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Leading Into the Future

Aug 17, 2007
The subject of leadership goes to the root of organized human behavior. Leadership is so integral to who we are that it's difficult to imagine human history without it. Would great cities have ever been built without it? Would nations have been forged? Indeed, could any great endeavor have been accomplished without leadership? Very likely, no.

It is little wonder, then, that leadership continues to be a very high priority in modern organizations and promises to remain one into the foreseeable future. The Human Resource Institute's 2003-2004 Major Issues Survey found, for example, that among North American companies ranking 120 different issues, leadership was viewed as the single most important one in terms of its impact on workforce management. Among European companies, it was ranked third.

This isn't a new development. Since 1988, when HRI began conducting its major issues surveys of many of the top companies in the world, leadership has been ranked among the top five issues. Since 1997, leadership has always taken the top spot. In the most recent survey, fully 76% of North American respondents said it was extremely important; the highest percentage in the history of these surveys (Human Resource Institute, 2004a).

Equally important, leadership is expected to remain a top issue in the future. When asked to predict the importance of various issues ten years into the future, North Americans and Europeans again rated leadership first and third, respectively. But leaders don't spring into the world fully formed. They need to be trained and developed, whatever their natural talents. This isn't lost on today's organizations. Training magazine's 2005 survey of senior training professionals included leadership and management development as the top training priorities for 2005 (Hall, 2005).

Another survey, this one conducted by Right Management Consultants for the 2004 World Business Forum (Marcus, 2004), found that 65% of surveyed firms placed leadership development as one of the top five focal points for corporate strategy. This response was 20% higher than responses to a similar study conducted just eight years prior. In this report, we take an in-depth look at the subject of leadership, the roles leaders are playing in today's organizations, and how the best-in-class organizations develop them. We also look into the future to see how leadership may change over the next decade or so.

The following page is a quick review of some of our findings:

- Organizational leadership, which has always been a challenging task, has become even more stressful and difficult in recent years.
- Leadership has grown in importance due to the fast pace of change in combination with increased global competition and a growing focus on the customer.
- Today's leaders are expected to be excellent strategists and communicators.
- Business ethics will become more not less important to leadership over the next ten years.
- If they don't perform well, top leaders of major companies can expect to lose their jobs more quickly than ever before.
- Even while making sure their companies performs well, leaders are expected to develop other leaders.
- Technology and new organizational structures are changing the ways leaders do their jobs.
- Leaders must increasingly balance managerial control with the need to spark innovation in their organizations.
- The top barrier to leadership development is a lack of behavior measures, followed by inadequate content in development programs.
- When it comes to leadership, most companies know what's important but don't always act on this knowledge.
- Best-in-class companies are committed and unremitting in their pursuit of leadership excellence.
About the Author
With over 40 years experience; Canadian Management Centre has earned the reputation as a trusted partner in worldwide professional development and leadership training that improves the immediate performance and long-term results.
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