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Gartner Explains Why Leaders Aren’t Confident Leading Their Teams

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Only 50% of employees agree that their team leader effectively creates a vision for the future of the team, according to a global survey of 4,000 employees by Gartner. More troubling is the fact leaders are having a crisis of confidence in themselves and hence they are not well-equipped to lead their organization in the future.

Leaders today have more responsibilities than ever, but are ill-equipped to take on their expanded roles,” said Sari Wilde, managing vice president in the Gartner HR practice. “We are seeing organizations overhaul their leadership models, hoping the right combination of competencies will enable leaders to tackle their growing responsibilities. Unfortunately, relying on leadership models alone isn’t enough.”

Gartner’s research reveals that rather than focusing on leadership models, HR leaders should create an environment built on “complementary leadership” – the intentional partnership between one leader and one or many leader partners to share leadership responsibilities based on complementary skillsets. In fact, complementary leadership can provide a big boost to leaders’ performance. Gartner analysis showed leaders who use complementary leadership saw a 60% increase in their teams’ performance and a 40% increase in their own performance.

“Our research found that leaders are not always best-positioned to manage every responsibility they are tasked with; instead, the best leaders identify others who have a stronger grasp of skills at which they are weak and share responsibilities with them,” said Ms. Wilde.

To enable complementary leadership, HR leaders should focus on the following questions, says Gartner. a)  How do we help leaders focus on the right capabilities? b) How do we get leaders to change their behaviors? c) How do we fill leaders’ urgent capability gaps quickly?

Identify local gaps, not universal needs

Leaders need to know their current level of skills proficiency so they can prioritize what they need to develop and where they need help. Today’s leadership assessments can be misleading because they don’t include the right inputs and prioritize results based on the wrong metrics. Rather than evaluating leaders against organization-wide metrics that are too broad, leaders should focus on identifying locally relevant development priorities, the Gartner report said.

“To do this, leaders should focus on sourcing development priorities from their teams, which will enable employees and leaders to coalesce around a shared set of priorities in service of the team,” Wilde said. “Additionally, specific context must be factored into assessments of capability needs and performance potential. This enables a better understanding of how leaders are positioned to perform within the specific challenges and needs of their business unit and/or function.”

Develop leaders for practical application

Many leadership development programs last only a few days and aim to completely transform leaders’ approach to their role. Often, leaders struggle to apply a drastic transformation once they return to their desks. A better approach centers around integrating leaders’ workflows and priorities into development programs to enable leaders to apply their learning in context.

According to Gartner researchers, HR should start by determining two things:

  • What work processes and frameworks are leaders comfortable with?
  • How can HR leaders adapt these processes to develop leaders?

Aligning development programs with leaders’ day-to-day reality helps leaders understand how they can use new skills in their current role.

Create leader partnerships

HR leaders can serve as the catalyst to help leaders identify and make the most of partnerships, believe Gartner  researchers. Rather than waiting for individual leaders to develop all of the necessary skills, HR must help them find the right partners to share their responsibilities, particularly in the face of filling urgent skill needs. These leader partnerships allow each leader to specialize in core skills, develop needed skills and lead in critical areas, the study says, adding that this type of partnering can increase leaders’ skill preparedness by 54%.

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