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Common leadership challenges: what they are and how to manage them

Posted on: May 16, 2023
Leadership challenges concept

Modern leadership comes with a unique set of values and opportunities. As leaders shift away from traditional, autocratic management styles, they are instead adopting more agile, democratic, and transformational styles that focus on building greater relationships, trust, and engagement.

According to a 2021 Forbes article, modern leadership requires:

  • promoting a sense of inclusion and belonging
  • investing more time into team members’ well-being, career goals, contributions, and accomplishments
  • creating a higher level of trust
  • sharing information.

The benefits of modern leadership styles, and the reasons to move away from more old-fashioned methods, have been well-documented. For example, the O.C. Tanner Institute’s 2020 Global Culture Study found that so-called traditional leadership practices are often coupled with negative employee outcomes. It found that in traditional environments:

  • employee experience dropped by 43%
  • employee engagement dropped by 33%
  • incidents of burnout increased by 10%.

But while it’s clear that modern leadership brings important benefits to businesses and organisations, it is not without its challenges. 

Internal challenges

Leadership problems that are personal to an individual are known as internal challenges. These are common leadership challenges that can span self-confidence to self-awareness, and can greatly impact how effectively someone in a leadership role performs.


Effective communication skills are essential for leaders, but are often in need of development. Whether speaking to team members and colleagues, or senior leaders and external stakeholders, a good leader should be able to:

  • share information clearly and concisely
  • motivate and inspire people with their words and actions
  • listen to other people’s feedback and point of view
  • articulate clear metrics for success.


Effective leadership requires confidence for strong decision-making. Confident leaders know how and when to get involved, and offer valuable input when needed.

Great leaders also have confidence in their people and create work environments that are built on trust, respect, and teamwork. They delegate often, rather than operating in uncertainty and insecurity – and micromanaging people as a result.


An effective leader will have both the leadership and job-specific competencies necessary to assist their teams with problem-solving when needed. They should have the relevant industry – and organisational – knowledge and skills to act as thought leaders for their teams, and be able to provide guidance when required.

External challenges

External challenges are the problems that stem from other people or events. When in a leadership position, external challenges will always arise, but these challenges are typically much easier to overcome when internal challenges have already been recognised and overcome.


Change is one of the most difficult external challenges that team leaders will face. It can take many forms, including adopting new:

  • processes
  • technologies
  • structures
  • cultures
  • ways of working

During these periods of change, people tend to look to their leaders to provide both practical and emotional support. In fact, the very best leaders embrace and enable change within their teams, paving the way for positive transformation within their businesses and organisations.

External events

Modern leaders are frequently at the mercy of forces completely outside their control. For example, global inflation, issues within the supply chain, and the COVID-19 pandemic are three obvious examples of external events that have necessitated creative intervention by leaders within organisations. Consider the pandemic, which required leaders to adapt and innovate at speed. Many had to move whole organisations into remote-working frameworks, adopting new technologies, systems, and processes in order to continue operating – all while communicating with employees and keeping them engaged, motivated, and productive.

People management

The core responsibility of any leader is their people. This means inspiring and motivating teams, but it also means having difficult conversations when there are issues around behaviours, productivity, and so on. Modern leaders also need to be on the lookout for employee burnout, a lack of engagement, and any gaps in skills.

How to overcome common leadership challenges

It’s clear that modern leaders face a number of real challenges, but there are several solutions for managing and overcoming these challenges, and even reframing them as opportunities for growth instead.

Focus on leadership development

According to How to Be an Exceptional Leader: A White Paper, leadership development is crucial:

“The best leaders are always on the hunt for learning and growth opportunities,” the paper states. “They seek out knowledge, adapt to change, and constantly work on their personal and professional development.”

The development of new leadership skills – including skills in communication, confidence, and competence – can take many forms, such as:

  • coaching and mentoring
  • in-depth training programmes
  • short-term courses

Foster a culture of empowerment and autonomy

People typically perform best when they feel empowered to autonomously do their work, make decisions, and take on new responsibilities. Enabling employees to act as leaders in their own right creates organisations where people take pride in their work and feel responsible for helping the business succeed.

Recognise and reward people

Recognition and reward is a common-sense method for ensuring people know that their work is seen, appreciated, and valued. Reward and recognition can take many forms, including both private and public praise, monetary awards, gifts and perks, and so on.

Successfully navigate the complex challenges of leadership

Develop your understanding of leadership and management in today’s business environment with the 100% online MBA Finance or MBA Entrepreneurship from the Keele Business School at the Keele University.

One of the key modules on both of these flexible MBA programmes covers leadership in a complex world, which addresses the needs of executives in today’s dynamic environment and focuses on strategic leadership in the context of complexity and change. You will explore the origins and history of leadership thinking, and gain a fundamental understanding of contemporary leadership theory. 

You will also examine the pivotal role of the senior leader in the process of understanding and shaping organisational culture, and develop key leadership knowledge and skills, such as:

  • Identifying different types of leadership problems and the approaches to solving them.
  • Understanding and making sense of change.
  • Understanding of the leader’s role in power, politics, ethics, and diversity.
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