The research of more than 800 global executives and senior talent development professionals found just 31% are confident their leaders have the right leadership skills to cope with the current business environment.
In contrast to this lack of confidence, leadership development is seen as crucial for driving business transformation: 43% of respondents said this was the most significant goal, ahead of building general management capability (24%) and accelerating the leadership pipeline (21%).
Ray Carvey, executive vice president of corporate learning and international, at Harvard Business Publishing, told HR magazine this is a "paradox".
"People understand how importance leadership development is, but they can't see it reflected in their organisation," he said.
Focus on middle management
While previous Harvard Business Publishing research has found middle managers can be underserved by leadership development programmes, these latest findings suggest that is changing.
Around 80% of respondents said middle managers need to develop change management capabilities, 77% said they need to develop a 'leadership mindset', 76% communication skills and talent management skills, and 64% general management capability.
"Middle management is now recognised as something that requires leadership development," said Carvey. "With the new model of virtual leadership development, organisations can now reach many more leaders, including middle managers or those in distant locations who may not have had development opportunities like this before."
Barriers to investment
According to the research, the biggest barrier to getting participants to commit to a leadership development programme is time: 40% of respondents cited time away from the job as the biggest hurdle. In contrast, just 24% cited budget constraints.
"Executives face a huge challenge," said Carvey. "They need their leaders to help drive transformation of their business, but these leaders need to be transformed as well. The question is how, especially when you think of the scale that's needed."
HR magazine is running a web TV debate on training tomorrow's leaders on Tuesday 24 September. For more information and to sign up to watch, please click here.