Looming Global Leadership Gap on the Horizon
Thursday, April 9, 2015

One-third of global companies struggle to find senior leaders and only 12 percent of employees aspire to the corner office, according to findings from a new research from Saba and 

The Global Workforce Leadership Survey captured the gap between priorities and expectations of HR leaders around the world and the workers they employ. Overall, the findings show that the biggest issues for powering future business growth in the changing economy are the differences in perspective around leadership, development and accessible online tools for ongoing development and collaboration. 

Leadership Is Hard to Find 

With about four million Baby Boomers retiring every year, companies worldwide are seeing a growing talent gap at the executive level. In fact, 30 percent of HR executives polled said they were struggling to find candidates to fill senior leadership roles. More than half (59 percent) of companies polled agreed that succession planning is more challenging in today's economy. 

Unfortunately, their efforts in developing the next generation of leaders are missing the mark. Nearly half (46 percent) of companies said “leadership” was the skill hardest to find in employees, and only 36 percent of employees listed “leadership” as a strength in their organizations. Meanwhile, 39 percent offer leadership development programs, but only 15 percent of employees feel the training they receive is preparing them for the next position. 

“What’s concerning here is that, quite literally, the future leadership at some critical global organizations is at risk,” says Emily He, chief marketing officer of Saba. “There’s more at play than the retirement of Baby Boomers; the fundamental approaches businesses take to find, develop and inspire leaders—at all levels—need to change.” 


What Is a Leader, Anyway? 

Recent studies show that a majority of workers—68 percent according to a US Harris/Saba survey—see themselves as leaders. In contrast, when it comes to sourcing the top ranks in the business, the picture becomes grim.  Less than half (47 percent) of HR leaders said that they have an adequate pool of talent to fill new roles in their company. 

More interestingly, a frightening amount of employees are not interested in the corner office, with only 11 percent polled aspiring to C-level positions. And of that small amount, there is a striking gender and generational divide: 

  • Only 36 percent of women versus 64 percent of men aspire to be C-level executives in their organization.
  • Just 31 percent of younger Millennial employees want the top spots, versus 38 percent of older Generation X employees. 

“Individuals are embracing leadership by virtue of their actions and their impact. Experience trumps title,” continued He. “So companies in turn need to redefine what they mean by leadership beyond job descriptions and begin to see the network impacts their future leaders are driving toward.”
Development Is Not Getting Personal—But It Should 

Further, employees are looking for personalized career direction at every stage. In fact, most employees are looking for quarterly or weekly feedback and access to development wherever they are. In addition, they expect content, contacts, and courses offered at work in the same style they consume personalized content at home through Amazon and Netflix. 

The findings show a stark contrast in reality:

  • Only about half (52 percent) of companies conduct annual performance reviews at a minimum.
  • Companies are still using spreadsheets (58 percent) as their primary way to track performance metrics.
  • Less than one-quarter of businesses worldwide are using advanced technology for insights into their people and effectiveness of their talent programs.
  • Just 23 percent are using big data and metrics visualization and 21 percent tap the predictive analytics potential of machine learning today. 

“The bottom line is that companies need to rethink their talent management and employee engagement strategies,” says Dan Schawbel, founder of “Personalized employee career development programs, accessible tools, and tracking systems and a focus on redefining and re-engaging leadership—at all levels—will help deliver on the innovation and growth that businesses require,” Schawbel adds. 
Editor’s Note: The Global Workforce Leadership Survey was sponsored by Saba Software, a leader in cloud-based intelligent talent management solutions, and, a research and advisory membership service for forward-thinking HR professionals. The survey was administered between February and March of 2015 in eight countries to 1000 human resource professionals and 1000 employees between the ages of 22 and 70.


About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs, as well as ATD's government-focused magazine, The Public Manager. Contact her at 

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