The war for talent is over. Talent has won. Those were the words of Peter Sheahan during his keynote that I attended at SuccessConnect 2014 earlier this month. Sheahan, Founder and CEO of ChangeLabs, was talking about how effective leadership is the single most important factor in keeping employees motivated, happy, and most productive. According to Sheahan, research shows that, “There’s no greater influence on employee behavior than the behavior of their manager.”

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Think about it. When it comes to influencing employees, the attitude and actions of someone’s manager trump everything else; that includes company strategy, team structure, and performance ratings systems. Yet recent research from a global survey, fielded by Oxford Economics and SAP of over 5,400 executives and employees in 27 countries, reveals that companies are not prepared for the leadership challenges of the 2020 workforce.

That’s not to say that executives at most companies don’t count employees as their greatest asset. Everyone knows company growth depends on having top talent. It’s just that these same companies aren’t doing what it takes to build an unrivaled leadership juggernaut. The Oxford Economics research findings are unequivocal:

  • Forty-two percent of respondents agree that expansion plans for growth markets are limited unless the right leadership is in place. Yet only 35% say talent now in leadership positions is sufficient to drive global growth.
  • About half of executives say their team has the skills to manage talent or to inspire and empower employees.
  • Only 44 percent of executives believe leadership at their companies is equipped to lead their organizations to success.

Digging a little deeper into the findings reveals even bigger gaps between leadership readiness to meet future realities. Executives cited globalization, diversity, and millennials entering the workforce as top business concerns—51percent say these labor market shifts have great impact on their workforce strategies. But only 34 percent of executives agree that their leaders are prepared to lead a diverse workforce. Moreover, just 44 percent of employees say that leadership at their company can lead the organization to success; even fewer say their company is committed to diversity.

According to the same survey, that pesky new generation of workers otherwise known as millennials, need to be managed differently. Millennial survey respondents say they rely more on formal training and mentoring to develop their skills, and they want informal feedback from their managers 50% more often than older peers.

On the bright side, research like this can be a catalyst for change. Executives and employees, united in agreement that leadership is lacking, can also come together to drive company initiatives around leadership development. With the right technologies and programs, executives can engage what promises to be the most global and diverse population of employees in the history of work. They need software that makes succession planning not only a priority, but also easy. They can use workforce analytics to identify top talent before they’re caught short-staffed in key locations. On-line collaborative platforms and any-device HR software for performance reviews have unprecedented power to foster productive, ongoing conversations between managers and employees. The future may be unpredictable, but there’s no reason why companies can’t change leadership priorities now for higher-performance results tomorrow.

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