Reason #6 Without a proactive approach, those who need it most don’t get the support they need

This article is the seventh in a series on why leaders fail to develop Next Gen Leaders. You can read the previous articles here: 1st article2nd article3rd article, 4th article, 5th article and 6th article.

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Those from diverse backgrounds often need particular types of navigational support to advance their careers but are less likely to get what they need. For example, next gen women are often over-mentored and under-sponsored relative to their male peers. But more mentoring, while it supports career satisfaction, on its own does not lead to career advancement. Also, those from diverse backgrounds are more likely to be supported by others from similar backgrounds rather than being given broad exposure to a range of senior leaders.

 If organisations are serious about developing next gen leaders, they need to embrace two basic assumptions: one size does not fit all and all high potential next gen leaders regardless of their background or experience need access to the same level of support – both in terms of who it comes from and how much they get. While these assumptions may sound self-evident putting them into practice is less straightforward.

One of the challenges organisations face is that women, in particular, tend to gravitate to mentors with whom they believe share their values. This means that women can take themselves out of the mix in terms of seeking support from senior leaders, often men, who may be the most influential.

 Deliberately exposing next gen leaders to a range of way-pavers enables them to gain insight into a range of leadership styles. The added bonus is that both senior leaders and next gen leaders learn to appreciate the value of a diversity of thinking styles and approaches. In short, showcasing the best of diversity and inclusion in action. And next gen leaders get an up-close view of the political savvy required to thrive at a senior level.

To address the potential downside of this for next gen leaders those who may not be as initially robust, careful and deliberate matching of senior leaders with next gen leaders is critical for the relationships to deliver. And simply having a mechanism for re-matching if next gen leaders are not comfortable with the person they are paired with is not always a good outcome, as simply by choosing to opt out they invariably send a clear message to both their mentor/sponsor and others at senior leader level which infers information about both the next gen leader and the senior leader who was seeking to support them.

Matching is part metrics, it is also part magic for, as in any effective developmental relationship, chemistry plays a key part. Getting this right from the get-go requires both parties to go into the relationship already understanding themselves, their roles and what they need and have to offer, as well as the beliefs and behaviours that will potentially get in their way.

So … what does your organisation proactively do to ensure that those from diverse background can access the type of navigational support they most need to advance their careers?

#diversityandinclusion #mentoring #waypaving

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Reason #5 Mentoring and Sponsorship Are Seen As Mutually Exclusive

This article is the sixth in a series on why leaders fail to develop Next Gen Leaders. You can read the previous articles here: 1st article2nd article, 3rd article, 4th article and 5th article.

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Historically an arbitrary distinction has been made between mentoring and sponsorship, rather than seeing them both as part of a suite of tools leaders use to develop next gen leaders. Equally, any leader committed to developing next gen leaders will not wish to restrict themselves to one or other approach but know when it is appropriate to use these and a range of other interventions.

Quite apart from the range of development opportunities available, the suite of tools for developing others in organisations runs the gamut from teaching to coaching to mentoring and sponsorship and all things in between. By way of definition, teaching has been defined as: the process of attending to people’s needs, experiences and feelings, and intervening so that they learn particular things, and go beyond the given. My favourite definition of coaching comes from Myles Downey who said: coaching is the art of facilitating the performance, learning and development of another. As I wrote in a previous article a mentor gives advice, supports you in your current role, helps you navigate organisational politics and prepares you for your next role. A sponsor advocates on your behalf, recommends you for important assignments and promotions and helps you build relationships with people likely to be important to your career. You can see how all these definitions begin to blend, largely because they share exactly the same focus – developing others. Sadly it is this last skill that is least frequently taught and yet arguably the most significant when it comes to advancing next gen leaders careers.

 Yet many organisations have become purist about the approach instead of enabling those in the development conversations to determine which approach is needed at different times. Applying any one of these tools in every situation is unhelpful and more importantly, will have a negative response from those who are the focus of development. Frequently I hear a next gen leader lament that their manager keeps asking them questions when all they really need right now is someone to tell them what they need to do.

Knowing which approach to apply takes both insight and skill. And while it is true that we can’t be all things to all people, we can be more helpful than we probably think, simply by having the skill and wisdom to know which approach to use, with whom, when. Teaching leaders these skill sets e.g. coaching or mentoring in isolation while providing a strong platform, does not equip them with the aptitude needed to know when to use them. Rather what senior leaders require is to explore real-time examples of applying the different approaches and observing the responses they get. Moreover, in sharing the different approaches with next gen leaders, they can let those they are seeking to develop articulate what support they think they need at different times.

