The Global Demand For Leaders Is Outpacing Supply

Feb 07, 2014 1 Min Read

Leadership development is at the top of the minds of business and human resources (HR) leaders all around the world, according to the Resetting Horizons Global Human Capital Trends 2013 Report by Deloitte.

The report surveyed over 1,300 business and HR leaders in 59 countries: 582 from Asia-Pacific, 315 from the Americas and 412 from EMEA.

Fifty-six per cent of respondents in Asia-Pacific, and 55% globally, cited developing leaders and succession planning as their most pressing talent concern.

Chief executive officers (CEOs) in The Conference Board’s CEO Challenge 2013 Report similarly cited leadership development as one of their most critical challenges.

“Perhaps this indicates that the global demand for new leaders is outpacing the supply,” according to the Deloitte report, hinting at a deeper issue. There aren’t enough individuals who possess the requisite leadership skills to lead in these volatile times.

Having a strong leadership pipeline is a global predicament. On the one hand there is the issue of “supply,” raising questions about whether educational systems are churning out graduates that can be successful leaders in the workplace.

At a panel discussion at the recent Malaysia’s 100 Leading Graduate Employers Conference, Shell recruitment manager Haria Jhuli said universities must play their part to ensure that young Malaysian graduates not only join the job market with certification, but also skills to thrive in a work environment where they can hold their own on a global stage.

Qualities like initiative, creativity, language and communication skills immediately come to mind.

Roshan Thiran, CEO of Leaderonomics and fellow panellist at the conference, added that all organisations must acknowledge their responsibility to groom individuals into leaders. The onus is on all to ensure there is both abundance and quality in the pipeline.

Adaptable leaders needed for volatile times

On the other hand, there are also the demands on today’s “ideal leader” to consider. A recent presentation in Kuala Lumpur on The Future Asean Leader by The Conference Board said the future is characterised by “volatility and change”. The presentation summarised results from UnConference, held in Kuala Lumpur in June this year.

Adaptability and agility are needed to lead and produce business results in this era of constant change and uncertainty.

With technology and the speed at which new concepts can materialise, market dynamics can change overnight. Leaders must also be able to lead across a range of markets, adds the 2013 Deloitte report.

“Although many companies continue to pursue a singular vision of the ideal leadership style, the humbling truth is that tomorrow’s leaders should be able to thrive across multiple complex environments.”

These include “hyper-growth in emerging economies; value-harvesting or turnaround in mature markets and product segments; entrepreneurial innovation in start-up categories; and enterprise re-engineering for end-to-end value chain optimisation,” write Geoff Helt and Bill Pelster, respectively senior manager and principal of Deloitte in the United States, and authors of the leadership chapter of the report.

Meeting today’s demands

Consequently, Helt and Pelster cite the importance of diversity in leadership today. There must be facilitation of different styles, skills and experiences, they say.

Leaders must also have the ability to disrupt, and have the courage and space to be creatively abrasive. They should be able to challenge one another and voice their opinions “without pouting or shutting down if they lose.”

According to Roshan, the key to developing the kind of leaders organisations need today is to expose individuals to different experiences.

The Conference Board’s Future Asean Leader results affirm this experiential route for the best results. When asked to identify which approach has had the most impact on accelerating leadership in their company, “action learning initiatives” was the top answer for Asian respondents. Interestingly, “social learning” received a mere 2% of the vote.

Using the analogy of a person learning to swim, Roshan explains, “You can’t learn to swim by sitting in a classroom and watching videos of people swimming. You have to get thrown in the pool. If you want to accelerate the process, throw a crocodile in too.”

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Lily Cheah is a former head of Enterprise at Leaderonomics. Prior to that role, she was editor of (Ldotcom) and also was part of a special projects team in Leaderonomics. She believes that small details play a big part in huge successes, including always explaining “why”. She is a senior leader in HR today.

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