Conventional wisdom says leaders drive companies. And without strong leadership, companies have a hard time moving forward during explosive growth.

As we look at the current leadership landscape, however, it's rather bleak. One study making its rounds on the internet revealed these statistics:

  • Eighty-five percent of global companies report an urgent need for employees with leadership potential.
  • Only 40 percent report their leadership pipeline can meet their future business needs.
  • And just 21 percent are satisfied with the bench strength of their future leaders.

Bottom line? More than 75 percent of today's companies aren't prepared for tomorrow's problems.

Why Such a Gap?

When you drill down to what's driving this shortage of potential leaders, there are several factors, and many can be fixed. For example, only 23 percent of companies say their budget is sufficient to meet their needs.

Economic growth is another factor. Eighty-four percent of companies report that they can't keep up with the demand for leaders as the economy grows.

Also take into account that retiring Boomers have left many strategic leadership jobs unfilled. "Bad bosses" are filling the gap by necessity, and many aren't accountable and don't have the capacity to empower their troops or develop the next generation of leaders.

Then there's the question of time. On average, the study indicates, it may take up to 20 months to develop middle managers and 38 months to develop senior leaders.

The 5 Workplace Habits Every Leader Must Have

The study I cited--a partnership between the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School and the Human Capital Institute--identified the five most important competencies for leadership.

1. Ethics and integrity

Integrity is a choice we make, and must keep making over and over again. Leading with integrity means you don't question yourself. Your actions are open for everyone to see, and you don't have to worry about hiding anything. Others see you as dependable and accountable for your actions. Trust develops, people feel safe in your presence, and you gain influence.

2. Drive for results

Daniel Goleman, the foremost expert on emotional intelligence, says you should look for leaders who are driven to achieve beyond expectations--their own and everyone else's. The first sign is a passion for the work itself. Such people, says Goleman, "seek out creative challenges, love to learn, and take great pride in a job well done. They also display an unflagging energy to do things better. They are also eager to explore new approaches to their work."

3. Effective communication

Communication is multifaceted. When we speak, the actual words we use comprise only a small percentage of our message. Extensive research by Albert Mehrabian gives us the trifecta of the best communicators:

  • Fifty-five percent of a message is perceived through the facial expressions and body language.
  • Thirty-eight percent of a message is perceived through the tone of voice.
  • Seven percent of a message is perceived through the words.

Another principle of effective communication is the ability to give and receive feedback when addressing challenging issues. Leaders who do well are open, seek out examples to clarify, share feelings, remain open to discussion, and then commit to change.

Finally, the ability to negotiate is certainly a quality of leaders who communicate effectively. The best way to go about negotiating like a star is to first build a relationship. From there, persuading, making concessions, and reaching agreements comes naturally.

4. Strategic thinking and insight

In Leading With Strategic Thinking, authors Aaron K. Olson and B. Keith Simerson unpack strategic thinking into three areas: assessing situations (risk), recognizing patterns, and making decisions. The authors define the strategic leader as the individual who--regardless of role, position, or title--intentionally takes advantage of opportunities to think strategically, influence others toward a chosen course of action, and garner needed buy-in, commitment, and advocacy.

5. Maintaining of relationships

Here's a quote by leadership guru John C. Maxwell (maybe you've heard it before): "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." So the first thing I need to tell you is that the best leaders understand the importance of developing a culture built on a foundation of healthy relationships. And that doesn't come from a to-do list. It's not a system you implement. It's a mindset a leader must have to declare from her heart, "I'm going to foster the environment for a culture of caring and trustworthy relationships to develop." And, by example, others catch on, and it spreads.

Your Next Steps

Before spending an arm and a leg on hiring leaders, focus on identifying high-potentials within your organization with the key leadership characteristics mentioned above, and supporting them in their ongoing development.

The UNC-Human Capital study says your best option is to implement, for the next five years, a portfolio approach to developing leaders. Or, if you will, the 70-20-10 model of leadership development:

  • Seventy percent of development comes from practice and on-the-job experience.
  • Twenty percent is derived from exposure to coaching, feedback (360 assessments, client feedback, etc.) and networking.
  • Ten percent is through formal education, Web-based training, e-learning, etc.

I sincerely hope there's enough food for thought here for decision makers in high places to consider how their leadership fits with their overall strategy to grow their companies. Leave me a comment for additional insights and suggestions.