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The Missing Generation of Leaders May 15, 2012

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, strategy.
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For the past twenty years or so my wife has been very active in a nationwide philanthropic organization that is literally dying out. The core leadership at both the national and the local level was dominated by people who had been with the organization for many years but were becoming less-active due to age and declining health. Some of these leaders were aware of the growing problem and encouraged younger volunteers to take on more responsibility, however many of these younger people were frustrated by resistance when they tried to introduce new ideas for communication and fund-raising that were more appropriate for their generation. Membership started to decline, and while there were still donors who were willing to write a check, there were fewer and fewer people willing to host events, lead local chapters, and help the organization compete for charitable giving.

There are some elements of this story that are unique to volunteer non-profit organizations, however the vitality and even the existence of some businesses can also be threatened by a failure to identify and develop the next generation of leaders. The ideas of new hires and younger employees may sound ridiculous to more seasoned leaders, but it’s important to recognize their outspokenness as a desire to contribute to the business’s success, and to channel that energy into opportunities to learn and develop.

Of course this is easier when the emerging leaders agree with the current business strategy and are willing to maintain the same course. You just have to hand over the reins and supervise. It’s a lot harder to give ideas a chance when they’re radical and disruptive, yet that’s exactly the kind of new thinking that companies should be encouraging. From Bob Dylan: “Your old road is rapidly agin’. Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand. For the times they are a-changin’.”

Resistance can also come from a fear that the new leaders will take your job, or go elsewhere to exercise their newfound skills. As to the first point, the next generation will surely replace the current one, it’s only a question of when and how. I’d rather be part of that process than apart from it. No job is meant to last forever, and if you start thinking about protecting your job then your value to the organization is declining. Some new leaders will leave the company, but people inevitably leave for a variety of reasons, and all of the new leaders will defintely leave if they don’t see a future for themselves.

Leadership development may include informal mentoring, job shadowing, pilot programs, skill-building classes, and degree or certificate programs sponsored by the company. Regardless, an investment in developing future leaders is as strategic and important as an investment in developing products, markets or suppliers. Those who actively participate in helping new leaders are valued employees who understand their role in helping the business continue and grow.

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Comments»

1. Technicaly Speaking, Lead With Your Right - May 26, 2012

I believe the issue is not just generational but is also an indication of what we look for in our talent pool. We choose from those who may have shown themselves capable in non leadership or technical roles, and then, because we pride ourselves on promoting from within, we can choose people who are not equipped to be leaders because the only thing they have ever learned about change is how to follow it, and not how to lead and implement change.

2. Sohail - May 29, 2012

Very valuable points raised…


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