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?
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