The Leadership Gap is a Self-Inflicted Wound You Can Heal

Dec 23, 2016

The Leadership Gap is a Self-Inflicted Wound You Can Heal

In January 2016, we proposed that the solution to improving performance would be "Selecting and developing talented managers". The basis for our recommendation was our experience and the findings in Gallup’s State of the American Manager report.

Our leadership philosophy was based on the influence of Grace Hopper. She was the U. S. Navy officer who developed the first compiler for a computer programming language: “You manage things, you lead people.” We know the capacity to manage things is common, but the ability to lead people is rare.

We didn’t realize how rare. Gallup’s research gave us these eye-opening facts:

  • Only 10% of working people can be talented managers. (ability to lead people.)
  • Another 20% are potentially trainable.
  • Managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement.
  • Organizations fail to choose the candidate with the right talent for the manager job 82% of the time.

We don’t wonder the leadership gap in business is widening. Companies are promoting and hiring the wrong people to be managers--but that is only part of the problem.

They are not supporting them, either. Frontline first-time leaders get short shrift for funding their development. Only 38% of companies even have an onboarding program for first-time leaders promoted from within. Most new front-line managers (62%) receive 30 or fewer hours of training. Many companies don’t invest in them and don’t even give them clear expectations.

The Leadership Gap is a Self-Inflicted Wound You Can Heal_IC.jpg

It’s easy for us to say we can fix the problem by promoting the right people and developing them. The truth is old habits and myths are holding us back.

Myth #1: Everyone should strive to rise as high in a management hierarchy as fast as they can.

As the research shows, most people should not be managers, and some who have the skills don’t want to lead. The Leadership Gap is a Self-Inflicted Wound You Can Heal_ID.jpgTalent is comprised of the areas of competence—things people do well—that also intrinsically motivate and energize them. When we take individual contributors out of their skilled energy zone and put them where they don’t belong, we are doing both them, the people they supervise, and their companies a grave disservice.

Work in skill areas that don’t energize are draining. Peak performance is in the sweet spot of competence and motivation. See the model on the right from Strengthscope.

Myth #2: Anybody can manage people.

That is the kind of thinking that got us where we are today. If you are not yet convinced, study Gallup’s report.

Myth #3: The only way to increase your income is to get promoted into management.

There were many industries and careers where that was true in 1980, but the world of work has changed. Individual contributors working in dynamic teams drive business results in many companies today. Many people become highly paid experts, or they strike out on their own as independent consultants and practitioners.


We have four thoughts for an organization looking to close the leadership gap.

  • Use assessments to help employees find their true strengths early in their careers. Strengthscope looks promising, and we have had a great experience with 5 Dynamics. Many other excellent providers can help your people understand the source of their energy. Then assign people to work teams based on their strengths. The more they can express themselves in work that energizes them, the more engaged they will be.
  • Promote people from within based on their ability to lead, not their individual technical skills.
  • Prepare people for leadership roles, and never stop developing them.
  • Develop career paths for individual contributors who are not leaders.

Overcoming old ways of thinking won’t be easy, but once more companies adopt these principles, the momentum will begin. We don’t think it will take long before we have many new models for managing the enterprise.


1“State of the American Manager.” Gallup, 2015

2. Filipkowski, Jenna, Ph.D. "Identifying and Developing First-Time People Leaders." Human Capital Institute. August 19, 2016

3. Cited in Dykstra, Josh Allan. Webinar: “Lead or Get Out of the Way: HR's Mission to Replace Managers with Leaders.” October 12, 2016. 

Pixentia is a full-service technology company dedicated to helping clients solve business problems, improve the capability of their people, and achieve better results.

Previously:  Next up: 


News Letter Sign up

Get in touch with us
phone_footer.png  +1 903-306-2430,
              +1 855-978-6816