I was visiting with a senior leader of a large company the other day and I asked him, “what is one of the biggest challenges facing the organization over the next three to five years?” Without hesitation he said that there were five or six key people who would be retiring from the organization and they didn’t know where their replacements would come from. I asked if they had folks on those teams who could assume the mantle and he said sure, eventually, but they aren’t ready yet.
They aren’t ready yet? I had the image of the red button implanted in the chest of the Holiday turkey that would magically pop out when they were ready. I wasn’t really surprised to hear there was a brain drain in their business, as I hear this frequently from other companies and from all different industries. The trouble is that I don’t hear much about strategies to solve this growing problem. I had to ask myself, so what were they doing to prepare the next generation of leaders? What skills were necessary for them to learn or acquire? What the older worker with graying hair and a small tolerance for BS lacks in social media skills, technological savvy, or the coolest new phone, they make up for in judgement, skilled decision making, emotional intelligence and perspective. That is hard to teach and is mostly the result of years of experience. However, there are a number of other skills and talents that are also important and can be developed over time.
Encourage them to be leaders
This begins with them being better leaders of themselves. In order to lead others, they must first have a solid foundation of their own values, and have a sense of balance in their lives. Through good coaching they can learn the skills necessary to evaluate priorities to be effective in both their professional and personal lives. Those same skills and values apply to being a good leader of others. Patience and empathy go a long way with other team members, and a strong sense of purpose provides the confidence that others choose to follow.
Don’t stifle innovation
Even though it may be something you have already heard before, let them express their outlooks - just remember to ask good questions. You never know what might come of it. A lot has changed in the past few years and those silly ideas from a few years ago just might have some validity in today’s environment. Remember, most of your now senior leaders were once young and enthusiastic too, and they were willing to try new things. If your expectation is that they will look and act like your current leaders, you might be disappointed and you may miss out when they move on to a new organization where they feel their ideas can take root. So, embrace them for who they are. They are smart, enthusiastic, and willing to work harder than you might give them credit for.
Relate up and relate down
What do I mean? Well, there are numerous stakeholders in any organization that either fall above or below an individual on the organizational chart. Learning to communicate effectively improves one’s effectiveness when communicating the ideas, strategies, and actions necessary to achieving the firm’s goals. Although we begin learning to relate to people from the day we are born, some are just more skilled than others at doing so. The good news is that good communication can be an acquired skill. That means stepping away from the keyboard and getting face to face. Effective communication is more than the simple exchange of information; it encompasses all of the verbal and non-verbal clues that relay the message in a way that is understood in the proper context. Unfortunately for email, all of the emotion, intent, and perspective is in the mind of the reader no matter how many emoji’s you use. Encourage your people to interact face to face as much as possible – it will save time and improve the culture.
Create a pipeline for new talent
Create an environment where individuals are able to grow and develop. If this is supported by the company, both philosophically, as well as, financially, you will have an organization that will attract and retain the best and brightest talent. Think about it. There are essentially three types of cultures in the workplace. One where “The beatings will continue until morale improves!” Sad, but we all know examples of or have personally worked in this environment. Another where “all is good.” Not a lot of stress or strife here. Just an everyday go about your job and go home with the normal gripes and complaints. And lastly, an exciting, innovative “Everybody on board. We are going to do great things” environment. Where would you rather work? I am not suggesting that you have to become like Google with all of its "Googliness" but rather, an environment where achievement is rewarded and where individuals are taught, trained, and coached to be achievers.
Invest in them
By investing in their development you show that you are committed to them and that helps to breed loyalty. The business environment today is more frenetic and complex than in years past and will most likely continue to be that way into the foreseeable future. Hiring a professional business coach can help them breakthrough from where they are presently, and find new motivation. A coach will help identify their strengths and weaknesses, challenge them to try new things and become better at setting and achieving goals. They will gain greater confidence that will help them and your organization achieve greater success.
Leaders are made, not born, and with the right environment, proper guidance, and a positive culture, you will move closer to solving the brain-drain problem facing your organization now and for years to come.