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6 Common Leadership Challenges in 2017

August 15, 2017

A businessman in a blue blazer and lighter blue button-down shirt pauses to listen to his team's feedback at a meeting.
Leadership challenges exist for any manager or mentor. Businesses require leaders who are skilled at guiding employees, helping develop workers’ skills and providing direction for the organization. The following sections illustrate some of the most common leadership challenges in 2017.

1.    Building Trust

Almost one in three employees don’t trust their employers, according to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, a survey of 33,000 individuals in 28 countries. A 2014 American Psychological Association survey found the same sentiment for a quarter of employees, adding that only around half of employees believe their employer is open and up-front with them.

These results are due to a lack of transparency in the workplace, Andre Lavoie, CEO and co-founder of talent management software firm ClearCompany, wrote in Entrepreneur. Transparent leadership is the key to fostering a culture of trust. Lavoie provided four reasons why transparency is necessary.

  • It leads to better relationships. People don’t quit their jobs; they quit their bosses. Transparency builds solid workplace relationships and keeps employees involved and up-to-date on relevant information.
  • It results in better alignment between employees and leaders. “Transparent leadership results in employees who understand the company vision and how their efforts help achieve company-wide goals,” according to Lavoie.
  • It helps problems get solved faster. Transparency about company problems allows employees to find better solutions.
  • It increases employee engagement. Seventy percent of employees said they’re most engaged when senior leadership continually updates and communicates company strategy, according to a 2013 employee engagement survey from Harvard Business Review.

2.    Providing Opportunities for Development

Professional development helps workers improve and add value to the organization. Also, they desire to improve. This is especially true for younger employees; 87 percent of millennials said that professional development or career growth opportunities are very important to them in a job, Gallup found.

Leaders should focus on personalizing learning to meet individuals’ needs, according to entrepreneur Jeff Boss in Forbes. “Technology allows learning to be optimized and catered to the learner’s preferred style, pace, interests and goals,” he said. “Shorter, bite-sized learning segments ranging from one to three minutes are more palatable and less overwhelming to undertake than their 30 to 60 minute course counterparts.”

3.    Overcoming the Org-Chart

There can be a difference between how things actually get done and how, based on the set-in-ink org-chart, they should get done.

Leaders need to recognize these differences and be more adaptable within established structures. This not only leads to increased efficiency, but it allows teams to more easily work with each other. The org-chart can impede cross-departmental work and collaboration.

4.    Defining Goals and Aligning Them With Mission

“When your people don’t have clear goals, they muddle through their day,” according to management training company MindTools. “They can’t be productive if they have no idea what they’re working for, or what their work means. They also can’t prioritize their workload effectively, meaning that projects and tasks get completed in the wrong order.”

SMART goals are an effective way for managers to define and share goals with their team.

  • Specific: What is specific about the goal?
  • Measurable: Is the goal measurable?
  • Achievable: Is the goal achievable?
  • Relevant: Is the goal relevant to performance or professional development?
  • Time-bound: Is the goal time-bound?

By making goals relevant to workers’ day-to-day tasks and the company’s mission, employees can see the importance of what they’re doing.

5.    Measuring the ROI of Soft Skill Development

“It’s an age-old challenge that HR practitioners, consultants, and coaches face: qualifying the financial ROI of leadership development programs,” according to Boss in a separate article at Forbes. “After all, smiles and sunshine don’t turn profits, right? Wrong. In an interdependent world, it’s amazing that this question still exists. Anybody who knows anything about having to lead with influence over authority knows that soft skills are anything but soft—they’re difficult to learn and extremely difficult to master.”

When performed well, soft skill development can have powerful outcomes. “Soft skills create agile organizations, develop innovative companies, make the best places to work, and build the most admired companies,” according to ROI Institute, an international leader in measuring financial return on projects and programs. “Soft skills bring out the best in people as their behaviors and competencies are shaped to fit the strategy of the organization, the desired work climate, and the ever-changing, unpredictable landscape.”

6.    Providing Team-Based Incentives

A strong salary and good benefits are desired by employees, but leaders often make the mistake of assuming that employees are only working for monetary reward, according to MindTools. There are other factors that leaders should be aware of and integrate.

  • Greater work-life balance
  • Achievement
  • Extra responsibility
  • Praise
  • Sense of camaraderie

These types of incentives and rewards are strong ways to motivate employees and improve productivity. One company found that remote workers were more productive and had higher job satisfaction, as the study’s authors shared in an interview with Harvard Business Review. The company saved $1,900 per employee on furniture and space, in addition to more money saved due to a reduced office footprint.

Non-monetary incentives such as remote work, flexible schedules and ways to show praise not only save money and increase motivation and productivity, but help leaders build trust with employees. By recognizing how employees are helping the company and caring about their work-life balance, leaders can deeply affirm the value that workers have.

Growing as a Leader

Grace College’s online business programs provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to positively impact an organization. Graduates are prepared for management roles and other opportunities for advancement. These faith-based programs apply biblical values to content.

Grace’s fully online bachelor’s degree in business administration focuses on the skills and tools graduates need to adapt and excel in the business world. This GOAL (Grace Opportunities for Adult Learners) program is designed for students balancing personal commitments while pursuing an education. It is priced substantially below most degree completion programs and can be completed in as little as 16 months.

The fully online MBA provides students with a strong foundation in marketing, accounting, finance and human resources as well as coursework in entrepreneurship. This program can help graduates pursue leadership opportunities in business.

The fully online master’s in nonprofit management equips students with the knowledge and skills to succeed in marketing communication, applying technology, creating and training staff, raising funds and improving efficiency within an organization.