As companies quickly and radically transformed during the pandemic, companies asked many to step up into new roles, particularly as leaders. And as they tried to move quickly, leaders were thrown into the deep end, without much warning or training.

Without immediate attention, it could create a lost generation of leaders who are disengaged and silently struggling for years to come.

According to DDI's Leadership Transitions Report 2021, leaders transitioning into new roles during the pandemic received significantly less support than normal. This includes less feedback, training, and assessment compared with peers who transitioned into leadership roles earlier.

Prior to the pandemic, 61 percent of leaders reported they received leadership skills training. Unfortunately, that number plummeted to 48 percent in 2021. This lack of support dramatically impacted leaders of every level, from first-time managers to C-suite executives.

Rescuing a Lost Generation

The report, which was part of DDI's Global Leadership Forecast series, explored issues leaders faced while transitioning into their current leadership role. It collected data from more than 15,000 leaders and 2,100 human resources professionals worldwide.

The risk of the learn-by-doing approach to leadership could create a lost generation of leaders who faced highly stressful transitions. These transitions could negatively affect leaders' long-term effectiveness and form habits that are difficult to break.

Worried about their career prospects, many of these leaders will struggle silently. Instead of raising concerns, they may push through their struggles, despite falling behind.

In fact, the report showed leaders who have highly stressful transitions form a long-term lack of confidence in their skills. Almost half (45 percent) of leaders who had stressful transitions rated themselves as average or below-average leaders compared with their peers, regardless of how long ago they transitioned. Meanwhile, only 16 percent of leaders with low-stress transitions rated themselves so low.

While growing pains are inevitable, the lost generation of new leaders started slipping and falling immediately. If left unattended, these struggling leaders can become disengaged and stressed out. These feelings could quickly impact morale, productivity, and turnover rates throughout the organization.

5 Steps to Rediscovering the Lost Generation

How common are high-stress leadership transitions? More than one-third of leaders described their transition into their current role as overwhelming or very stressful. During their transition, 5 percent of those leaders frequently thought of quitting. But these leaders shouldn't be considered a lost cause. There are several ways to get them back on track, such as:

1. Helping leaders get to know themselves

The report showed that high-quality assessments that reveal individual strengths and weaknesses were one of the top differentiators in successful transitions. Consider using assessment to help leaders understand how to lean on their strengths and where to focus development.

2. Giving them timely development

Use the results of assessments to provide targeted, high-quality development opportunities. Most important, get them training as quickly as possible when they take on the new role.

3. Focusing on a feedback and coaching culture

Feedback and coaching help leaders see how their everyday behaviors are affecting their performance. By building coaching and feedback skills across your organization, leaders can better see where they can improve.

4. Personalizing development

No two leaders have the exact same needs, so a one-size-fits-all program isn't practical. Personalized development opportunities are necessary to ensure they're not wasting time on skills they already perform well.

5. Showing them what success looks like

New leaders need a clear picture of success and how to achieve it. As their career progresses, skills that made them successful in the past may not be what they are judged by in the future. Companies need success profiles, which clearly outline the knowledge, competencies, experiences, and personal attributes needed to succeed.

When new leaders receive assessment, coaching, development, and a clear picture of success, its usually easier to confidently step into their role.

Why Focus on the Lost Generation?

Companies need to revisit new leaders who stepped into positions during the pandemic. Before the pandemic, most leaders believed they weren't getting the support they needed. But now, it's even more critical to ensure new leaders are supported.

If organizations don't work to rescue this lost generation, it could have lasting negative effects. These leaders may struggle to recover their confidence and find their strengths. Lacking training and guidance, they may have also adopted poor leadership habits that will be hard to break later.

As a result, feelings of disengagement and frustration could start building among their teams. Once those feelings take hold, they become more and more difficult to shake and eventually could lead to expensive turnover and talent issues. In fact, about 11 percent of leaders who transitioned into roles immediately before or during the pandemic said they were more likely to leave within the next year.

Even before the pandemic, most companies were working with a weak leadership bench. Only 11 percent of companies reported they had strong benches. By risking a large gap of leaders who never recovered from a poor transition, their entire talent pipeline may collapse.