The PR BlogPublic RelationsInternal CommunicationsOvercoming the Leadership Gap (With Fewer Leaders)

Overcoming the Leadership Gap (With Fewer Leaders)

The solution: Make room for great leaders to lead.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

We must find a way to bridge the lead­er­ship gap.

Leadership is crit­ic­al to any suc­cess­ful organ­isa­tion, and devel­op­ing influ­en­tial lead­ers is essen­tial for long-term success.

But there’s a simple solution:

By appoint­ing few­er lead­ers and allow­ing good lead­ers to lead big­ger groups, organ­isa­tions can stream­line decision-mak­ing pro­cesses, reduce bur­eau­cracy, and pro­mote the growth and devel­op­ment of their most effect­ive employees.

Here we go:

Not Enough Leaders To Go Around

Leadership is a cru­cial com­pon­ent of any suc­cess­ful organ­isa­tion. It drives innov­a­tion, fosters col­lab­or­a­tion, and inspires employ­ees to achieve their best res­ults. However, find­ing and train­ing influ­en­tial lead­ers can be a sig­ni­fic­ant chal­lenge for many organisations.

A Gallup study examin­ing cor­por­ate lead­er­ship and man­age­ment found that only 10% of employ­ees are nat­ur­al lead­ers. Furthermore, the study found that an addi­tion­al 20% of employ­ees could become good lead­ers with the prop­er guid­ance and train­ing. 1Gallup: Only One in Ten Possess the Talent To Manage (2015).

The good news is that these find­ings sug­gest that, while lead­er­ship abil­it­ies are not innate, they can be developed with the prop­er support.

The bad news? Roughly 70% of the work­force shouldn’t be con­sidered lead­er­ship mater­i­al. No won­der 8 out of 10 busi­nesses report that lead­er­ship is lack­ing. 2Zippia: 36 Powerful Leadership Statistics: Things All Aspiring Leaders Should Know (2023).


The Leadership Gap in Organisations

This nat­ur­al short­age of cap­able lead­ers hasn’t stopped the cor­por­ate world from appoint­ing lead­ers left and right. As a con­sult­ant, I more often than not encounter organ­isa­tions where one per­son does the work that four man­agers tell them to do.

Please note that I’m not talk­ing about CEOs:s here. I’m talk­ing about any­one to who an organ­isa­tion has gran­ted author­ity over oth­ers. I’m talk­ing, of course, about the seem­ingly ever-expand­ing sphere of middle managers.

One of the crit­ic­al issues con­trib­ut­ing to the lead­er­ship gap is the tend­ency for cor­por­a­tions to appoint too many middle managers.

No won­der, then, that so many organ­isa­tions struggle to find and train enough lead­ers to ful­fil their needs. Too many non-per­form­ing man­agers in too many lay­ers can lead to inef­fi­cien­cies, unne­ces­sary bur­eau­cracy, and a lack of clar­ity regard­ing decision-mak­ing and accountability.

Training Can’t Fix the Leadership Gap

How do we solve the prob­lem of the lead­er­ship gap?

The tra­di­tion­al answer to lead­er­ship prob­lems at the C‑level is to hire and fire bet­ter. This obvi­ously can’t work at lower levels of the hier­arch­ies. With prop­er due dili­gence, there wouldn’t be much of the organ­isa­tion left.

At this point, the stra­tegic answer seems to be train­ing. Even if every­one isn’t born with lead­er­ship qual­it­ies, such skills can be trained, right? Even the 70% who lack the basic require­ments could be made into effi­cient lead­ers with prop­er devel­op­ment — the­or­et­ic­ally. 3Forbes: Leadership Development Is A $366 Billion Industry: Here’s Why Most Programs Don’t Work (2019).

Having con­sul­ted numer­ous organ­isa­tions of vary­ing shapes and sizes, I sug­gest the num­bers for media train­ing poten­tial cor­res­ponds with the num­bers for poten­tial lead­er­ship; about 10% have nat­ur­al tal­ents for becom­ing a great spokes­per­son or a thought lead­er for the organ­isa­tion. They have the poten­tial to thrive in a com­plex rela­tion­ship with the media. Another 20% can get there with guid­ance and training.

