Senior executives usually navigate the correct series of moves to end up in their plum positions at the top, but they might not have enough of the right capabilities to stay there. Sixty-seven percent of companies think that senior executives need to improve their leadership skills, according to a survey by ClearRock, a Boston-based outplacement and executive coaching firm.
In addition, 53 percent of companies think that top leaders need to improve their strategic planning skills, and another 53 percent think they need to improve their communication abilities.
"We've seen employee engagement declining steadily over the years, even before the recession began. This is because employees don't know how they fit into the big picture, nor do they understand how their performance is critical to organizational success," says Annie Stevens, managing partner for ClearRock.
In fact, many of the top 10 skills that organizations desire from their leaders have to do with people management, which includes encouraging teamwork (47 percent), motivating people (46 percent), engaging others (42 percent), managing (38 percent), and interpersonal abilities (32 percent).
"Motivating managers and developing people are critical skills right now, especially in terms of moving a new organization forward after a recession," says Stevens. "Organizations need to be preparing leaders, and leaders need to be prepping managers and employees for when the recession ends."
Indeed, organizations have been buckling down in various ways to get their senior leaders up to speed and ready to go. The top five methods companies have been using include outside coaching (74 percent), outside training and education (48 percent), in-house coaching (38 percent), assigning senior leaders to project teams (29 percent), and pairing senior leaders with mentors (20 percent).
Stevens was impressed that nearly three-quarters of organizations were providing staff with outside coaching despite the financial climate, but she noted that much of the survey sample has used coaching before. She also notes that companies that haven't used coaching before are the ones that need to commit to it if they want to improve their leaders' abilities, especially their communication skills.
"It continues to impress me how many people lead up and manage up, and don't pay as much attention to leading and managing down," she says. "Change is happening at a really rapid pace, and one of the barriers to effective communication is that senior leaders don't know how to do it, or they don't communicate at all."
Stevens also notes the importance of face-to-face delivery versus electronic messages between senior leaders and their staffs. Citing psychologist Albert Mehrabian's breakdown of communication as being 7 percent words, 38 percent tone, and 55 percent body language, she says, "Our chance of being misunderstood with email is enormous because we're losing 93 percent of our communication tools."