Report Details Missing Competencies in Leaders with Great Potential

By Erin Hagemann

Once high-potential talent is identified, where should organizations focus their development efforts? Well, according to EDA’s Trends in Executive Development research, two items surfaced in the top five development areas for the first time in nearly a decade, becoming the number one and number two skills most lacking in the next generation of leaders: Strategic thinking and leading change.

It has been some time since either of these were at the forefront of development efforts globally, just barely reaching the top five in 2011 and 2013. Such a dramatic swing suggests that the shift is not simply being driven by a realignment of internal priorities, but rather, as a response to external events.

 Strategic thinking leapt to the top of the rankings. This is similar to what happened in 2011 with critical thinking, which ushered in several years of focus on encouraging leaders to “go slow to go fast” and apply consistent frameworks to problem solving, decision making, and planning. This successful development of tactical cognitive skills helped assure leaders could avoid the rework and wasted effort that often accompanies intuition-driven decision making. In fact, as is seen in another section of this report, critical thinking is still the number two hot topic of development among executives and still very much needed.

However, organizations have learned that tactical operational skill does not easily translate to strategic success, as our work with our clients indicates that when the world turned upside-down during the Covid pandemic, senior leaders were forced to push strategic decision-making down several layers deep into the organization, relying on high-potential leaders to make decisions with wouldn’t have normally made and many of those with far-reaching ramifications. As the crisis loomed, it required leaders to have a deeper understanding of their business and market complexities and an increasingly “big picture” perspective to mitigate unintended consequences.

This need to understand the total business and working in the best interest of the organization as a whole had not even reached the top five gaps in the last decade, but as it rose to a top in the latest research, we realized that many leaders really do not understand how the pieces fit together to bring the total value proposition to the customer. Without that broader knowledge of the organization, rising leaders were paralyzed, or worse yet, trusted their intuition using an experience base that did not consider the broader implications. For organizations to succeed in these volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) environments, strategic thinking is going to be key.

The Trends Report results also indicates that rising leaders and high potentials for executive roles need the ability to bring others along as they chart a strategic course. It is well known that human nature’s response to chaotic environments is fight or flight, and unfortunately, in business, these equate to resistance and disengagement. Therefore, as we watch these trends emerge, they indicate that development of these emerging leaders and high potentials for executive seats must include teaching them how to capture the heart and minds of the workforce and help them adapt to new business realities. Key skills include the ability to:

  1. Create a compelling vision and culture
  2. Influence and inspire others to find their place
  3. Develop a solid change strategy
  4. Engage key stakeholders at every turn possible
  5. Communicate with extreme clarity
  6. Track and measure results

The number three most lacking competency is attracting and retaining top talent which will remain critical as workforce shortages loom and competition for talent at an all-time high. It isn’t easy, but it is possible for organizations to create an employer-of-choice environment and attract top talent that will give them a competitive advantage.

During the pandemic, EDA saw a dramatic increase in client requests for something we call “holistic leadership development.” Companies that were able to help their leaders bounce back from adversity and encourage their teams to do the same were in a much stronger position from those who were not able to accomplish this. So, as one might imagine from a survey taken during a tumultuous year, the last two skills rounding out the top five are directly related to personal and professional resilience.

  1. Effective leaders must be able to effectively manage stress and
  2. Prioritize competing demands on their time.

Both require education, mentoring, self-awareness, self-discipline, and a level of mental toughness. Equipping high potential leaders with these skills will be a focus for the foreseeable future.

Methodology and Results


What capabilities, skills, knowledge, attitudes, and competencies are most lacking in the next generation of leadership?


#1 Enterprise & Strategic Thinking/Understanding the total business and how to work in the organization’s best interest (26%)

#2 Leading Change (24%)

#3 Ability to attract, retain and develop the quality of talent needed to achieve business objectives (20.8%)

#4 Ability to manage stress and demands of a real-time overloaded leadership environment (20.8%)

#5 Ability to prioritize competing time demands (18.8%)


Erin Hagemann serves as the Marketing Communications and Design Specialist at EDA, Inc. EDA is a world-class human capital firm with powerful CultureTech providing SaaS and AI solutions, premium executive development services and leading industry research. EDA helps companies build and maintain compelling cultures so that they can attract and retain top talent, advance their strategy and win in the marketplace.