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We surveyed Canadian HR professionals to find out what they see as the strengths and weaknesses of leaders in the workplace. 517 professionals provided a broad and insightful look at the positive influence that leadership has at work, as well as the developmental needs of many of today’s leaders.

HR professionals see leadership as an important area of organizational functioning and development. The majority (63.2%) see leaders as having a lot of influence over their organizations success, with only 2.5% reporting that they have very little influence.

The influence of good leadership can be found in a variety of organizational measures. HR professionals have seen good leadership lead to increased motivation (85.5%) and improved working relationships (85.1%). Along with these positive impacts on work engagement, good leadership also leads to higher team performance (80.7%), better solutions to problems (68.9%), and even major innovations (41.6%).

Leadership does have its downside, however. When not properly utilized, leadership can have many negative effects. HR professionals have witnessed good people quitting and a lack of morale (91.7%), employees’ skills not being utilized (87.2%), feuding staff members (68.3%), and failed projects (60%). Three quarters (76%) have also witnessed a disconnection between the organization’s goals and its employees’ work.

With so much on the line in terms of positive benefits versus negative effects, uncovering the skills necessary for effective leadership is very important. When asked to rate the importance of various leadership skills to success, 90% reported that communication is critically important, followed by dealing with change (52.6%), managing people (48.2%), setting goals (37.5%), solving problems (30.3%) and project management (12%).

However, there is a gap between the ratings of importance for these skills and leaders current level of effectiveness. Only 27.8% rated leaders’ communication skills as effective, even though 9 out of 10 people see communication as a critical skill. 24% of respondents indicated that the leaders they know are not effective when it comes to dealing with change.

Given the discrepancy, we wanted to know what gets in the way of today’s leaders developing their skills. Respondents indicated that a number of obstacles present themselves. These include leaders not seeing the need for improvement (67.5%), not having enough time (63.1%), a lack of support from superiors (50.1%), and inadequate training budgets (41.6%).

When asked what leaders could do in order to be more effective, respondents endorsed actions such as:

  • Clearly communicating how the organization plans to manage change
  • Talking less and listening more
  • Providing clear expectations
  • Having more informal interaction with staff
  • Assigning tasks to staff based on their skills rather than office politics
  • Holding people accountable
  • Giving employees more responsibility
  • Deferring to people with greater expertise
  • Overcoming resistance to change