Springfield, MO

Log in Subscribe

Opinion: Why most leaders fail in uncharted waters

Posted online

In uncertain times, the capability of an organization to successfully navigate uncharted waters depends greatly on the abilities of their leaders and managers. This is particularly true of small businesses.

One of the top reasons new managers fail is the lack of preparation for their roles. According to research by the Corporate Executive Board, only 10% of leaders surveyed said they felt well-prepared.

Too often, it’s a case of: Surprise, you’ve got a promotion. Research finds 70% who become managers were not planning on it, an indicator their readiness could be lacking. Because most managers did not necessarily intend to make the leap to leadership when the opportunity came along, it is critical they receive support and early development to be successful.

Twenty percent say their move to leadership was primarily motivated by money. While these leaders said they enjoyed their promotion and the extra pay, they also reported they are not motivated to lead others and weren’t as prepared as they would have liked. They also felt the most stress trying to find time to advance their skills.

Only 1 in 10 managers want a C-seat.

Few managers feel their future could include a seat in the C-suite resulting in a need for organizations to identify and develop lower-level managerial talent.

Seventy-six percent of managers surveyed indicated a desire to advance to higher leadership roles over the course of their careers, according to the Corporate Executive Board study. But when it comes to having C-suite aspirations, only 1 in 10 frontline leaders see themselves moving into a C-level role. Organizations should be proactive about assessing for higher-level leader potential and make it a priority to develop those leaders early.

Management jobs are natural for a few, but stressful for many.

Upon looking back at their first step into leadership, leaders commonly say the transition wasn’t easy. The majority of managers surveyed (84%) revealed they were stressed by taking their first leadership role. And the study finds only 16% said the move to leadership felt natural.

Ninety percent said they felt unprepared to some extent. This lack of preparation can lead to “fake it until you make it” with less than ideal chances of long-term success. This supports the fact that 60% of new managers fail within their first 24 months.

Managers are looking for more support during their transition to leadership, and leadership development will significantly impact their success.

So what stresses leaders out the most?

Frontline managers emphasized discomfort with navigating organizational politics, having time to do everything that needs to be done, and finding time to advance their skills as their top three stressors.

Research from the 2019 LinkedIn Learning Report also indicates time as the No. 1 barrier that holds people back from learning. The report goes on to say that employees who spend over five hours per week learning are more likely to know where they want to go in their careers, find greater purpose and feel less stressed. Planned development is critical for leaders to continue to advance, and organizations that build in formal time for growth and skill building are giving their leaders what they need to be more prepared for their transitions.

Perhaps surprisingly, millennials lead in work-home separation.

Overwhelmingly, leaders say the skills they’ve learned also improve the quality of their personal relationships. Although they admit they have less time and energy to pursue personal interests, they are proud to tell friends and family about their work.

There are generational differences in how this translates to work-life balance. Of the Generation X leaders surveyed, 23% reported that no matter what they’re doing, they feel they must check their email or be connected to work, compared with only 13% of millennial leaders. This contradicts a common image of millennials – a generation that grew up constantly connected to the digital world. Of the generations, millennials were most likely to indicate they feel more stressed at home and that they keep their personal and work life completely separate.

What drives leaders?

Across leader levels, genders and generations, the top three feelings leaders selected to describe their own leadership experience were excitement, pride and confidence. Leaders report being driven by their connections with others and helping teams and colleagues across the organization succeed. They also feel rewarded by having more influence over what happens in their organization.

Providing development opportunities to leaders and emerging leaders ensure they have the essential skills, knowledge and expertise to lead, motivate and manage their teams. Identifying potential leaders early and investing in their growth can result in long-term benefits including talent retention. Organizational development can transform businesses and better prepare their leadership team resulting in higher productivity, employee engagement, talent retention and profitability. This is particularly important in these unusual times.

Karen Shannon, vice president of business consulting and chief human resources officer for Ollis/Akers/Arney, works with clients worldwide on key business and HR strategies. She can be reached at


No comments on this story |
Please log in to add your comment
Editors' Pick
Open for Business: Summit Athletix

A construction industry veteran branched out to a new kind of venture with the May 14 opening of Summit Athletix; the newest marijuana dispensary for Flora Farms LLC opened; and Liora’s Original Creations Nail Salon launched.

Most Read
Update cookies preferences