Closing the Leadership Gap?

36c2b42It appears that many have adopted online learning as the panacea for filling the skills gap in leadership.  When one of our leaders demonstrates a deficiency, it is easy to assign them an online training module to shore up their skills. This is done with such frequency in some organizations that the company’s LMS (learning management system) is perceived to be the new disciplinary tool. In other words, “get your act together, or you will be sitting in front of the computer for several hours watching videos and answering questions. And don’t forget, we’re watching and tracking whether you are taking this seriously.” I mean, why not just shoot me?

While I am in favor of all kinds of learning and certainly believe that online learning goes a long way toward helping leaders gain knowledge and understanding, it is not the answer to the leadership gaps that many companies are experiencing.

I conducted a survey for one of my clients of over 200 executives. Building High Performance Teams was cited by 89% of them as the competency most essential for their team leader’s success, and for their company’s success.

Unfortunately, 89% of these executives rated their team leaders’ proficiency as average or below average in the skills required to build high performance teams. This is consistent with the gaps cited by Deloitte University Press’ Global Human Capital Trends 2015 report.

In the follow up to our survey where we asked these same executives to rate their team leader’s proficiency on several skill sets required to build high performance teams, and where we also asked the team leaders to rate themselves on the same skill sets, it became evident that lack of training and lack of knowledge were not the problem for these team leaders.

The real problem or GAP was the lack of shared meaning between the executives and their team leaders as to what it means to perform these competencies well (i.e. with proficiency). These executives had never had the kind of dialogue with their team leaders that is required for establishing clear expectations regarding the performance of these basic, critical skills. That’s like watching a new coach gather a group of experienced players together and telling them, “You know how this is done, so just go out there and play some ball and win this game”, and then actually expecting them to win.

Here are several possible reasons for this executive failure:

  1. Executives may not have their own clear definition of how to behaviorally describe each of the skills.
  2. Executives may assume that experienced team leaders share the same definition of these skills as they do.
  3. Executives’ personal discomfort with having effective developmental conversations that would not come across as too harsh, judgmental or critical.

So, here is what we did to help this company close the gap, create shared meaning, and improve the performance of the team:

  1. Help executives clarify in behavioral terms, the five or six basic skills required to perform each competency well. In other words, what would a supervisor be DOING when they were performing these competencies at a high level of proficiency?
  2. Conduct 1800 proficiency assessments in which the executives rate their team leaders, and the team leaders rate themselves on their understanding and performance of each skill.
  3. Train the entire team (team leaders and their executives) on these competencies in order to establish shared meaning regarding what it means to perform these skills with proficiency.
  4. Train the executives how to conduct a positive, constructive, developmental conversation with their team leaders utilizing a review of the proficiency assessment that showed the team leader’s visible strengths, invisible strengths, soft spots and blind spots.
  5. Provide tools and schedules for follow up coaching to ensure that the desired changes are being made.
  6. Administer follow-up 1800 proficiency assessments six months after the training in order to determine progress after the team leaders had some time to incorporate their new understanding.
  7. Measure pre and post outcomes on the assessments, as well on the company performance metrics, such as quality, productivity, customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, financial performance.

I know what you’re thinking and you’re right. This is a little more complicated than throwing up an online training module that imparts knowledge with the expectation that watching a video will close the performance gap. It requires an all-in commitment of the executives to engage as coaches, rather than delegating this to solely to HR, OD, or external consultants who may or may not share their definition of these competencies.


  1. What are you doing to give clear behavioral definitions to the competencies you believe to be essential to your team’s success?
  2. What are you doing to create shared meaning between you and the team leaders who lead the teams in your organization?
  3. How would you rate yourself as a coach in providing positive, constructive, behaviorally specific, developmental feedback to the leaders on your team?
  4. Do you have the all in commitment required to help your team leaders and employees close the performance gap and become a high performance team who achieves outstanding results?



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