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What are the toughest challenges of leadership?

Business leaders around the globe face an array of internal and external burdens. The toughest challenges in leadership today include mounting pressure, strengthening communication and shaping corporate culture – and 57% of UK executives are facing a crisis in confidence.

With leadership spending nearly half of their time deliberating the needs of the business, critical decision-making is key. However, a quick-solutions approach often results in a misidentified problem, wasted resources and a back-pedalling effect which puts more stress on the internal infrastructure of the organisation. 

For any practising (or aspiring) business leader, it’s imperative to understand how to diagnose and dissolve the most pressing leadership problems.

What are the top five problems in leadership?

In 2020, the Center for Creative Leadership conducted a global study with 763 corporate leaders and found that businesses worldwide are facing the same top leadership challenges – regardless of industry, sector or organisational culture.

The report uncovered that the top five problems impacting leadership are:

  1. managerial effectiveness
  2. driving inspiration
  3. developing others
  4. guiding change
  5. managing relationships and politics

The report outlined a universal focus for managerial development across these areas.


For aspiring leaders, developing the relevant skills for optimum managerial effectiveness is essential. These skills range from top-level strategic thinking to time management – staying up-to-speed with the ever-changing demands of a leadership role. However, this was the most frequently reported challenge for executives across China, India, and the United States.

Business heads steer the ship. They oversee the most critical elements of a business, from finances through to operations, and will regularly face challenges ranging from redundancies to misconduct. However, poor decision-making is one of the key contributing factors to ineffective leadership, and studies have shown a spike in decision paralysis post-pandemic. In fact, a percentage of UK business leaders now believe their decisions to be less effective. 

Poor decisions lead to slack execution. CEO Coaching International attributes a failure of due diligence to spending time and resources in the wrong place. Many business leaders struggle to comprehensively understand their staff roles, making delegation difficult – while an inability or aversion to interpreting data effectively can derail meaningful goal-setting.

Creating a disciplined plan, conducting thorough research and assembling the right team are the key components to successful execution. Gaining role clarity allows leaders to delegate more, deploy the right training initiatives and work on the tasks that maximise their own unique skill set. Effective annual planning and reporting also helps maintain company-wide precision and accountability, while clear and actionable goals create a more cohesive vision.

Driving inspiration

Without a clear plan or projection for the future, it’s difficult to motivate a team. Today’s executives are tasked with onboarding all stakeholders and creating a shared vision – but when you’re leading a team of varying experience levels and (sometimes conflicting) viewpoints, this can be challenging. 

With today’s teams comprising colleagues from numerous academic, educational, cultural and political backgrounds, the pressure is on for leaders to inspire on a collective and individual level. You’re only as strong as your workforce – and company growth, productivity, morale, and attendance suffer when staff feel disconnected and overlooked. But many business leaders struggle when it comes to effective communication.

This lack of coherence extends to company vision – and it’s difficult for any staff member to stay motivated without a clearly defined purpose to their role. With more millennials seeking employers that are both exciting and share their values and ethics, a lack of narrative could derail engagement, motivation and focus within the workforce.

Leaders need to lean in and commit to the process. Clarity and consistency are key, and it’s important to reinforce words with tangible actions. This breeds trust, while a transparent approach to conversation engenders respect. 

It’s important for employees to have a comprehensive understanding of their purpose and performance. Having an understanding of where their careers are headed will keep staff driving forward. Communication works both ways too, and leaders who are approachable and receptive to feedback are well placed to get the best out of their teams.

Equally, it’s important for leaders to communicate wins as much as areas to improve. Recognising achievements, developing quality incentives and offering staff flexibility boosts morale and keeps employees feeling valued.


To stay effective and relevant, businesses need to constantly level-up. 

Companies that lack the finance or resource, or simply fail to prioritise training and development, risk losing staff. Offering professional development boosts employee engagement and attracts top talent. 

Leaders should take an active role in mentoring, coaching and developing others. Promoting employees to upper management, or creating new roles to further professional development have significant impact – reaching as far as increasing profitability. Enabling and encouraging good internal communication fosters skills sharing between junior and senior-level stakeholders too.

Guiding change

Managing and mobilising change isn’t easy – and it’s one of the biggest challenges facing UK leaders. Companies need to be agile and adaptable to succeed, but mitigating the consequences of change is a balancing act.

A huge hurdle to change is team resistance – and often this comes from a lack of communication from leadership. Staff need clearly defined strategies to navigate change – but also an understanding of why these changes are happening in the first place. A closed-door approach builds resentment; employees want to be consulted about what directly impacts their role or environment. 

Change-capable leadership clearly communicates the purpose and value of change, in alignment with organisational goals. It fosters collaborative decision-making, directly involves stakeholders in the execution of plans and embraces emotional reactions to change.

Managing stakeholder relationships and politics

Executive alignment is essential, and can make or break modern businesses. Creating a unified force is a key part of leadership success. It’s important to establish an environment where staff support one another – and this extends to leadership. 

When a decision is made, executives need their senior team to be behind it. Business leaders that struggle to account for this may run into roadblocks. Navigating workplace conflict, establishing team norms and remaining politically savvy are some of the key demands in this area.

What are some emerging issues in leadership?

Redefining how people work in a post-pandemic world has been the biggest corporate challenge of recent times. Business leaders are confronting new approaches to crisis management and strategic resilience, while accommodating flexible working schedules and developing new staff wellbeing initiatives. 

Ultimately, it would appear that agility, adaptability and cohesion could be some of the biggest emerging battles that businesses will face.

Become a better business leader

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