May 25, 2019 | 04:30 AM

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15.01.2013If Your Kids Want To Be Leaders, How Will You Help Them?

I've been thinking a lot about the next generation of leaders lately.

Erika Andersen, Forbes.com

I’ve been thinking a lot about the next generation of leaders lately. I just read a post written a few months ago here on Forbes by Susan Adams, focusing on a global study done by the UK-based talent management company SHL.  Their research showed that the US ranks fifth world-wide in terms of effective current leaders as a percentage of the work force – but that the US drops to 8th place when it comes to the percentage of future leaders waiting in the wings, behind Mexico, Turkey, Egypt,  Switzerland, Brazil, India and Italy.

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It was disturbing, and it made me wonder why this is so.  In her article Adams quotes SHL’s chief science and analytics officer proposing that “U.S. companies had better put stronger leadership programs in place and possibly look abroad to recruit leaders in those sectors where leadership is weaker.”

Well, OK, but that sounds a little like bailing wire and chewing gum to me: do some more training – and if that doesn’t work, hire better young leaders from other countries?

Let’s look at underlying causes.  Why aren’t there more young leaders developing in the US?  How can we, as a nation, support and encourage their development?

Here’s what I think: 1) Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are cluttering up the leadership landscape and we’re not planning on going anywhere soon, and 2) we lack respect for our colleagues now in their 20s and 30s.

Both of these factors have a real dampening effect on younger leaders – but I think we can do something about them.

1) Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are cluttering up the leadership landscape and we’re not planning on going anywhere soon.  Fewer people now in their 50s and 60s are planning on a “normal” retirement than at any time in history.  Over the past fifteen years, the average age of retirement has ticked up 2 full years (a significant movement over such a relatively brief period), and it’s expected to continue moving up.  People at the end of their careers are more likely to be in leadership positions.  I suspect that when workers now in their 20s and 30s look around in their organization, it’s easy for them to get demoralized by what looks like the minimal opportunity for upward advancement.

What can we do?  I notice that companies that tend to have the most engaged, enthusiastic younger workers are those that find ways to give them more responsibility, autonomy and challenge within their current jobs. For example, one client company had a truly awful archiving system for their very valuable video assets.  The team of young people responsible for finding particular footage was continually frustrated, and turnover was high.  Finally, their boss encouraged the team to recommend improvements.  They took the assignment very seriously: they researched the problem, found an outside vendor, got clear about costs and timelines involved, and made the proposal to their manager.  She accepted their proposal with few modifications, and gave them the responsibility for implementing the system.  The team felt great about their accomplishment and developed important leadership skills at the same time; their day-to-day job experience improved and the company benefitted.

2) We lack respect for our colleagues now in their 20s and 30s.  It really makes me angry when I hear somebody my age say, “kids today just don’t have any respect” or “millenials want everything handed to them on a platter” or “young people have no work ethic.”  Why is it any more OK to say these kinds of sweepingly prejudicial things about young people than about – say – women, or African-Americans?  It’s not.  And it’s simply not my experience.  My son and his two business partners (all under 30) are working their butts off getting their cafe in Brooklyn off the ground.  My older daughter is working her butt off raising her two-year-old, working part-time and finishing graduate school.  My younger daughter is – you guessed it – working her butt off going to medical school and also working part-time. Most of their friends, as far as I can tell, are smart, savvy, motivated people who have a lot of respect for people who deserve their respect. They all hav good BS detectors, though, and certainly don’t believe everything older people tell them – but I consider that a strength, rather than a character flaw.

What can we do?  In a sentence: change our assumptions. If we question our limiting, negative, stereotypical assumptions about our Gen Y colleagues, and open ourselves up to seeing who they might actually be — then they’ll have the chance to show us what they’re capable of, and how they’ll be able to lead us into the coming decades.

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