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“We play the game
With the bravery of being out of range
We zap and maim
With the bravery of being out of range…”

—Roger Waters (musician and writer)

Small craters pocked the desk around her laptop dock. Tiny tendrils of sulfurous smoke rose from each one, like poisonous snakes entranced by music only they could hear. Pens lay strewn like bodies left behind on a war-ravaged beach.

Jodi rubbed her eyes with shrapnel scarred hands and gazed again into her laptop screen. She thought, Where did it go?

The email — it was right there with all the others earlier that morning. Her boss, a small, overly verbose man who still wore knit ties from the 1980s, had sent yet another loaded negative critique of her work to her, even accusing her of throwing team members under the proverbial world-of-work bus for her own benefit so she could get in the new leadership development program.

She sat on the message all morning, not knowing how to respond at all this time; she hadn’t done anything to her colleagues to better herself, and yet again, he had convinced her that maybe, just maybe, she had. She wanted to get into the program badly, but had followed the rules and submitted the application just like everyone else, only having a brief conversation with the head of HR because of their relationship.

But when she returned to her desk to respond to him, to attempt to again defend her honor, the email was gone. Vanished. A fresh crater smoked near the framed quote on the back of her cubicle, one that her father had shared with her a long time ago.

Be fearlessly authentic.

She trembled. I am, Dad. I am. But he’s not and now he’s deleting emails from the server. And I don’t know what to do about it, except to get the fuck out of here.

Maybe you’ve experienced something like this, or maybe you know someone who has. Sadly, there are a million related stories out there.

Because this isn’t the war for talent we’re dealing with; this is a war on talent. Relentless. Unforgiving. Destructive. Ineffectual leaders not leading the way with the bravery of being out of range, which doesn’t mean literally mean virtual workers dealing with crappy managers “out of range.” It means employees dealing with crappy managers who are inflexible and inaccessible, who attack out of range because they can, because of their authority and the highly misused communications medium known as email, sent from the comfort of a closed-door office less than 10 feet away.

You’ve heard it before — those who can leave, will. And they leave crappy leaders and managers every day (if again they truly can). Billions and billions of dollars each year are spent on learning, leadership development and employee engagement programs, and yet, Deloitte recently released new research that shows a huge gap between what business executives say and what they do, and one of the biggest issues highlighted is a lack of focus on leadership development.

And so the war on talent continues, and the authenticity of knowing who we are, what our values are, and being clear on our purpose as leader of self and others continue to float like barrage balloons on D-Day.

According to a recent global study of more than 5,500 executives and employees across 27 countries, conducted by Oxford Economics, barely half of the executives surveyed said their companies possess the skills to effectively manage talent, and only 44% have faith that their leaders are capable of driving and effectively managing change.

Plus, only about one-third of the respondents said their firms are prepared to lead a diverse workforce and have the ability to drive global growth.

None of this bodes well for the world of work’s future. This is why it’s imperative that companies devote the required resources to address the leadership gaps that threaten to derail their businesses today and tomorrow.

The good news is that some companies are doing something about developing future leaders, working hard to make them multi-faceted, multi-functional and multi-conversational by giving them cross-functional training and experience. By developing the talent and skills they need, while emphasizing mindful presence and authenticity, companies doing this can position themselves to thrive in the near- and long-term futures.

After attending Elliot Masie’s 2014 Learning Conference for the second consecutive year at the end of October, where again I spoke (and PeopleFluent has sponsored), I find there’s hope.

For example, listening to the leadership development team from the Universal Orlando Resort talk about the great success of the progressive program they launched in 2010 to develop a pipeline of competent and confident leaders elevated me.

So far, at least 82% of the participants have made it to leadership roles each year, and the participants are promoted six months sooner than non-participants. They also saw an 11% increase in promoting internally, which in turn is giving the program more and more credibility.

And when it came to learning, leadership development and employee engagement, I kept hearing success stories from the likes of Lockheed Martin, Michelin, Shell, GlaxoSmithKline and many other companies. They all seem to understand the business impact of driving deeper levels of learning and employee engagement is dramatic. Deeper engagement from continuous learning drives better talent outcomes and better business outcomes. For companies that have high engagement scores, the results on the business are dramatic.

What’s clear is that when it comes to developing employees and future leaders, too many organizations are simply going through the motions, or worse yet, doing nothing at all. The bravest of companies are reaping a host of benefits, including:

  1. Better business planning—Learning and leadership development leads to better succession planning, which then leads to developing and then putting the right people in the right leadership roles at the right times. When organizations know they have the right people in the queue for key positions, they can proactively plan for the future of the business far more effectively.
  2. Improved retention and lower turnover—Sound learning and leadership development helps to ensure that employees know they’re being groomed for a particular position, which gives them a strong sense of having a clearly defined future within the company. This is a strong retention tool and keeps people from leaving their companies for greener pastures. The resulting cost savings can be substantial but it takes a long-term investment.
  3. Improved employee engagement—Obviously, showing employees a learning plan and defined future with an upward career trajectory is a powerful booster of employee engagement and emotional commitment. And, as employee engagement analysis after analysis has showed the past few years, companies with highly engaged employees experience financial growth rates nearly four times higher than those of companies with lower engagement.
  4. More accurate recruiting—Sound learning and leadership development also helps improve recruiting as well: when employers have a clear understanding of their organizations’ gaps in skills and leadership qualities, they can sharpen their focus on recruiting for specific future roles (even those not yet defined by succession plans), shortening the recruiting process and increasing sourcing accuracy.

Nobody wants a world of work wasteland. Today’s learners are tomorrow’s leaders, so let’s stop waging war on one other and invest in the bravery of being fearlessly authentic and making a learning and leadership development difference.

Happy Holidays, Kids.

This article was inspired by the TalentCulture #TChat Show. Don’t forget to check out the TalentCulture #TChat Show every Wednesday from 7-8 pm ET (4-5 pm PT). Join us!

photo credit: BombDog via photopin cc