Leadership Paradigm: Will They Stay or Will They Go?

by Don Moore

There are two audiences for this article. One audience is made up of employers in companies large and small, from regional banks to manufacturing companies, from accounting firms to financial management companies, from small volunteer-based nonprofits to those with hundreds of staff. The second audience is the incredibly talented future leaders who work in those same companies.

A dilemma that is felt by both groups is best illustrated by discussions I had a few years ago with four young adults in their early 30s. All had great jobs in great companies. All tracked well, with regular promotions. However, while one was absolutely committed to his company, the others were considering leaving their current employer within the next year or so. For all of these “up and comers,” their choice of future employment wasn’t about the money. All were very well compensated and all expected that they would be well compensated in their next job, whether at their existing company or a new one.

For all, their employment decisions were instead a function of the leadership and development opportunities that they were (or weren’t) getting. Many in this group felt that they were promoted into their current jobs with little preparation, training and guidance once they were there. They felt that they were doing the best they could but knew that training would make them better. Often, they felt that their superiors were in the same situation: promoted without a clue about how to lead and manage.

Overall, I have never seen a more populous group of talented future leaders than today’s 20 to 40-year-olds. They are not only capable, talented and highly motivated, they know that they are capable, talented and motivated. They are achievers who want to contribute. At a time when it would seem that young adults would be happy to have a good paying job and want to be conservative about change, this group is actively seeking the right work environment, one where they will be challenged and developed. They are a tough gang to hang onto if owners and executives don’t challenge them.

Hundreds of books have been written on the subject of creating good leadership programs and how to develop oneself as a leader. I am not going to lapse into repeating the lessons here. Instead, I have a couple simple question for both groups. First, if you are in the “employer group,” what is your plan for the high performing individuals in your company? How much are you investing in development and coaching? Are the people in charge of developing the up-and-comers up to the task? It doesn’t take long for an “A” player to get discouraged working for a “B” manager. Remember, people join companies and quit bosses.

For those of you who are in the up-and-coming generation, I have questions for you, too. “What are you doing for yourself?” If your company does not provide it, the next employer may not necessarily do so either. And, a company has to focus on those skills that it can put to use. You may want development that doesn’t necessarily benefit your employer today. Because the first person to benefit is you, take responsibility. It will take more time, more sacrifice, more juggling of family and personal time, but if you want to excel, that is what it takes. Make a reading list and use it. Join a peer group or an effective professional group (a lot aren’t effective, just social). Get on a couple boards of a nonprofit organization. Find a few high-performers like yourself (regardless of the field they are in) and get together monthly to talk business, frustrations, opportunity and to help each other.

In closing, I would observe that Erie is an interesting microcosm of the larger world. It is small enough to know the people and the businesses. It is easy to see different management styles and philosophies. It is easy to see where the best talent tends to gravitate, given the chance. If you are an employer, you want your company to be one of those places. It takes a lot of work and investment and it is never perfect, or even “good enough”…you have to keep raising the bar. For those of you in the rising generation of leaders, those who believe you have a lot to contribute, remember: While you should expect a great deal from an employer, don’t forget that your future starts with you. How could you leave it to anyone else?

For more information, contact Don at DonMoore@DecisionAssociates.net.