Generational talent and nurturing future leaders

Guest post by Sarah Goulbourne, co-founder of gunnercooke

Goulbourne: People are increasingly rejecting set development pathways

For many leaders (particularly those of a certain vintage), the pace of change in the workplace has become dizzying.

We’re living though a time where the skills, experience, motivations and goals across our intergenerational workforces are becoming increasingly varied.

Harnessing the benefits of this diversity is a challenge for current leadership that requires new ways of thinking, particularly when it comes to succession.

The need is pressing. A generation of leaders whose careers spanned the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s have started to either step back or step down.

Future leaders will come from a talent pool that straddles and blurs the boundaries of Generations X, Y and Z with all their different outlooks on work and life.

This requires organisations to create flexible routes for leaders to emerge and develop in different ways and on their own terms.

A progressive and responsive approach to nurturing future leaders is key to attracting the right calibre of talent in the first place – and then keeping them engaged and enthused throughout their career.

Culture as a bridge

No matter what generational moniker they are ascribed, every individual has the potential to be a leader at different levels, in different disciplines and during different times.

The nurturing of all kinds of leadership therefore needs to be embedded deep within your culture and not seen purely as a function of HR and succession planning.

Establishing a cultural focus on leadership provides the wider context that helps unify disparate development programmes and career pathways.

For example, independent thought, innovation and willingness to share knowledge are traits you probably want to develop right across your organisation. However, these are incredibly hard to ‘teach’.

A strong culture is the only way to ensure the broader meaning and application of leadership is engrained in the DNA of your organisation and shared by everyone, no matter what their role or goals.

It’s also important that embodying this culture is seen as essential to performance and progression.

Organisations and individuals can naturally focus on things that contribute to short-term objectives, rather than long-term strategy.

Putting leadership at the heart of your culture helps keep the bigger picture in focus. It embeds a consistent understanding and thread that spans roles, teams, departments, generations and the ongoing evolution of your organisation.

Purpose is vital

While many people who currently hold leadership positions may have been driven by performance and prestige, future leaders will likely have different motivations.

We regularly hear from emerging talent that they need to feel inspired if they are going to commit to joining and building their career at an organisation.

Yes, remuneration and working conditions are central but people increasingly want their working life to deliver a higher sense of fulfilment.

Future leaders want to use their gifts to affect change and be able to channel their passion and energy into delivering positive impact on the world around them. It makes them naturally gravitate towards purpose-led businesses that can provide an emotional connection and rewards that go beyond money and job titles.

There’s no co-incidence that purpose-led companies typically achieve higher growth and productivity – they have an engaged workforce who are driven, innovative and responsive to change.

Identifying and nurturing future leaders who represent your purpose is vital; they will be the custodians responsible for carrying it forward and taking it to the next level.

Structured mentorship

I know of very few leaders who achieved their success without the aid of mentors.

Of course, mentoring happens informally in every organisation but a structured and tailored mentorship programme should be fundamental to nurturing future generations of leaders.

It’s been a focus of gunnercooke from day one. We help individuals constantly self-appraise their perceived strengths and weaknesses and map these to a network of mentors both inside and outside our business.

This approach provides future leaders with exposure to multiple advisers who can help them with certain aspects of their development as and when they become relevant or needed.

How future leaders transition through a mentorship structure in your organisation is crucial. It needs to be aligned to their both their current role but also their career aspirations and your succession plans.

Leaders of the future also need highly active mentorship. Mentors shouldn’t just be a sounding board or provider of pastoral care – they need to challenge and push talent, giving them the confidence and tools to achieve their full potential.

Harnessing ambition and innovation

Much like their focus on purpose, emerging leadership talent is increasingly ambitious, entrepreneurial and consciously seeking to avoid traditional career paths. They want much more agency over their roles and the speed and direction of their progression.

People are increasingly rejecting set development pathways that meet the needs of the organisation but pigeonhole people and artificially regulate their speed of progression.

Organisations needs to find ways to provide a level of autonomy that encourages fresh perspectives, and entrepreneurial thinking. It’s about encouraging ideas and having a framework (with appropriate guardrails) which enable future leaders to see where their intellectual curiosity, passion and creativity takes them within your organisation.

We are benefiting hugely from our focus on nurturing talent and the next generation of leaders in professional services. This is particularly the case for a high number of relatively young practitioners looking to forge their own paths in emerging areas like fintech, blockchain and ESG.

It illustrates why organisations need to carefully consider how they nurture future leaders across diverse generations. Or see them pursue their goals elsewhere.

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