Workplace Culture

How Do We Develop a New Generation?

By Staff Report

Feb. 11, 2014

Dear Our Future Is Our Past,

As the global economy improves, companies like yours are bracing for an exodus of boomer executives. To determine how best to develop future leaders, the first step is to ask you soon-to-be-leaving execs to pinpoint the organization’s deficiencies. Below are four main deficiencies uncovered through research with our clients.

Global preparation: Many leaders began their careers during the recession of the late 1980s/early 1990s — a time when organizations curtailed expatriate assignments and extensive international travel. Moreover, this cost-constraint mentality discouraged pan-organizational leadership initiatives in favor of “homegrown” leaders. As you seek to develop high-potential leaders, examine ways in which your organization could provide them with greater exposure to different cultures, different modalities of leadership and opportunities to lead diverse teams of people. Push them beyond their comfort zones by placing them in charge of globally dispersed teams. If possible, assemble teams of contributors from divergent backgrounds and cultural underpinnings. Giving new leaders this type of responsibility enables them to appreciate the value of a diverse workforce.

Collaboration: Leaders have always collaborated, although how they do so today is vastly different and rapidly changing from past practices. Since the late ’90s, collaboration has devolved to a state of electronic touch points. The practice of creating mission-focused teams in which participants try to persuade others to their point has waned. Tools for electronic communication now are the norm. Make sure your leaders understand that technology is a tool to foster collaboration, but stress that it should never replace coaching, performance support and engaging people to provide discretionary effort. Collaboration, at its core, involves people interacting one-on-one. Simulations, role playing, tabletop exercises and other interactive learning are some preferred methods to ensure your emerging leaders home in on collaboration.

Written communication: Executives have come to believe that well-presented PowerPoint decks form the bastion of sound communication. The more graphics presented, the more forceful the argument. But leaders can’t rely solely on graphics: The ability to write well cannot be overstated. Yet the art of writing has suffered — an irony when you consider how much information a manager must process in our digitally connected world. Companies often need leaders to help craft white papers, marketing reports and similar corporate documents that need to be written with economy, clarity and precision. Sound writing also persuades people, clearly conveys ideas and enables a leader to win credibility. Yet most organizations fail to even consider whether leaders are capable of creating a persuasive paragraph. Invest some training and time in making sure your up-and-coming leaders can capably present their ideas in written form.

Intellectual curiosity: Boomer CEOs tend to be voracious readers, primarily of political biographies. Two examples that reinforce the point: the broad acceptance of books by Doris Kearns Goodwin on Lincoln (“Team of Rivals”) and Roosevelt/Taft (“The Bully Pulpit”). Why is it important for your leaders to be intellectually curious? In our research interviewing hundreds of C-suite executives, we found that leaders are eager to learn how other influential people cope with adversity. It is difficult to “teach” a leader to be curious, although simulations and role playing again may yield meaningful insight on how well someone tackles an emerging crisis or approaches problem-solving.

SOURCE: Tom Casey, Discussion Partner Collaborative LLC, Burlington, Massachusetts, Feb. 5, 2014

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