by Matthew J. Paese, Audrey B. Smith, and William C. Byham |
With technology and industry changing so fast, every organization should be asking itself whether its leaders are equipped to keep pace. When you say "Ready in two years" or "Ready with development," is it true? Will the time and effort create the readiness you need quickly enough? Is the energy inside your organization increasing or decreasing? 

Currently, the "leadership-readiness curve" is trending dangerously in the wrong direction, even as organizations worldwide are investing more than ever to try to turn it around.

The evidence has become so glaring that a grim recitation of statistics would be superfluous, so let's summarize instead: With leadership development consistently ranking among CEOs' top priorities over the last two decades, organizations have more than doubled their global investment, pouring billions of dollars into preparing the next generation(s) of leaders. But during this time, by every measure, leadership readiness has declined precipitously.

Survey after survey, in virtually every sector (some far worse than others), reveals a deep erosion of confidence in leadership as well as a disconcerting lack of bench strength. Even the most optimistic estimates leave the typical organization leaderless more than half the time when needing to fill open assignments.

For some, it is far worse: In the c-suite, executives routinely delay or withdraw from strategic priorities for lack of available leadership, and initiatives fail far more often than they would with a firmer hand on the tiller.

As the rate of change accelerates, the efforts to help leaders keep up are themselves falling behind. More than a decade ago, we published Grow Your Own Leaders to help organizations address their leadership-readiness problems, laying down the practical foundations of how to identify and accelerate the growth of high-potential leaders to prepare them for higher-level assignments. We called these leadership groups Acceleration Pools, and since that time, more than a thousand organizations across the globe -- businesses in every industry, health care systems, government agencies, civil service groups, universities, churches, charities, and more -- have implemented the Acceleration Pool concept. 

These organizations have been shown (via independent research) to outpace others in growing leaders and to have larger supplies of ready leaders and stronger performance among them. But as encouraging as these successes have been, the velocity of global competition has made it necessary not only to grow your own leaders but also to grow more of them, faster, in a far more complex world. 

But is faster even possible? It's difficult to imagine asking leaders to learn any faster than what life requires already. However dire our leadership shortages may be, it is clear that we won't overcome them by attempting to cram more into the hyper-driven lives and overloaded minds of emerging leaders. Becoming ready now will not happen simply by trying to run faster.

This excerpt was adapted from the new book, Leaders Ready Now.

Matthew J. Paese, Ph.D., is vice president of succession and c-suite services for Development Dimensions International (DDI). Matt's work has centered on the application of succession, assessment, and development approaches as they apply to boards, CEOs, senior management teams, and leaders across the pipeline. He consults, coaches, speaks, and conducts research around all those topics and more.

Audrey B. Smith, Ph.D., is senior vice president for global talent diagnostics at DDI. Smith's customer-driven innovation and global consulting insights have helped shape DDI's succession, selection, and development offerings, from the c-suite to the front line. She has been a key strategist and solution architect, encompassing technology-enabled virtual assessments and development aligned to current business challenges.

William C. Byham, Ph.D., is executive chairman of DDI. He cofounded the company in 1970 and has worked with hundreds of the world's largest organizations on executive assessment, executive development, and succession management. Bill authored Zapp! The Lightning of Empowerment, a groundbreaking book that has sold more than 3 million copies. He has coauthored 23 other books, including seminal works on the assessment center method.