 It is for this reason that I have called the programme I lead for senior leaders and next generation leaders Way-Paving – as that is what I believe senior leaders do – they pave the way for the next generation of leaders by using any and all (helpful) means necessary, in turn becoming way-pavers.

 So … how compartmentalised are the skill sets your organisation teaches senior leaders to enable them to best support the development of next gen leaders?

#diversityandinclusion #mentoring #waypaving

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Reason #4 Despite Positive Intent, Leaders Don’t Have Time

This article is the fifth in a series on why leaders fail to develop Next Gen Leaders. You can read the previous articles here: 1st article2nd article, 3rd article and 4th article.

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The most limited and precious resources for senior leaders are their time and focus. Given the sheer volume of data and decisions requiring their attention, even the most people-focused leaders are hard-pushed to make time for development conversations with their direct reports let alone potential next generation leaders, not in their immediate line of sight.

While most senior leaders acknowledge the importance of developing next gen leaders, few invest the time needed to do it effectively. This is partly because they’re busy, but also because it’s hard to see any immediate benefit from their investment of time and focus when they already have so much else to do. The well-known urgency versus important matrix puts developing next gen leaders firmly in the quadrant of important but not urgent.

In order to bump it up the priority list, several things need to happen. First, leaders need to be able to see a clear and transparent return on their investment. This means any support they give cannot be offered haphazardly. It needs to be embedded in and working alongside broader leadership, talent and succession strategies and initiatives. Careful thought needs to go into the criteria by which next gen leaders are selected, the kind of support they require, and who is best placed to give it to them. And the learning and advancement of next gen leaders need to be tracked, so senior leaders can see the return on investment for their time and focus.

Second, the structure of the interactions needs to make the best possible use of the leader’s time. One of the key options here is to match a single senior leader with a small group of next gen leaders. This offers an opportunity for next gen leaders to learn from each other as well as the senior leader. It also enables the senior leader to gain insights into what is happening in several parts of the organisation simultaneously.

Third, senior leaders need to be schooled in WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) and approach sessions not only from what they can offer but what they can learn. Arguably being exposed to fresh and diverse thinking about what is going on in an organisation, better equips senior leaders to solve the myriad of problems they face. It also provides insights into what employees are thinking at levels much deeper in the organisation than they would typically be exposed to on a regular basis.

Fourth, while many organisations say they value leaders who develop their people – few reflect this in KPIs, or remuneration or even in recognising their efforts in reward programmes. In this context getting leaders to invest their time in developing next gen leaders becomes an even harder sell despite CEOs recognising that developing future leaders as their most significant challenge. The investment leaders put into developing next gen leaders needs to be deliberately recognised and rewarded – publicly and privately.

Before introducing any programme, organisations must address these issues.

So … How prepared is your organisation to support senior leaders in investing their time and focus in developing next gen leaders?

#diversityandinclusion #mentoring #waypaving

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Your opinion needed: What derails mid-career men?

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In this brave new world of diversity and inclusion and #metoo, many men feel unsure, left out or left behind. Most are too afraid to say so, and those that do are often labelled as sexist or worse. My belief is that to build truly inclusive workplaces we need to work with both women and men to help each identify both their gifts and also the ways in which they get in their own way.

Mid-career is a crucial time for both men and women. The choices we make and the behaviours we exhibit can make a significant difference to our careers. Whilst a lot has been written about the behaviours women exhibit that hold them back, less has been written about what men do. Even less about the mid-career experiences of men in New Zealand and Australia.

I’d like to get input from both mid-career men and those that manage and work with them, to identify the key behaviours that can limit mid-career men, particularly in Australasia.

I’d appreciate it if you’d take the time to complete this short questionnaire. You can help further by also sharing this post with those in your network in order to build a meaningful body of data. I’ll share the results here when they’re available.

The survey will be open for three weeks until Wednesday, 19 September 2018. It’s short, anonymous and provides space for additional comments.

Complete the survey here.

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Reason #3 Like With Like is Not Enough to Develop Next Gen Talent

This article is the fourth in a series on why leaders fail to develop Next Gen Leaders. You can read the previous articles here: 1st article, 2nd article and 3rd article.

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Like it or not, in most of our organisations the majority of senior leaders are men of a certain age and background. While we can argue the toss about the forces that created this situation, the reality is, this is what it is (and personally I don’t think making the men in these positions feel wrong or guilty for being there serves any useful purpose). Given the imperative for more diverse organisations and leadership, it’s also not going to continue.

