LESS than half the organisations surveyed in the Randstad World Of Work Report 2012-2013 rate their current leadership capabilities as good, and just 8 per cent as excellent — highlighting the importance of strengthening leadership in most Singapore organisations.

Employees confirm the need for improvement, with 52 per cent rating their managers’ ability to motivate and inspire their team as average or poor. Fifty-four per cent say this is the single biggest attribute that defines a successful leader, followed by the ability to build trusted relationships.

Unfortunately, trust has declined over the past 12 months — 40 per cent of employees don’t trust their organisations’ leaders compared to 37 per cent last year.

These findings highlight why developing leadership skills for the next phase of growth is the biggest productivity challenge for Singapore employers.

A key objective in workforce planning should be to identify gaps in the leadership pipeline, and then design and implement career development programmes and recruitment strategies to address them over the short to medium term.

Talent management programmes to identify high-potential employees for future leadership are on the rise, and 68 per cent of Singapore employers currently have a programme in place. Less than half (44 per cent) have a development programme in place to fast-track those employees into leadership roles.

Again underscoring the critical need for management staff, 41 per cent of organisations are structuring remuneration and rewards to attract top leadership talent.

Development shortfall

Employees are acutely aware of the development shortfall. Just 28 per cent currently receive leadership or career development as an employee benefit — and more will leave their job over the next 12 months due to a lack of opportunity for growth and advancement (32 per cent), than for any another other reason.

In contrast, despite ongoing wage pressures associated with skilled jobs, just 18 per cent plan to leave because of uncompetitive salary. When talent is in strong demand and it can be hard to meet salary expectations, training and career development is a winning strategy to improve employee satisfaction and retention, while strengthening the leadership pipeline.

When it comes to specific gaps in the pipeline, employers are most concerned about having enough talented middle managers (81 per cent) to rise through the ranks over the next five years, followed by high potential employees (80 per cent) who might embark on a leadership path.

Attraction and retention plans that target qualified professionals will be crucial for these organisations. As well as ensuring a steady supply of high-potential employees to grow with the company, a greater focus on attracting external leadership talent may also be part of the answer.

Leadership experts suggest about 20 per cent of leaders should come from outside an organisation to ensure cross-industry expertise, diversity, fresh thinking and innovation. This is especially the case with fast-growing high-tech industries where expansion is happening too quickly for managers to grow with the organisation.

Just 16 per cent of employers surveyed recruit 20 per cent of leadership roles from outside the organisation. Most (53 per cent) recruit 10 per cent or fewer leaders externally.

Flatter form

Twenty-two per cent of employers are very concerned about a lack of executive successors, but there is a growing school of thought suggesting that organisations will become flatter to accommodate skilled workers and respond to the pace of service delivery demanded by markets.

Employers back this view, with 71 per cent agreeing that diverse work practices and a lack of leadership talent will lead to flatter organisations over the next 10 years.

As organisations become less hierarchical, the anatomy of leadership itself will also change. Leadership will increasingly be less about status and structure — and more about knowing, adapting, doing and, most importantly, inspiring.

For organisations to successfully innovate and improve speed to market, many leadership experts believe that traditional power relationships will be reversed — as frontline staff closest to the customer will need to be consulted by management, rather than the reverse.

The premium professional talent continues to place on inspirational leadership and trust, also signals the demise of command and control structures, moving quickly in favour of a collaborative and transformational approach in the future.

We call it “leadership without title” — an evolved work environment where skilled knowledge workers are motivated, empowered and rewarded to lead people, projects and change.