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Canadian companies may be teetering on the brink of a leadership crisis, according to a new study. The second edition of the Odger Berndtson Executive Outlook survey suggests nearly half of Canadian companies expect to lose more than 20% of their senior staff by 2017. Unfortunately, survey respondents aren’t confident about the leadership abilities of those next in line for the executive offices. According to the survey, 90% of those questioned don’t feel the next generation of managers is experienced or qualified enough to take over those senior roles.

More than half (52%) of execs surveyed said their organizations would require specific skills and experience their current staff couldn’t offer. Highest on the list of hard-to-find assets were emotional intelligence, people skills and strategic thinking. However, despite senior execs’ knowledge of the impending skills gap, more than half of those surveyed had no plan in place to deal with the challenges this will almost certainly create.

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“Dynamic leadership at the top is the cornerstone of an organization’s ability to adapt to the complexities of the global market and ultimately to be its competitive best,” says Carl Lovas, chairman and CEO of Odgers Berndtson. But, he says, the looming gap in leadership over the next five years poses some serious challenges for organizations. “The real concern from a performance and productivity standpoint is that despite being aware of this inevitability, the majority of organizations are doing little to prepare for it.”

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A quarter of those surveyed believe the next generation of senior executives will need at least five years of mentoring to get ready for the C-suite. Organizations attempting to plan for the shortfall may be scrambling for solutions, including looking overseas for qualified candidates and targeting those at the top of competing firms. In fact, nearly 20% of respondents say their next executive hire will likely come from beyond the borders of Canada and the U.S.

“Another more practical solution is to consider hiring an interim executive manager to help bridge the gap and overcome the skills shortage while the next generation gains the experience and skills needed to succeed,” says Lovas. Interim leadership is something surveyed senior execs are warming to, suggests the survey, with half saying they would consider hiring an executive on a temporary basis to navigate the looming skills gap.

“The demand for interim leaders—or super temps, as some call them—has risen significantly in the last two or three years, and represents a major shift in the way companies think about their executive-level needs,” says Lovas. “In fact, this may be the bridge that will save many organizations in the longterm.”

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