One of the most important responsibilities of a CEO is ensuring that the next generation of leaders is prepared to take over the reins of their company, albeit in their way and with a fresh perspective. To make certain that the future of the company they founded or influenced is in good hands, leaders must look beyond their short-term goals and commit to inspiring and trusting the next generation of managers to step up to the plate and lead with their vision for the future.
We’re in this Together
Leadership roles come in many capacities. You don’t need to manage people to be a leader. Whether you are a CEO, a manager or an individual contributor, you have both the ability and the responsibility to inspire those who follow you to become better leaders. The best way to prepare the next generation to lead is to provide them with relevant training and opportunities to take on projects outside the scope of their current roles. By grooming employees for future career steps, organizations decrease their chances of losing them to the competition, an investment that will pay off in the future.
Perspectives Differ Between Generations Due to Diversity of Life Experiences
“The new generation who is joining the job market for the first time is very different from the baby boomers or even the millennials. They care more about having a sense of purpose and having a positive impact on society and the environment,” says Wanda Ait Hamza, Head of the Global Shapers Community, World Economic Forum.
Each generation is shaped by the events they live through and this produces different perspectives and points of view. The current generation grew up post 9/11, had access to the internet in elementary school and, early in their careers, a global pandemic made working from home not only a possibility but an expectation.
Their experiences make their perspectives different from those who came before them and, consequently, they will approach their careers with a different set of values, motivations and expectations. The best way to ensure they will one day be ready to drive the organization’s future success is to acknowledge the value this generation of leaders brings and validate their perspectives and expectations. We can all learn from those with different experiences and perspectives. It’s important to understand that the chair a team member sits in will impact their viewpoint. Sometimes someone sitting close to a problem can’t see the way out while a team member with a fresh perspective can easily envision a solution. How can leaders make the most of the perspectives that various generations bring?
- Establish an inclusive culture, ensuring that all team members, regardless of background or level, feel included and confident that their perspectives and contributions matter.
- Every month I hold a virtual CEO roundtable discussion and invite the employees who are celebrating their birthday that month. This gives me the chance to meet with a different cross-functional group of employees each month and get to know them better on a personal level. The conversations are always inspiring, and everyone seems to value the opportunity to share their experiences and diverse perspectives with colleagues. One recent participant surprised the group by sharing that he is a beekeeper. As I reflected on his fascinating stories, I felt grateful for the opportunity the roundtables afford me to learn more about my employees’ passions and perspectives. Beekeeping – who would have guessed?
- Allow upcoming team members to share their interests with others. If they have a passion for protecting the environment, a special hobby or an unusual skill, give them the opportunity to demonstrate it to the team. Sharing something they care about will give them confidence, a sense of purpose and an opportunity to develop leadership and communication skills.
- We regularly invite team members to educate our team about non-business-related topics they have an interest and expertise in. Their presentations have ranged from balcony gardening to tips for healthy eating to the “how to” basics of acupuncture. These presentations always make an impression on the team because learning something new about our colleagues, such as what they are passionate about, helps us see a different side of them and gain a better understanding of their perspective.
- Challenge each team member to provide suggestions for improvements they can make to benefit clients, customers or fellow employees. If a client has a technical problem, give a junior team member with technical skills the chance to take the first pass at solving the problem for the client. This demonstrates your trust in them and allows them to shine in front of a client.
Paying it Forward
We all have a responsibility to pay it forward by ensuring the next generation is prepared for new challenges. According to a well-known adage, if you give somebody a fish, they will have one good meal, but if you teach them how to fish, they will be enabled to make an infinite number of future meals for themselves. Managers often believe that they can get projects done better or faster if they do the work themselves than if they teach others to do it. This is short-term thinking and those who engage in it take opportunities away from future leaders who could have learned valuable lessons.
Whenever possible, provide the next generation of leaders with opportunities to lead. Identify their skillsets and provide opportunities for them to excel. If they have good presentation skills, allow them to present to clients. If they have good analytical skills, ask them to explain and defend their analysis to the team. This will improve their visibility to others and demonstrate your trust in them. While the impact of teaching someone to “fish” isn’t always immediately apparent, the result is usually a win-win for the learner and the teacher.
Our Debt to Future Generations
The entire team owns a piece of the organization they work for and it is incumbent upon leaders at all levels, and in any role, to make sure that their fellow team members have their support and the resources they need to do their jobs. By embracing change and acknowledging the diversity of experiences, leaders enable future generations to be prepared for eventualities that can’t be predicted today. Organizations that recognize the responsibility to develop the next generation will have an easier time attracting and keeping talented people. Inevitably, some team members will leave our organizations and it’s our duty to send them out to society well prepared. Cultivating personal and professional development in others is crucial for ensuring the future success of your organization. When you can view your career in the rearview mirror with the confidence gained from having trained your colleagues to take over for you and to develop future generations, you will have achieved this goal and succeeded as a leader.