This could be attributed to the fact that these executives are used to succeeding within their domain of expertise, thereby assuming they are successful in their leadership, too, the survey noted.
It is clear that the new world of work seeks companies' investment in the growth and development of all employees across teams, role types, and leadership levels.
With employee turnover posing a top challenge, companies are scrambling to backfill roles; however, hiring is difficult in this tight labour market. Today’s employees want to work for companies that invest in their growth and development via career pathing and leadership development coaching.
While there is a clear need for a human-centred approach amidst a workforce seeking focused investment in leadership, AceUp’s Building Human-Centered Leaders in the New World of Work survey, conducted in the US, reveals there is still much room for improvement.
*While this survey is US-based, HRO believes the data remains relevant to our readers in Asia.
Senior leaders lack self-awareness
As the study believes, self-awareness is key when it comes to what makes a successful leader. A prerequisite to being self-aware is listening to others’ experiences and feedback with an open mind. Without doing this, it is impossible to effectively communicate, foster relationships, and rally people around a common purpose and strategy.
The last two years were an opportunity for introspection for many, yet the research reveals disconnects between senior leaders and individual contributors in several critical areas.
While 74% of executives think they’re inspiring employees, only 27% of individual contributors agree.
Significantly, executives were found to overestimate their ability to inspire greatness in others. In addition to the 47 percentage point (pp) gap between executives and individual contributors, there’s a 28pp gap between executives and middle managers' viewpoints.
As the survey suggests, this perhaps can be attributed to the fact that executives are used to succeeding within their domain of expertise, thereby assuming they’re successful in their leadership, too. However, this finding indicates that senior leaders could benefit from leadership development to build self-awareness.
There is also additional disagreement between executives and individual contributors in regards to career pathing — senior leaders are also twice as likely to said their company “has a clear career path for all employees” as compared to individual contributors.
While 66% of senior leaders said their company has clear career paths for all, only 35% of individual contributors agree, indicating a communication gap. While career paths might exist in 66% of companies, not everyone is aware of them.
Additionally, the survey noted that employees are quitting in greater numbers than ever before, often citing a lack of professional growth opportunities as the reason for leaving - thus affirming that if employees either don’t have or don’t know about clear career paths, they also think the organisation could be doing more to retain talent.
At the same time, individual contributors are 27% less likely than senior leaders to agree that there exists good collaboration between their teams and departments. In that vein, individual contributors are most likely to struggle with cross-functional collaboration. As compared to executives, these employees typically spend less time in cross-functional meetings and thus have less time to practise deploying soft skills—such as collaboration and communication—outside their sphere of influence.
Employees want human-centred leaders vs. business-centred leaders
While there is a general consensus on the essential elements needed in the new world of work, many organisations have yet to take action — or perhaps do not plan to at all.
With 72% of respondents agreeing that their teams "have leaders at every level of the company (including individual contributors)", leading no longer requires a leadership title. Importantly, companies need champions who have the ability and desire to influence their peers, teams, and even managers. To build agile organisations, companies must enable and actively support individual contributors’ confidence when making decisions, taking risks, pushing back, and managing up.
More than half of all respondents agree that human-centred leadership (leading with compassion) is critical right now. Successful leaders in the new world of work practise human-centred leadership through actions such as increasing self-awareness, building strong relationships, creating inclusive teams, and honing communication skills to influence others, as pointed out in the survey.
Despite the need for leaders to take a people-centric approach, the study revealed that managers are still falling short. Only 33% strongly agree with the statement: "our people managers are well-equipped to lead in the future of work.”
Further looking into the needs of today's workforce, 54% said all employees need strong soft skills to succeed. As such, upskilling employees to prepare them for new internal roles as part of a career pathing programme has to include soft skill development.
Particularly, nearly one in two respondents said employees want to bring their full selves to work, and be free to disagree or voice concerns without fear of judgment or repercussion. This ability to speak and “be” freely is otherwise known as psychological safety.
However, only 29% of companies hire candidates based on soft skills and behavioural fit— despite the clear need for human-centred leaders who exhibit soft skills.
Less than half of the companies surveyed provide leadership coaching
Interestingly, only 35% of companies provide a formal, ongoing leadership coaching programme for all employees. On the other hand, 18% of organisations offer no coaching to help employees build leadership capacity.
Among companies that offer coaching, 25% bring in professional third-party coaches, and 28% employ professional internal coaches.
Instead, 69% of respondents said managers coach their direct report employees. Further, while managers do the lion’s share of coaching, only 33% of respondents agree that “developing a coaching approach to management“ is a top strength amongst people managers at their company.
Yet, as the survey suggests, managers are not equipped to provide the type of leadership development the new world of work requires. As a result, about three in 10 (32%) of individuals say they have not received any leadership coaching in their organisation, versus 10% of executives who said so.
Lastly, while employees need soft skills to succeed in today’s workplace, and workers expect their employers to invest in their growth, 32% of individual contributors haven’t received coaching—not even informally, the survey highlighted.
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