In our current VUCA environment the importance of leadership is elevated. When uncertainty abounds and big complex problems require solving with multiple inputs the culture of the organisation must lend itself to trust, agility and operate a “team of teams” type of low hierarchy structure. This is a leadership issue. Setting, communicating and demonstrating the purpose and vision while supporting and resourcing capability is not just desirable but necessary for survival.  This is about leadership rather than management.


Attraction and retention of talent is another key issue and leadership must support the engagement of that talent – where talented people with key competencies are empowered and motivated to do their utmost in pursuit of a purpose.

 According to the 2023 survey of HR practices in Ireland:

“Investment in leadership and people management skills is immediately required to build capability to lead and retain employees.”

 Of the HR members of CIPD surveyed 90% experienced skill shortages and identified leadership development as the skill area of greatest concern in relation to attracting and retaining employees.

So why is leadership development, identified as a key need in organisations by HR, not being addressed? I see several reasons in my interactions here in Ireland but also reading reports and garnering feedback from around the globe.

Lack of resource priority

Unfortunately HR can be positioned in an advisory role rather than a decision making role so access to budget and the resources to develop leadership may be restricted. As the watchers for all things people, including leadership, the role of HR can be reduced to administration and dealing with employment problems. While HR are aware of problems they may not be authorised to resolve them. Award winning and high achieving organisations include HR as equals in decision-making because the talent, and the leadership that engages them, are more of a priority than ever and HR can identify and fix the low performance and blind-spots of both.

Resistance to change

Culture or the expression of how we learned to do things around here can be like glue, stopping change or adaptability. Models of leadership in more static organisations belong in the last century and are not suitable for our current environment. Hard to see, like a fish in water that doesn’t know its in water because that all it knows, culture includes the type of leadership (the leadership culture) being practiced. One can find a lack of urgency in many organisations in adapting to the current environment due to a lack of competition.

Fear of exposure

I have met leaders who go pale at the idea of aware authentic leadership as although it will bring out the best in them and their people – they fear it will expose them or disempower them. Imagine the leader with impostor syndrome or who have been faking it until they make it for years now and how they might deal with HR requests to develop leadership. Likewise those who think looking like a leader is a priority. Good leadership development programs improve not only the organisation but can have huge benefits personally for leaders who are brave enough to engage.

Teaching Management or the wrong Leadership

So many programs are management programs rather than leadership programs. Managers deal with things and processes and Leaders deal with people. There is a big difference. Further to this point are leadership programs from the last century designed for a different world and different people. One I see a lot is “Transformational Leadership” which was first brought into practice (by Bernard Bass) in the 1980’s. Yes the 1980s. With the idea of changing the organisation. Today the organisation changes by itself and we have to keep up, a huge paradigm shift. This is why trust underpinning adaptability and agility are key competencies and why leadership training must include personal competencies to empower the leader to cope, and succeed, and support the team. In Harvard Business Review, Deborah Rowland (2016) wrote “Our primary method of developing leaders is antithetical to the type of leadership we need.” and quotes numerous studies that say the same. Some thought needs to go into selecting and developing your leadership programs – they must not be just another tick-boxing exercise. Something to think about?

To finish, here is a final quote from the CIPD HR Practices Report 2023:

 “With Leadership development emerging as the key organisational and HR priority for 2023 now is the time to take action to address this.”

We can help

Aidan Higgins BE MBA MSc (Psych) is the founder of ADEO Consulting Ltd and a Leadership, Emotional Intelligence and Teamwork specialist and Coach, who has worked with leaders and teams at all levels of the private and public sectors for the last 15 years. He is the author of LeadFromYou – We need aware, authentic and emotionally intelligent leaders. – now available in Paperback and Kindle on Amazon and in audiobook form via Audible and iTunesTwo recent podcasts are available here on Coaching and on Leadership.