Leadership skills gap can leave organizations rudderless

Effective, hands-on training can close gaps

Leadership skills gap can leave organizations rudderless

There’s an old saying that the captain goes down with the ship, but most organizations would prefer that their captains be capable enough to avoid their ship going down at all.

However, nearly three out of four employees in leadership positions are not confident in their ability to be a leader in the future, according to a 2020 MHS survey. This means that there’s a gap that organizations need to fill before their own ships start taking on water.

What does that gap look like? A survey of 342 leaders by MHS Talent Development in conjunction with Training Industry determined that the top areas of the knowledge and skills gap for leaders were: coaching for performance improvement, communication/conflict management skills, building trust, decision-making/prioritization, and developing next-generation leaders. Qualities such as being adaptable, being flexible, having integrity, and having strong strategic thinking skills have all been raised in other studies as essential for leaders of the future, as well as the need to be highly collaborative so they can lead diverse and independent teams, says Elnaz Rezania, research scientist for MHS Talent Development, citing studies by Bagheri and Pihie, 2011, Surie and Ashly, 2008, and Thornberry, 2006.

If leadership in an organization is lacking necessary skills, then the consequences could be significant. One of the biggest dangers of poor leadership is the inability to inspire confidence in the workforce, business partners, colleagues, and stakeholders — which can have a direct impact on a company’s success, says Rezania — whose organization, MHS Talent Development, has developed a free playbook for leadership training, “Simulation-Based Learning: A Leadership Metamorphosis”. This in turn leads to an inability to obtain buy-in from key players to achieve desired results.

Ineffective leadership also raises barriers to building collaborative and high-performance teams, says Rezania. The ability to nurture and motivate a team to use their skills to accomplish organizational goals and put effort into the company practices and their own professional development can be a difference-maker for leaders, and those who can’t do it will have a hard time finding and developing effective employees. This includes having strong interpersonal skills that can build bridges and maintain useful connections within their network, allowing better information sharing and problem solving, which can have a ripple effect throughout the organization and to its partners.

“Negative vibes associated with poor leadership often reach beyond the immediate team,” says Rezania. “A poor leader’s behaviour can harm the work environment and affect the quality of partnerships outside the organization.”

There are different methods that can be used to develop and strengthen leadership and close the leadership skills gap. People learn “the deepest lessons of leadership” when they’re having fun, or at least experiencing some kind of emotion, Rezania says. She points to educator Malcolm Knowles (1913-1997), who developed a theory for adult learning based on the concept that adult learners are problem solvers and learn best when they can apply their past skill and experience — including the principles that adults need to know why they need to learn something; they learn by doing; they approach learning as problem solving; and they learn best when the information is of immediate value.

All of these factors can be addressed through simulation-based learning, according to Rezania.

“Simulation-based learning is a hands-on, interactive learning experience that allows participants to truly engage in the material,” she says. “Instead of focusing on theoretical knowledge like in a typical classroom, participants build skills, improve conceptual knowledge, and gain a big-picture view of the organization all at once.”

For more information on developing effective leaders with simulation-based learning, download a free playbook from MHS Talent Development here.


  • MHS surveyed 355 respondents in leadership positions to explore their perceptions of the future of work and its impact on their companies in Q2 of 2020.
  • Source: Training Industry Survey in partnership with MHS (342 leaders responded to a survey exploring their perceptions of the future of work).
  • Mercer|Mettl Leadership development Trends 2019 Report.
  • Bagheri and Pihie, 2011; Surie and Ashly, 2008 in Renko, Tarabishy, Carsrud, and Brannback, 2015; Thornberry, 2006).

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