Developing the Next Generation of Leaders


There are two critical trends in the global workforce: the great generational shift and the rising global youth tide (the second wave Millennials). On a micro level, businesses can focus on three key strategies:

1) staffing and succession planning at every level
2) high-potential identification, retention, and development
3) training and support for newly promoted leaders.

The Great Generational Shift in the Global Workforce

There is a “Great Generational Shift” underway in the workforce today. This is the post-Baby Boomer shift that demographers and workforce planners have been anticipating for decades. It is not only a shift in the numbers, but also a critical turning point in the norms and values of the workforce.

On the older end of the generational spectrum, the workforce is aging, just as the overall population is aging. At the same time, the fastest growing segment of the workforce is made up of those born in 1990 or later, so there is a growing youth bubble on the younger end of the spectrum. The youth bubble is growing even faster in “younger population” regions of the world. But even in “older” North America, Europe and Japan, the youth bubble in the workforce is rising much faster than in recent years because employers are once again hiring new young workers after several years of formal and informal hiring freezes resulting from the economic crisis.

The Rising Global Youth-Tide (the Second-Wave Millennials)

By 2023, those born in 1990 and later will make up more than 60% of the workforce. Considering the increasing globalization of the workforce, one important feature of the growing youth bubble is that it will be increasingly global, with a much greater percentage of the new young global workforce coming from outside of North America, Europe and Japan. The rising global youth tide will bring to the workplace radically different norms, values, attitudes, expectations and behaviour.

Millennials have been insulated, and scheduled, supported and accommodated to a degree that no children ever have been before. Younger workers think, learn and communicate differently than previous generations and also typically require more regular guidance, direction, support and coaching. Millennials are also the most likely to make specific requests regarding work conditions, including the assignment of tasks, resource planning, problem solving, training, scheduling, work location, work space, dispute resolution, guidance, coaching, recognition, promotions, raises, benefits and other rewards.

Organisations with significant “youth bubbles” will also face the retention challenge we call “the development investment paradox.” The paradox is that employers must invest in developing their new young employees, but the more an employer invests, the more negotiating power the new young employee has in the increasingly short-term and transactional labour market.

With the employer’s development investment in hand, the young employee becomes more valuable and can leverage the employer’s development investment by selling it to another employer or by negotiating for increased rewards. This gives today’s most valuable young employees more negotiating power in the employment relationship at an earlier stage in employment.

Staffing and Succession Planning at Every Level

As the youth tide rises, employers will have fewer long-term traditional employees. There will be many more people who flow in and out of organizations—in highly variable roles and arrangements. HR leaders must find ways to maintain core groups of key talent and develop critical longer-term stakeholders. But these core groups will very likely get smaller and smaller.

As the aging Baby Boomers exit the workforce, they will take with them a great deal of skill, knowledge, wisdom, institutional memory, relationships and the last vestiges of the old-fashioned work ethic. Organizations with significant “age bubbles” in their employee demographics will be facing these losses and cascading consequences as their aging workers leave the workforce. This will require dedicating substantial resources to support knowledge transfer and what we call “wisdom transfer,” as well as flexible retention, succession planning and leadership development.

This means HR leaders must engage managers at every level in meaningful “three-dimensional” successional planning. This means cultivating bench-strength at every level, identifying high-potentials at every level and actively retaining those high-potentials so they may be developed for new leadership roles.

High-Potential Identification, Retention and Development

Who will stick around long enough to grow into your next generation of leaders? Don’t look for those Millennials who are comfortable slapping people down. Don’t look for those who love the power. Don’t look for the biggest egos or the loudest, most confident voices. Don’t be lured by charisma, passion, enthusiasm and energy. Very few people are endowed with that special brand of charisma, passion, infectious enthusiasm and contagious energy that inspires and motivates people. No organization can afford to wait for those rare natural leaders to come along and fill each supervisory role, especially if these individuals also need to have good technical skills and a proven commitment to their work and career.

Focus first and foremost on those with real technical talent, those who are really good at their jobs. That commitment to excellence is the first essential piece when it comes to identifying new prospects for leadership roles. But it is not enough. Look for those Millennials who gravitate to responsibility and service, those who spend the most time patiently teaching, those who want to lift people up and make them better.

Once you identify them, you need to concentrate on retaining and developing them. Whatever you are doing to be flexible and generous to retain your good employees, you need to be much more flexible and generous to keep your next generation of leaders.

When it comes to developing high-potential Millennials, remember this rule: The better they are, the more attention they want. The superstar Millennials want strong, highly engaged managers who know exactly who they are, help them succeed and keep close track of their success. HR leaders need to make concerted efforts to surround the young superstars with teaching-style managers, advisers, organizational supporters and maybe even mentors.

Training and Support for Newly Promoted Leaders

The next generation of leaders will be under ever-increasing pressure from senior executives to get more work and better work out of fewer employees while using fewer resources. Even while managers juggle their own tasks and responsibilities, managerial spans of control (the number of employees officially reporting to each manager) are still increasing and most managers also have a steadily growing burden of administrative duties. It seems to most managers that they have less time than ever to devote to people management, even as workers of all ages need more regular guidance, direction, support and coaching in this high-pressure workplace.

To be effective in today’s environment, managers must be highly engaged and strong. Highly engaged means conducting ongoing structured communication to provide every worker with that needed guidance, support and coaching. Strong means finding ways to do more for workers when they really earn it. That means doing more for some workers and less for others, based on their performance. That means holding people strictly accountable on a daily basis: setting expectations clearly, providing candid feedback, correcting problems, rewarding good work and especially rewarding discretionary effort.

When you ask a young star to step up and make the transition to a leadership role—at any level—you owe it to this new leader and his or her team to make sure that the leader is fully prepared to take on additional responsibilities and authority.

About Scala Leadership

Scala Leadership enable’s businesses to execute their Go-To-Market strategies across Sales, Marketing, Product and Digital. We do this by sourcing exceptional senior leaders, building high-performing global teams and mapping the competitive landscape. With 20 years’ experience, an extensive knowledge of global markets and access to wide-reaching networks of technology leaders, we are the global experts in sourcing for, and transforming go-to-market strategies.

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