Matthews says.

Given the shortage of big picture leadership skills, the authors of the report say they were not surprised that, when respondents were asked to rank the most needed attributes of tomorrow’s leaders, vision and strategic thinking placed first. However, the authors were surprised that honesty and integrity ranked third (after execution and delivery). “While visionary and strategic thinking and proper execution and delivery are expected at this management level, honesty and integrity are coming in at a surprisingly high rate of key qualifications needed when it comes to selecting future leaders… which adds challenge and complexity to the people selection, assessment, and management development process.”

Matthews has found that executives who successfully advance to the highest levels of management often possess two attributes. One is that they are “calculated risk takers”—they stretch themselves and take on new assignments and projects, but they also do considerable research beforehand, and go into new endeavors with a game plan. Second, while they are adept at leading teams, they also have the versatility to be great team players and work with teammates as equals. “They can check their ego at the door. They don’t have to be the leader,” Matthews adds.

Near the end of the report, the authors make recommendations for companies that want to make the most of their executive talent. The recommendations include implementing an executive mentoring program focused on general management; offering leadership training with an emphasis on strategic thinking, execution, delivery, honesty, and integrity; and considering hiring some executives from startups or other small and nimble firms with proven track records of embracing entrepreneurial strategies.

The last recommendation would be unusual for many large companies, which tend to look toward global multinational corporations when making executive hires, according to the report. “This [hiring from small firms] would be novel, and counter to what we as global search consultants currently see,” the authors write.