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The growing gap between leader goals and achievements

It’s time to close the Leader Achievement Gap (LAG) to help leaders and organizations thrive.

Last spring, Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon ordered employees back to the office full time, citing the magic that happens when junior employees work side-by-side with more experienced bankers.

This summer, feeling overworked and undervalued, junior employees at the company quit en masse, leaving plans at risk and senior bankers in a stressful situation.

We don’t know the full story but we do know this: In a world where change has radically accelerated and many of the ground rules have been discarded, today’s leaders must respond. In a time of reckoning, pressure on leaders to do things differently mounts. It’s not just about what gets done but how. It’s not just about profit and loss; employees and stakeholders expect leaders to do the right things for the workforce and the greater good.

Expectations of leaders are rising

To improve creativity and innovation, leaders must cultivate diverse teams and honor different perspectives. To win the hearts and minds of employees, they must create a culture of work that works for everyone. Leaders must cast off their armor and communicate with transparency, vulnerability and kindness. If they want to win over influencers, prospects or shareholders, they need to communicate a unique point of view with conviction. It’s no wonder large companies are prioritizing social skills above all else in their search for C-suite execs.

On top of it all, leaders are expected to drive transformational change. Solving immediate problems is not enough; leaders must build to meet a different, rapidly approaching future.

Today’s leaders face a very tall order.

The good news? They want to meet the moment.

Leaders want to meet the moment

Leaders want to build diverse teams that thrive. They want to find new ways to engage their people and bring out their best. The senior leaders we talk to want to set bold goals, solve big problems and make a big impact–in their companies, their communities and society as a whole. They want to take risks and be recognized and rewarded as a change maker.

The bad news? More and more, leaders are struggling to achieve their goals.

What is the Leader Achievement Gap (LAG)?

We see the phenomenon so often, especially in large tech companies, that we’ve decided to name it: the leadership achievement gap, or LAG. LAG represents the widening gap between leader aspirations and their achievements. Between the really big stuff they want to do and their ability to get it done. As leaders aspire to do more, their capacity and capabilities struggle to keep pace. Unmet potential is growing.

What’s holding leaders and their organizations back? What’s keeping them from reaching their loftiest goals?

Executives speak of common pain points and sources of frustration:

  • Not enough time. Members of the Forbes Councils cited lack of time as one of their top five business challenges. There aren’t enough hours in the day to get done what they set out to do. Not enough time to manage priorities, deliver on commitments or develop their own brand.

  • Employee burnout and turnover. The great resignation continues, with 20% of employees planning to quit this year. “Quiet quitting” or engaging just enough to get by, is another threat. It’s not just about better and more equitable pay; employees want to feel seen, heard and understood, to be creative, and to choose where and when they work.

  • Difficulty breaking through the noise. With the explosion of information and channels, leaders say it’s difficult to get their message across or raise visibility and understanding of the organization’s broader purpose.

  • Focusing on the urgent vs. the important. Especially in a time of crisis, jumping from one urgent need to the next becomes the norm, making it more difficult to get back to focusing on what’s important for advancing long-term goals.

But these pain points are really just symptoms of a larger underlying problem. At the heart of LAG is a faulty foundation—a very common set of fractures that make it difficult for any leader, or their organizations, to thrive. By no means are these challenges the only cause of LAG, but they are pervasive in companies of all sizes and make doing anything harder, especially achieving big goals. So what are these common fractures? Here are a few to get started:

  • Disconnected purpose, values, strategy and objectives Leadership, above all, is the expression and execution of purpose. Done right, purpose drives clarity on an organization’s what, why and how. Purpose-driven leadership focuses, inspires and effectively communicates across senior management, employees, customers and other stakeholders. Many leadership teams underinvest in defining purpose and operationalizing it, and like a rudderless ship, are unlikely to make their way to a desirable destination.

  • Failure to identify and invest in upleveling organizational capacity. Many leaders struggle to look beyond their immediate and direct business priorities to identify, fund, and drive horizontal strategic initiatives. Investments in the “infrastructure” of leadership - improving crucial time and resource allocation, information flow and decision making processes - amplify organizational capabilities and can often be among the highest ROI investments.

  • A missing rhythm of the business model (RoB): A missing or unclear roadmap and timeline for key planning and execution processes contributes to confusion about goals and priorities, lack of alignment, and a “fire drill” culture. A common outcome is an excess of unnecessary or poorly run meetings, which can zap productivity and well-being across the organization.

  • Lack of exec communications support: Whether communicating internally or externally, breaking through the noise requires a degree of time, energy and expertise that leaders often don’t have. Without focused communications support, leaders often miss opportunities to build trust and credibility with employees and external stakeholders.

  • Lack of brand building: Closely related to exec comms, brand building helps leaders carve out a thought leadership platform and amplify what they believe, helping build credibility and influence stakeholders. Without support to build their brands, leaders can face an uphill battle to make a broader impact in their industry or community.

Leaders have always wanted to excel, but in a time of crisis and reckoning, they want to do more, do it better, and drive real change—for their teams, their companies, their industries, communities and society. The same old struggles of inefficiency, complexity, unpredictability and lack of clarity are weighing them down and keeping them from creating the healthy, effective work cultures that employees need to achieve their goals.

It’s time to shore up foundations so leaders can build organizations that thrive. To close the gap between aspiration and achievement. To create work cultures where every person feels they belong and are empowered to do their best work. It’s time to eliminate LAG.

Introducing Sparklos

Sparklos is a technology and consulting services firm that partners with leaders to help them close the Leadership Achievement Gap in the right way—authentically and in line with company values. The Spark Leadership Operating System (SparkLOS) is a comprehensive approach to leading teams that combines proven best practices, workflows, and tools; strategic consulting, and a customized team of key roles, including Chief of Staff, Business Manager, and Executive Communications Leader, to amplify a leader’s impact and drive positive change.

Learn more about Sparklos and our approach to helping leaders succeed.

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