By Michael Holland    

Generation after generation of leaders have followed the same path:  get thrown into the position to take over leading their former peers, spend 10 or so years guessing at what they’re supposed to do as a manager, and then start attending leadership development programs which attempt to educate them on the effective ways to manage and lead.

Young leaders, our millennials between 25 and 34 years old, are the future of our companies and organizations.  Consider these three ways we limit our leaders and their potential for impact.

  1. We trust our greatest assets with those who are not trained.  The young leader is pulled from the ranks of her team to take on the supervisory or team lead role for 5 to 8 of her peers.  We entrust the engagement, productivity and retention of our “company’s greatest asset” with someone whose depth of management experience would entail a single bullet on the second page of a leader’s resume twice her age.  We expect all sorts of professionals — doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers — to be educated and apprenticed in their craft before being left alone.  Guiding and educating young leaders in the art of managing and leading others before, or in conjunction with, taking on these roles, creates a tremendous return on investment given the asset they are charged with managing.
  2. We seek and reward bad habits.  Young leaders build and refine bad habits as they are left on their own for 8 or 10 years before being entitled to receive leadership development training.  Conservatively, organizations spend 3 to 4 times as much money per leader on training and coaching programs for experienced leaders as compared to money spent on young leaders.  Average, merely adequate tenured leaders are asked to mentor young leaders and model the behaviors that will make them successful in leadership.  But are these habits of average leaders truly what we want our young leaders to emulate?  Investing in the leadership development of young leaders – so they create the good habits – will allow these leaders to learn their craft early, practice often and build their competence.
  3. We don’t try to understand young leaders.  Generational misunderstanding is a constant throughout history.  Every generation worries about the capability of succeeding generations to lead our society forward.  We are blessed with a vast number of studies, books and articles telling us how the millennial generation thinks and acts in ways that are unique from previous generations.  We know they are more tech savvy, more collaborative, more accepting of diversity and more innovative.  We know they are better  educated in total and continue to educate themselves daily; they are life long learners.  We should encourage and enable young leaders, and leaders to be, to develop peer coaching/development circles that would allow for seemingly unstructured learning.  We should seed the collision of thought and practice to enable a future direction.

It’s wonderful that organizations are reviewing succession plans, developing depth charts and identifying their high potentials.  I’m confident the plans are thorough and look good.  But who’s helping that young leader who is wrestling with how to have a difficult conversation with one of her employees and doesn’t even know there’s a difference between counseling and coaching conversations.

Coaching Thoughts – For You and Your Peers

  • Take a moment to think: have you seen any of the three bullet points happening in your organization? What can you do about it?
  • Have you ever attended some kind of leadership training program? At what point in your career did this occur? Was it beneficial, or would you have liked it to come at a different time?