Do you hold aspirations to someday lead a team, department, or organization? Perhaps you're there now, but challenged by how to navigate the countless decisions that come flying in your direction.

Well, the first thing you have to do, whether you're a line manager on the floor or an executive in the C-suite is to firmly accept the fact that the majority of your leadership role will be about people. Oh, you didn't know?

And since people are an organization's most appreciable asset (as the cliché goes), it becomes even more apparent that a leader's most important asset is...people skills (i.e., soft skills).

The Soft Skills Gap

In the DDI study "High Resolution Leadership," no more than half of front-line managers who participated in structured simulations actually displayed behaviors for effective interaction with people that leads to results. The biggest gaps found were:

  • Listening.
  • Responding with empathy.
  • Maintaining self-esteem.
  • Clarifying what others are saying.
  • Developing others' ideas.

What's Really Keeping CEOs Up at Night?

It gets worse. The Global Leadership Forecast 2014-15 study, conducted by DDI and The Conference Board, reveals an existential leadership threat that, if left unaddressed, may undermine success and profits for companies worldwide.

The short answer: Leaders just aren't ready to lead. In the research, CEOs continue to acknowledge with a majority vote that "human capital" remains their top challenge.

Four of the top 10 human capital strategies CEOs selected as crucial for their companies' success are focused on, what else...leadership. Among them:

  • Improve leadership development programs (I'll expand on this one soon).
  • Enhance the effectiveness of senior management teams.
  • Improve the effectiveness of frontline supervisors and managers.
  • Improve succession planning.

CEOs understand that their organizations cannot retain highly engaged, high-performing employees without developing leaders to manage, coach, develop, and inspire multigenerational, globally dispersed teams.

The Bottom Line

This shouldn't be a surprise. Survey responses in the DDI study from 13,124 leaders in 2,031 organizations in 48 countries concluded that investing in soft skills development for leaders produces hard, bottom-line results.

This is no longer the wishful thinking of dreamy HR people infatuated with the idea of some idealistic Norman Rockwell-esque corporate culture. It is the stuff that reluctant executives have to finally acknowledge as a top priority during the annual budgeting sign-off process.

So that begs the question: With companies spending an estimated $50 billion a year on leadership development, why is leader quality going nowhere fast?

According to Barbara Kellerman in The End of Leadership, only 37 percent of leaders rated their leadership development program as effective. The overwhelming majority continues to be dissatisfied with their organization's development offerings, stating no improvement in their development over a seven-year span.

Moving Forward

Clearly, there's more to success than hiring and promoting leaders with hard management skills, drive, charisma, and high IQ.

Truth is, social and emotional intelligence (the soft stuff) are huge players in the business landscape where you have to deal with politics, communicate effectively to different personalities and egos, and have the foresight to deal with obstacles before they hit shore.

It's more than clear that, moving forward, organizations will have to rethink where they spend their money, and refocus their strategy to improve their existing development efforts, thereby improving leadership quality and minimizing the risks brought on by unprepared leaders. We are here to help in those efforts.