UK leads the way in leadership

A ray of hope amid the gloom: UK leaders are apparently best equipped to deal with a downturn...

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

That’s the conclusion of a new study by consultancy DDI into the leadership development policies of companies around the globe. It found that UK leaders are more highly-rated than any of their counterparts around the world, and that our leadership development programmes are also the best in the business. So as we slide ever closer to a recession, at least there’s a good chance that we’ve got the right people in place to steer us out the other side.

The survey of 13,700 leaders (across 76 different countries) found that just 41% were happy with their leadership development programmes – that’s 12% lower than last time round, showing that things are getting better rather than worse. One key problem was post-promotion training: nearly half of all companies make no provision for this, despite the fact that an alarming 37% of succession candidates don’t work out. Respondents also said that they weren’t getting the right training for multinational management roles – just 29% of companies have a specific programme for this, despite the fact that multinational leaders are almost invariably considered inferior to their national counterparts.

The good news for the UK is that we seem to be doing a better job than most. 44% rated UK leaders as ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’, which is 7% higher than the global average. And it’s largely because we’re better at putting together development programmes – specifically, linking leadership skills with business priorities. We’re also better at spotting and investing in emerging leadership talent: 55% of those on ‘high potential’ programmes said they were happy with their development, compared to 37% globally.

DDI director Simon Mitchell admits that the results may be partly due to the relative seniority of those surveyed in the UK – but he points out that UK leaders are also more highly rated by their own HR people, so there must be something in it. ‘The crucial difference is that more UK organisations are aligning their leadership development programmes with business priorities and performance management systems,’ he told MT. ‘Globally the research indicates that 81% of most effective leadership programmes made a clear link between leadership skills and business priorities, compared with just 36% of the least effective programmes’.

The danger is, of course, that all this slips down the priority list as firms focus on steering their business through the slowdown. ‘As the downturn bites, leadership skills will really be put to test and those with the right leaders will weather the storm better than those less prepared,’ says Mitchell. ‘It’s just as important during tough times to invest and commit to developing leaders at all levels.’

First our athletes over-achieve on the world stage, and now our business leaders too. At least we can rely on our national football team to keep our feet firmly on the ground...

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