Yet one of the abiding myths is that senior women and leaders from under-represented backgrounds should mentor and sponsor leaders like themselves. For example, senior women are tacitly expected to support the next generation of women leaders. While this is a worthy and admirable expectation, in doing so we are assuming all women lead in similar ways and that women’s development is not better or at least differently served by being exposed to a range of styles including senior men.

It also puts enormous pressure on senior women leaders who are mindful the spotlight is on them and those they are sponsoring, and that their judgement as leaders is at stake should those they chose to champion not live up to expectations. Nor does it allow for the possibility that high potential men have much to learn from being exposed to a range of leadership philosophies, experiences and styles, among them women and others from diverse backgrounds.

Add to this the fact that women and others normally underrepresented at senior levels are expected to carry the lion’s share of mentoring and sponsorship for emerging leaders of similar backgrounds.

This is exacerbated further by the fact that male leaders are increasingly reluctant to mentor women for fear of how this may be perceived. According to MentorHer an initiative from the Lean-In organisation, women are 24% less likely than men to get advice from senior leaders. And 62% of women of colour say the lack of an influential sponsor holds them back. What’s more according to a 2018 survey, senior men are 3.5 times more likely to hesitate to have a work dinner with a junior-level woman than with a junior-level man—and 5 times more likely to hesitate to travel for work with a junior-level woman.

This hesitation is understandable given the #metoo movement and the heightened awareness of what can happen in working relationships with a significant power differential. Nevertheless, we have to be able to have the conversations with senior men and would-be mentor/sponsors, to explore their concerns in relation to feeling safe in this kind of relationship and what safeguards need to be put in place for both parties to feel comfortable and able to contribute fully.

So what impact has the #metoo movement had on your willingness to mentor or sponsor those different from you?

#diversityandinclusion #mentoring #waypaving

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Reason #2 Leaders Fail to Develop Next Gen Leaders

This article is the third in a series on why leaders fail to develop Next Gen Leaders. You can read the previous articles here: 1st article and 2nd article.

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Reason #2. Skill is assumed

In addition to many leaders’ thinking, they are already better at developing future leaders than they are, proficiency is assumed. Historically we assumed that leaders should just pick up “soft skills” through trial and error. Similarly, with coaching skills. While organisations now realise these skills need to be taught, this is not yet the case for the suite of skills required to develop future leaders: mentoring and sponsorship.

The word ‘mentor’ in English comes from a reference to the character of Mentor in Homer’s Odyssey (ironically Mentor was also impersonated by a woman). It has come to mean someone who imparts wisdom to and shares knowledge with a less-experienced colleague. The word sponsor means to favour or support. In organisations skill in mentorship and sponsorship are assumed because we figure it can’t be that hard to share one’s knowledge or support or advocate on behalf of another.

But as anyone who has had the privilege of an accomplished mentor or strategic sponsor knows, true skill in these roles garners completely different outcomes from those who are not. A skilled mentor helps you see yourself and what you are capable of and draws forth the confidence and resolve to act. They don’t simply unload on you about themselves and their career.

A skilled sponsor will be thoughtful about whom they talk to on your behalf and the opportunities they go into bat for you about. What’s more, their influence will determine that the kind of experiences and roles you get are in line with your aspirations, not just their assumptions about what’s good for you or opportune. They can only do this when they take the time to understand where it is you want to go and how and where you will add the greatest value to the organisation.

Skilled development of others requires a suite of tools from listening and insight, to challenging and guiding, to contextualising and offering development feedback, to structuring developmental experiences and advocating appropriately in line with future leaders’ aspirations.

If we are serious about developing the next generation of leaders, then we have to get over the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ conundrum and assuming that mentoring and sponsorship skills are picked up by osmosis and that our senior leaders have them by default. We need to start talking openly in our organisations about what it means to effectively mentor and sponsor upcoming talent, to articulate what good and great look like, and what senior leaders need to learn in order to deliver on this expectation.

So … how openly do these conversations happen in your organisation?

#diversityandinclusion #mentoring #waypaving

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Reason #1 Leaders Fail to Develop Next Gen Leaders

This article is the second in a series on why leaders fail to develop Next Gen Leaders. You can read the first one here.

