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DDI Launches The Frontline Leader Project

April 1, 2019

PITTSBURGH—From the workplace classic movie “Office Space” to the beloved TV series “The Office,” terrible managers are often the butt of jokes, bonding together co-workers in shared frustration. But what’s rarely discussed is how difficult it is to be a manager, and the deep anxiety many managers have about becoming a leader.

That’s why DDI has launched its Frontline Leader Project, an ongoing research endeavor focused entirely on the experience of frontline managers. With new findings published regularly, the project will be a forum for fresh research gleaned from DDI’s vast database of assessment and survey data specific to the challenges of frontline leaders.

“Frontline leaders are the backbone of every organization, yet are often typically given the least amount of attention and leadership training,” said Mark Busine, lead researcher of the project and vice president, product management at DDI. “This causes a lot of anxiety for leaders who feel unprepared for their roles, and paralyzes organizations from achieving critical business goals. It’s essential for companies to start paying more attention to this group of leaders, who are the closest to products and customers and play a crucial role in translating the organization’s business strategy into real results.”

Topics of research for the project will be related to areas such as how and when leaders are selected to become managers; skill gaps among frontline managers; emotional challenges of first-time leaders; and the perceptions of frontline managers by their employees, colleagues, and senior leaders.

“Becoming a leader marks a dramatic shift in your work life,” continued Busine. “It’s a huge change to go from being able to control your own success to depending on others to be successful, and leaders tell us that it causes them a lot of stress. So while employees often complain about their managers, the reality is that most managers don’t receive much support in this critical career transition, and are simply emulating what they’ve seen other managers do.”

In the initial phase of research, DDI drew on survey data from more than 9,700 frontline leaders around the world, as well as its database of more than 13,700 frontline manager assessments. The research was focused on looking at demographics of frontline leaders, their background and path to leadership, and their aptitude for leadership

Key findings include:

  • Women start getting pushed off the corporate ladder at the very first rung. DDI’s assessment data shows not only who gets leadership roles, but who is given the opportunity. The research showed that only 40% of individual contributors being considered for manager jobs were women, a number which declined precipitously at each higher level of leadership.
  • The average age when people first become a manager is 36. While most people enter leadership in their late twenties and early thirties, many people step into leadership later in life, including in their 50s and 60s.
  • People with degrees in the humanities have the strongest leadership skills. Frontline managers who demonstrated the strongest leadership skills tended to have degrees in the humanities, while leaders in more technological positions struggled much more with leadership skills.
  • MBAs don’t create better managers. Most people pursuing MBA degrees do so with the intention of climbing the corporate ladder in leadership roles. However, our assessments show that people with MBAs have only marginally better leadership skills than their counterparts with only undergraduate degrees.
  • Managers are left to sink or swim. On average, managers don’t get leadership training until four years after they’ve become a manager, leaving them to struggle through on their own in the first several years.

For more on the Frontline Leader Project, visit

About DDI

DDI is a global leadership consulting firm that helps organizations hire, promote and develop exceptional leaders. From first-time managers to C-suite executives, DDI is by leaders’ sides, supporting them in every critical moment of leadership. Built on five decades of research and experience in the science of leadership, DDI’s evidence-based assessment and development solutions enable millions of leaders around the world to succeed, propelling their organizations to new heights. For more information, visit