Theoretically, any­one can become a suc­cess­ful cor­por­ate spokes­per­son with enough media train­ing. But then the invest­ment won’t match the yield.

Alas — train­ing is an answer. But it isn’t the answer.

The Bottleneck of Identifying Leaders

There’s anoth­er sig­ni­fic­ant factor to con­sider when appoint­ing leaders:

How can we identi­fy the right pro­fes­sion­als to assign lead­er­ship roles? 

Many C‑level exec­ut­ives will have dis­tin­guished them­selves through­out their careers. But the fur­ther down the hier­archy we travel, the num­ber of man­agers increases expo­nen­tially — and they become stat­ist­ic­ally less and less dis­tin­guish­able as lead­er­ship mater­i­al. 4Harvard Business Review: Why Good Managers Are So Rare (2014).

Considering the chal­lenge of cor­rectly identi­fy­ing and devel­op­ing poten­tial lead­ers, most organ­isa­tions should be pleased if they can identi­fy 30% of their cowork­ers with lead­er­ship potential.

Another way of describ­ing the situation:

With each added lay­er of bur­eau­cracy, the stat­ist­ic­al chance of identi­fy­ing and devel­op­ing strong lead­ers gets expo­nen­tially worse with each layer.

Solution: Appoint Fewer Middle Managers

The solu­tion to this prob­lem is to appoint few­er lead­ers (espe­cially middle man­agers!) and allow strong lead­ers to lead big­ger groups. 

  • By remov­ing super­flu­ous lead­ers, organ­isa­tions can stream­line decision-mak­ing pro­cesses, reduce bur­eau­cracy, and cre­ate a more expli­cit chain of command.

This approach also allows strong lead­ers to take on great­er respons­ib­il­it­ies, lead­ing lar­ger groups and pro­mot­ing their devel­op­ment and growth.

Of course, ensur­ing that the right people are appoin­ted to lead­er­ship roles is essen­tial. This means invest­ing in train­ing and devel­op­ment pro­grams to help employ­ees devel­op their skills to become influ­en­tial leaders. 

It also means cre­at­ing a con­tinu­ous learn­ing and devel­op­ment cul­ture where employ­ees can take on new chal­lenges and expand their skills.

Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing it with oth­er PR- and com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als. For ques­tions or PR sup­port, con­tact me via jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

PR Resource: Checklist for Leadership Clarity

Checklist for Communicative Leadership

The single biggest prob­lem in com­mu­nic­a­tion is the illu­sion that it has taken place.”
— George Bernard Shaw

How can you ensure that your lead­er­ship is clear in prac­tic­al situ­ations? Always make sure that every­one in an organ­isa­tion is clear about the fol­low­ing checks:

  • This is what we are doing.
    Is this clear? Do you have any ques­tions? Can you repeat it back to me?
  • This is why we are doing it.
    Is this clear? Do you have any ques­tions? Can you repeat it back to me?
  • This is who will be doing it.
    Is this clear? Do you have any ques­tions? Can you repeat it back to me?
  • This is how we are doing it.
    Is this clear? Do you have any ques­tions? Can you repeat it back to me?
  • This is when we are doing it.
    Is this clear? Do you have any ques­tions? Can you repeat it back to me?
  • This is where we are doing it.
    Is this clear? Do you have any ques­tions? Can you repeat it back to me?
  • This is for whom we are doing it.
    Is this clear? Do you have any ques­tions? Can you repeat it back to me?

Learn more: How To Recognise Poor Communicative Leadership in Organisations

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Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Cover Photo

The cover photo has nothing to do with public relations, of course. I share for no other reason that I happen to enjoy photography. Call it an “ornamental distraction”—and a subtle reminder to appreciate nature.

The cover photo has


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