Leadership Skills (and Systems?): A Premise

July 14th, 2021

Why we care

Many organizations are focusing more than usual on leadership: leadership skills, characteristics, traits, competencies, capabilities, and development. It’s always a good idea to focus on leadership, but it’s likely getting more attention right now for a few reasons:

Hybrid work

The pandemic changed things. Despite the stance that this CEO  or that CEO is taking, many organizations are facing uncharted territory – one where many of their employees will decide to work somewhere besides their office.

Aside from a very complicated logistics problem, it creates other challenges as well. Whereas leaders used to be able to manage by walking around, they will continue to need to manage, inspire, develop, and care for employees that aren’t in the same geographical location.

We think this requires additional skills – or at least more focus on some of the that are sometimes pushed aside.

DEIB initiatives

The civil movements of the past couple of years have helped orgs finally identify some  inequities that have been buried and systematized for years. As orgs make concerted efforts to challenge some existing assumptions and modify systems to even the playing field, leaders need to be more sensitive and discerning and courageous.

Employee experience

It’s an incredibly tight labor market. Average weekly wages in leisure and hospitality, for example, were up 10.4% in May 2021 from February 2020.1 Employees have more power than they ever have before, and they’re looking for more money and more respect.

Interestingly, this affects managers from both sides: managers have a good deal of responsibility for the experience of their employees (ever heard the saying, “people leave managers, not companies”?), and therefore, they need the skills and support to provide a good experience.

But we’re also reading about millennials, just turning 40, who themselves see management as a challenging experience that they necessarily want to have themselves.2

Generation Z employees are also choosing purpose over paycheck and looking for workplace cultures that align with their values.3

Need for agility

In the space of 3 months last year, the world as we knew it was upended. Organizations needed to quickly adapt to new conditions – whether that meant moving all employees to remote, closing down retail, or spinning up new products and services for the new environment.

As we all crawl out from behind our masks, we’re about to embark on additional changes – many mentioned above. Managers need to be agile themselves, and they need to be able to form teams and respond quickly to whatever comes their way.


To this point, most organizations have thought individually about their leaders. Organizations have invested in rock star CEOs (which is partly to blame for wage discrepancy between top executives and average workers). Leadership development and programs and measurement focus on identifying specific traits leaders should have and then forcing information down leaders’ and managers’ throats.

We think this is probably part of the answer: absolutely leaders need to understand what the expectations for leadership are. But more and more, we’re hearing from leaders who say that, while they understand what is expected of them, they don’t have the support that they need. We have also noticed that many organizations don’t measure or compensate based on leadership profiles or capability models.

Our hypothesis:

Organizations with strong leadership set clear expectations for what leadership means in their particular organization, provide necessary systems and support for leaders, and hold them accountable.

Strong leadership shouldn’t rely all leaders collectively deciding to take leadership training to heart and change their ways. The organization plays a very important role in ensuring that all of leadership is systemic: all systems and process support the type of leadership behaviors desired by the organization.

This study

For this study, we’ll be doing the following:

  • In-depth literature review on leadership to identify leadership trends – including post-pandemic.
  • Review of current leadership models – and models of models – to understand similarities and differences
  • Canvass of leadership training offerings – what skills are being taught, which skills are being taught together, and what may be missing.
  • Roundtable of leaders talking about leadership – how we develop, support, measure leadership.
  • Interviews with leaders from organizations with strong leadership

As always, we’d love your input. Let us know how you’re about leadership differently than you did before.

Dani Johnson Redthread Research
Dani Johnson
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst


  1. Tight Labor Market Returns the Upper Hand to American Workers. Eric Morath and Greg Ip. Wall Street Journal, June 2021.
  2. Older Millennials Made it to Management – Now They’re Wondering if They Even Want to Be the Boss. Jennifer Lieu, CNBC, April 2021.
  3. Building a Coaching Culture? Don’t Forget About Your Managers. Magdalena Nowicka Mook. Training Industry, April 2020.