The Executive Leadership Gap - The Elephant in the Room



ELEPHANT-IN-ROOM-BLOG.jpgIn today’s market, employee retention has become a major focal point. With a strong economy fueling low unemployment, retiring Baby Boomers leaving large gaps in employment and a growing amount of workplace options for Millennials to choose from, it is critical for organizations to learn how to hang on to good employees once they find them.

Knowing how to retain employees begins with understanding why they leave a company in the first place. Organizations typically believe employees quit for reasons such as, “Millennials don’t want to work hard,” or, “The company next door pays more,” or, “Our supervisors don’t know how to motivate their people.”

One thing senior executives do not commonly consider is that they could be a part of the problem. The statements above may carry some truth, but if a company is experiencing consistent turnover, there are bigger cultural issues occurring; cultural issues that start with senior management.

We’ve all heard the saying, “People leave their boss, not their job.” Usually, workers are promoted into leadership roles based on their understanding of the business and execution of defined metrics, rather than their ability to motivate and inspire others or their communication skills. Make no mistake – acumen and results are vital in a leadership role, but they don’t make a person a leader. Simply having the title of Owner, President or Manager may give a person authority over others, but does not mean they can lead effectively.

Becoming a real leader is hard work, and there are not a lot of truly great leaders out there. Ask yourself, how many great leaders have you worked for?

If an organization wishes to overcome these leadership challenges and achieve their employee retention goals, they must first stop ignoring the elephant in the room: the executive leadership gap.

To tackle this problem head-on, here are some places for senior management to start:

  • Assess the leadership abilities of all managers. Not everyone has the personality or skills to lead people. This does not mean that person cannot drive the company strategy and make decisions or contribute, it just means someone else should lead people in the execution.
  • Survey the employees. Do they feel they are being led well? What would they like from leadership? Most surveys identify lack of appreciation and communication from management as major issues. These issues often can be fixed quickly and simply.
  • Address the issues identified in surveys. If you are going to survey employees, you must be prepared to communicate the results and explain how you plan to address them. Asking for feedback then doing nothing is more detrimental than not asking at all.  If you find you have issues in your senior leadership, for example, you may need to move people into different roles or mix up the organization chart.
  • Invest in leadership training for all levels of management – including executives. There are plenty of consultative options out there to enable supervisors to improve their leadership skills and maximize their impact in the workplace.
  • Measure leadership success. If you invest time and money in improving leaders’ skills, you also should have a plan for how to sustain the new behaviors and measure success. This will give you the best return on investment (ROI) and ensure you are truly changing the culture for the better.

If the organization realizes there is a leadership gap at the executive level, all hope is not lost. Leaders are made, not born. Most great leaders have committed to a lifelong journey of learning and honing their skills. They know leadership is complex and is not mastered by simply reading a book or getting a promotion. It requires self-awareness, the ability to adjust leadership styles and a willingness to put the needs and success of others before yourself. If a person, or entire executive team, commits to learning and utilizing the principles of good leadership, the impacts will be exponential. Look around your organization. Is there an elephant in the room?

To assist in your company’s leadership development efforts, The Center is here to help. Learn more about our customized leadership services here or register for an upcoming Supervisory Skills course here.


Headley_J-web.jpgJamie Headley, Senior Business Solutions Manager
As Senior Business Solutions Manager, Jamie works as an advisor to Michigan manufacturers in the Southwest region of the state, helping them to “manufacture smarter.”  Jamie is a seasoned operations professional with expertise in change management, strategic planning, leadership, process improvement, lean implementations, cost containment and operational excellence. With more than 25 years of manufacturing and consulting experience, Jamie has served as Director of Supply Chain for Catalent Pharma Solutions, Vice President of Operations for and President and CEO of Dementia Services Group.  

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Categories: Leadership/Culture