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Reason #1. Leaders think they’re better at this than they actually are

The first reason leaders are failing to effectively support the development of next gen leaders is that many senior leaders not only think they know how to develop future talent but believe they do it well. In one study, while 64% of leaders believed themselves to be ‘highly effective’ or ‘very highly effective’ at identifying and developing future talent, few of the HR professionals surveyed agreed with their assessment.[i]

Neither is the view held by many senior leaders that they are effective at developing others, shared by those they are seeking to develop. In my experience, while managers think they are having effective development conversations few of those they are having them with would agree. Future leaders want both more feedback and more recognition and they expect it to be skilfully and constructively delivered. Yet time and again when I talk to a manager and a next gen leader after a development conversation, the manager is of the opinion they have shared everything they feel is necessary and the next gen leader comes away wondering what it was they were really trying to say.

While there seems to be a significant gap between many leaders and their direct reports when it comes to development conversations, the gap becomes significantly wider when senior leaders take on the role of mentors and sponsors of emerging talent.

This is not to blame senior leaders, simply to point out that we are asking them to take on roles they are ill-equipped for simply because they neither know what good looks like having neither been taught nor experienced it themselves. One recent survey found that nearly 40% of senior leaders had never been mentored themselves and this begs the question of how effective this mentoring may have been.

This conundrum is exacerbated when we are asking senior leaders to help develop next gen leaders to have the confidence and skills needed to lead in the age of digital enterprise and to lead more diverse teams with higher expectations of their leaders. Future leaders will need more highly developed and nuanced soft skills than even leaders of today and they are looking to current leaders to help them develop them.

This article is not intended to make anyone feel bad ;-). It’s simply giving ourselves permission to acknowledge that senior leaders may not yet be all they or we would hope them to be when it comes to nurturing the next generation of leadership.

 So … how effective do you think you or your senior leader are at developing next gen leaders?

#diversityandinclusion #mentoring #waypaving


[i] Global Leadership Forecast, 2018: Twenty-Five Research Insights to Fuel Your People Strategy, Development Dimensions International Inc, The Conference Board, EYGM Ltd 2018

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Why Leaders Fail at Developing Next Gen Leaders

This article is the first in a series of eight, examining the reasons leaders fail in effectively developing the next generation of leaders.

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According to research in 2018 developing next gen leaders and attracting top talent are the top two concerns of CEOs worldwide.[i] These two issues were also in the top five in both 2016 and 2017. The problem is only getting worse. In Deloitte’s 7th Annual Millennials Survey 49% of New Zealand respondents envision leaving their jobs within two years and only 17% are looking to stay beyond five years.

Yet despite efforts to strengthen their leadership pipelines organisations around the world are struggling to do so. Sixty-five percent of HR professionals rate their organisations’ future leadership bench strength as ‘slightly weak’ or worse.[ii]

This is exacerbated by the fact that the leaders of tomorrow, have different views on what’s important and how organisations should be led. Tomorrow’s leaders believe business should be driving societal and environmental change. They want their organisations to highlight and model the importance of diversity, inclusion, and flexibility. What’s more, next gen leaders no longer believe the rhetoric they hear from current organisational leaders saying that current business leaders are not truly committed to building inclusive cultures.

The challenges next gen leaders face will be myriad and complex including the need to lead teams of people with diverse experiences and perspectives. They need support now to develop the skills they’ll need to meet these challenges, and they need it from those who haven’t had to deal with these challenges themselves.

This takes the skills required to develop future leaders to a whole new level. To ensure leadership succession and organisational survival, today’s leaders must get better at paving the way for the leaders of tomorrow.

To date, the solution has been to continue to pour millions of dollars annually into generic leadership development. But simply learning doesn’t lead to better organisational performance. Equally instituting organisationally sponsored mentoring programmes is not going to cut it. It is no longer enough for leaders to develop future leaders in their own image.

To grow next gen leaders, today's leaders need to step up and enhance their skills in developing people. Not just to become inclusive leaders or culturally capable mentors, but also effective sponsors and advocates for those who come from diverse backgrounds and will lead differently in a very different context from today.

This is uncomfortable territory. It requires us to admit that we don’t know what we don’t know and be sufficiently vulnerable and exposed to ask for help and learn from those whose life experience and perspective are different from our own, at the same time as we mine our own leadership experience for the lessons that will stand the test of time.

Look out for the next article which details the first of six barriers that get in the way of effective way-paving.

#diversityandinclusion #mentoring #waypaving


[i] Global Leadership Forecast, 2018: Twenty-Five Research Insights to Fuel Your People Strategy, Development Dimensions International Inc, The Conference Board, EYGM Ltd 2018

[ii] Ready-Now Leaders: Meeting Tomorrow’s Business Challenges Today, Development Dimensions International Inc, The Conference Board, Australia/New Zealand 2014-15

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