How U.S. Leaders in Major Industries Are Similar (and Different)
It’s widely understood — thanks to genetic research — that humans are more similar than we are different. When it comes to leaders in different industries, it’s the same story.
There are actually a lot of similarities among leaders across industries, including healthcare, pharmaceuticals, finance, technology, energy, and government. The data show that “humans are humans” and “leaders are leaders,” regardless of the industry they work in.
To better understand the challenges faced by leaders in different fields and what leadership skills are needed to succeed in various industries, our Leadership Analytics experts took a look at the key competencies required for leaders to be successful in different industries, along with the capability gaps that will likely need to be addressed. We drew on our large global database of leadership assessments data, based on our pioneering Benchmarks® for Managers™ assessments , to examine U.S. leaders in different industries: energy, financial services, healthcare, government, the military, pharmaceuticals, and technology.
As we analyzed the data, we found that across industries, bosses share similar beliefs about what competencies are most important to the success of their organization. They also share similar perspectives on the strengths of their leaders and which capabilities need to be further developed.
Our Findings on Leadership in Different Industries
We’ve uncovered some overarching similarities in terms of what leaders in different fields need to succeed. Here are 5 insights on what we learned and what these findings mean for leadership development.
1. The same 6 competencies were rated most vital to leadership success in every industry.
Out of 16 leadership competencies on our Benchmarks® 360-degree assessment, the same 6 rose to the top as most needed in every industry we researched:
- Building collaborative relationships
- Leading employees
- Strategic perspective
- Taking initiative
- Participative management
- Change management
The most effective leadership development initiatives are built on the competencies that are most critical to the success of an organization and its leaders. Based on the pervasive importance of these 6 competencies, HR and training teams in every industry would be well advised to track and build leader competencies in each of these 6 areas.
2. Leaders rate highest at taking initiative.
Among the top 6 competencies, bosses in all industries rated “taking initiative” as the most effective competency of their leaders. This confirms the well-known belief that the ability to get things done is what gets leaders promoted in the first place. (Of course, what got them promoted to management isn’t what they need to succeed once they get there; that’s why organizations must prepare their first-time managers for success in their new leadership roles.)
3. Among the top-rated competencies, leaders are least prepared to lead employees.
Our research has long shown that leading employees effectively is essential to both individual and organizational impact. A leader’s performance and reputation within the organization is only as strong as their team. That means leaders need to know how to recruit the right people and then motivate and develop them as they progress throughout their careers.
It’s troubling that so many leaders across industries need development in this fundamental area, especially since direct reports are vital to getting day-to-day work done. Equipping managers to develop employees should be a top priority for every organization.
4. Leaders lack vital skills for building collaborative relationships.
While all industries rated “building collaborative relationships” as the most important capability leaders need, none rated it among the top 2 proficiencies of their current leaders. Why such a significant gap? Typically, individuals are promoted into leadership roles because they are strong individual contributors. In many organizations, the ability to build collaborative relationships with peers and external stakeholders simply isn’t practiced or rewarded regularly.
Individuals with “leader” titles have more self-development work to do if they are to master this competency. Regardless of your industry, you’ll want to help your leaders build more collaborative relationships.
5. Leaders lack important skills in change management.
Aside from the financial industry, all other industries we surveyed rated “change management” as one of the lowest proficiencies of their leaders. This isn’t surprising — we have found that many organizations have mastered the operational or structural side of change but give little effort to the people side of the change equation .
To gain the desired results when implementing a new direction, system, or initiative, organizations need the benefit of change-capable leaders , no matter what industry they’re in.
Varying Skills Among Leaders in Different Fields
While bosses in all industries said their leaders were proficient at “taking initiative,” all also cited a lack of preparedness when it came to “leading employees,” “building collaborative relationships,” and “change management.” In short, the data showed that leaders in different fields are more alike than different, and there’s a serious shortage of leaders who are skilled in key areas — what’s known as a leadership gap — in practically every industry.
Once you understand the competencies needed for success in your specific industry and where the gaps are greatest, you can begin to design leadership development initiatives that deliver effective results for your organization to make the most impact on your leaders.
Below are some of our key findings about the leadership competencies of U.S. leaders in different industries. You can also download our full Industry Trend Report for more detailed information.
Healthcare Industry Leaders
Healthcare leaders were least proficient in “leading employees.” “Leading employees” deals with attracting, motivating, and developing employees. Given that more than 75% of leaders in healthcare are “at least proficient” in “taking initiative,” we recommend that they refocus some of their attention on those they work with and manage. Research has shown that leaders with more interpersonal savvy cultivate higher performance teams. View the Healthcare Leadership Infographic (PDF) .
Pharmaceutical Industry Leaders
Half of pharmaceutical industry leaders were also not proficient in “leading employees.” Leaders scored much better on “participative management,” which deals with involving others, listening, and building commitment. Though “leading employees” includes “participative management,” it’s a broader competency that also focuses on recruiting talented employees, providing challenging development opportunities, and rewarding hard work. Pharmaceutical organizations should focus on developing these skills. View the Pharmaceutical Leadership Infographic (PDF) .
Financial Services Industry Leaders
Leaders in financial services are proficient in several important areas but less proficient in “building collaborative relationships” and “leading employees.” And bosses rated “building collaborative relationships” and “leading employees” as the No. 1 and No. 3 most important competencies, respectively. Focusing on developing these competencies should create a strategic advantage for financial services firms aiming to improve their leadership pipelines. View the Financial Leadership Infographic (PDF) .
High-Tech Industry Leaders
High-tech leaders were least proficient in areas that focus on working with others like “building collaborative relationships” and “leading employees.” In fact, “building collaborative relationships” was rated as the most important competency in this industry. Given that close to 80% of leaders in technology are “at least proficient” in “taking initiative,” we recommend that tech organizations refocus development on those that leaders work with and manage. View the High-Tech Leadership Infographic (PDF) .
Energy Industry Leaders
“Building collaborative relationships” is the most important competency for success in the energy industry. Yet nearly 40% of leaders were not rated as proficient in this area. A more dedicated focus on “leading employees,” “participative management,” and “change management” could critically improve an energy leader’s reputation and ability to build collaborative relationships over time. Energy organizations may want to develop skills at working well with others on a day-to-day basis. View the Energy Leadership Infographic (PDF) .
Government Sector Leaders
Government leaders were least proficient in “change management” and “leading employees.” “Change management” refers to the use of effective strategies to facilitate organizational change initiatives and to overcome resistance to change. Given that more than 80% of leaders in government are “at least proficient” in “taking initiative,” we recommend that government organizations focus attention on building change leadership and the “leading employees” competency. View the Government Leadership Infographic (PDF) .
U.S. Army leaders averaged significantly higher proficiency ratings on all 6 competencies compared to average U.S. industry leaders. Given the extensive leadership development training that these leaders already undergo to deal with the harsh realities they face on the job, this shouldn’t be surprising. This suggests that organizations in many other industries may enhance their leader bench strength by recruiting and hiring more veterans for key leadership roles. View the U.S. Army Leadership Trend Report (PDF) .
In closing, leadership development programs that focus on helping leaders comprehend and apply the competencies they need most to bring results will have the greatest impact on the bottom line. We hope insights from our Industry Trends Report and these takeaways about leaders in different fields will help you design development solutions that are relevant, useful, and impactful for leaders at your organization, whatever your industry.
Ready to Take the Next Step?
Leaders in different fields need certain key leadership skills to succeed, regardless of industry or level. We have expertise in various industries and sectors and can partner with you to develop leaders in your organization.