By Phil Harwood, CSP
It’s a fact: the U.S. and Canadian populations are aging. Baby Boomers are retiring. The next few decades will see a massive transfer of leadership, business ownership and wealth to a new generation. This transfer is inevitable. In fact, some of you are in the midst of it today. Regardless, there is a real sense of urgency to prepare future leaders. It’s important to take some steps today to better prepare the next generation of leadership.
Involve them in decision-making
Involve your future leaders in decision-making instead of continuing to make decisions without them, which is still the norm in many organizations. This is a fairly simple action to take without much risk.
By inviting your future leaders into the room during planning sessions, strategy meetings and important discussions, you will open their eyes to the difficult trade-offs and limitations often involved in making tough decisions. They will gain a new appreciation for how tricky it is to get it right, and they will see more clearly that sometimes the right decision will not be popular with the rank and file.
Where possible, cede control over certain aspects of the organization to your future leaders to give them a chance to develop expertise in a leadership role. Give them room to make their own decisions, make mistakes and learn to live with the consequences of their decisions. Be prepared to go all in with this. Giving someone additional responsibility without autonomous authority will only lead to frustration.
By decentralizing decision-making, up-and-coming leaders have the opportunity to learn how to evaluate different situations, gain support for their ideas and learn how to champion decisions that are made as they are rolled out throughout the organization. They are able to do so under the guidance and tutelage of more experienced senior leaders. If they are not afforded these opportunities today, they will be unprepared to confidently step into a higher-level, decision-making role in the future.
Empower your future leaders to take control of their professional development. Give them a budget and clarify your expectations so that they focus on the areas that need the most attention. Then step back and let them direct their path forward. They may benefit from your input and wisdom but give them the authority to make decisions regarding their development. I’ve witnessed too many future leaders hamstrung by the shortsightedness or frugality of senior leaders.
By empowering your future leaders to take control of their own development, you are sending some wonderful messages. First, you are communicating your support by providing funding and time to make this a priority. Second, you are confirming that you see these individuals as future leaders. High-performance junior leaders need to receive this vote of confidence, since it secures their futures in the organization. Third, you are giving them some breathing room to figure it out, which gives them a major boost of confidence and motivation.
Ask your future leaders what they need from senior leaders to be empowered. You may be surprised by what you learn. Keep in mind that to receive honest, unfiltered feedback you will need to adequately set the stage for this discussion. Communicate your sincere desire and commitment to this endeavor. Help them understand how vital it is for the sake of their futures and for the organization’s future.
Now is the time to begin to empower future leaders. By taking these action steps, you will be on your way to making this a reality in your organization.
Phil Harwood, CSP, is a managing partner of Pro-Motion Consulting and a member of the Snow Business Editorial Advisory Committee. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.