Modern Leadership Defined
When thinking about leadership, thoughts of leading groups of people, organizations and even nations emerge. Strong leadership is associated with success and survival. The media is preoccupied with defining and dissecting leadership in terms of strength, inspirational vision, shaping policy, direction and risk. Western corporations and small businesses consider it to be a forceful yet diplomatic influence exerted by an individual who possesses the power to identify and effect change while ensuring buy-in, collaboration, and unity among those who are more comfortable with the status quo. A truly effective leader is dependable and will consistently apply an observable set of skills and abilities uniquely adapted to maximize returns within the prevailing political and economic environment. The attributes of any leader are highly influenced by capability, experience, personal development, self-reflection, and values.

A Looming Leadership Gap
Leadership generally defined sounds simple enough, right? So what’s the problem? In today’s business environment, organizations are increasingly concerned that talent inventories overlook the need to develop a strategy for succession planning that includes the oft-misunderstood Millennial Generation. This concern is critical since the average tenure of some C-suite personnel is a mere six years. So, how do today’s leaders have adequate time to identify and prepare those who can follow the path of success while strengthening a healthy adaptive corporate culture? Leadership development in organizations like Proctor & Gamble, ExxonMobil and General Electric is taken very seriously. But for some companies, the need to create a sense of urgency for developing such a succession strategy is itself a critical task of leadership. Organizations often struggle with leadership challenges because they lack a strategic, comprehensive approach to building and sustaining leadership capacity. Sometimes capacity may be present but is lacking the core and necessary component of trust, which is critical to creative leadership.

Research suggests that organizations are facing a leadership gap. The size of the talent pool is decreasing due to the exodus of the Baby Boomers (those workers born between the years 1946 and 1964) from the workforce. Furthermore, current organizational practices and work cultures that prioritize cost saving efficiencies and restructuring over professional development are ignoring the need to instill confidence in the younger generation. The focus on short-term advantages versus long-term discernment for a leaner hierarchy will undoubtedly create further deficiencies in knowledgeable management. Such practices are leaving many organizations without a competitive pool of workers prepared and equipped to take on the challenge of senior leadership roles in tomorrow’s business environment.

Who will save us?
Today, more than one in three American workers are classified as Millennials—those workers born between 1980 and the mid-2000s—becoming the largest portion of the American workforce in 2015, according to the Pew Research Center via analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. Aged 19 to 35 in 2016, this generation will comprise 50% of the global workforce by 2020.

To argue that the sheer size of this generational cohort should alleviate concerns about filling the existing shortage is myopic at best. Notwithstanding, some suggest that the way workers define leadership often changes from generation to generation. Boomers have been known to gravitate toward leadership definitions that focus on roles and C-suite titles, whereas Millennials see leadership as more circumstantial. Modern examples would include companies such as Facebook. Nevertheless, most would agree that there are similarities in each cohort’s view of leadership as including collaboration, shared values and the need for a charismatic vision.

Is it too late?
Defining “too late” really depends upon a company’s competency and willingness to manage talent, engage in succession planning and provide unique approaches such as flexible work arrangements to encourage retirement. This need is where the value of reliable human resource professionals can truly shine. Collaboration and cooperation among C-suite executives is imperative. Companies should focus on unique opportunities for collaboration, shared values among generational cohorts, and the desire for charismatic vision rather than create individualized solutions to accommodate generational differences.
For businesses looking to address the gap, identifying high potential employees early on is critical to finding a solution. Leadership readiness is often centered on capability (i.e., one’s capacity to strategically plan, manage change, engage in knowledge sharing, listen attentively and possess a high level of emotional intelligence).

Providing developmental programs, anchored in company values, through shared experiences for early and mid-career employees aids in cultivating and sustaining a leadership pipeline. Engaging in practices such as intergenerational mentoring (pairing Boomers with Millennials) and unique approaches to retirement (i.e., delayed retirement or workplace flexibility for Boomers) not only supports the establishment of trust but has the potential to create unique synergies where everyone wins!

By Dr. Eric Richardson