Be aware of setting millennial leaders up for failure

Be aware of setting millennial leaders up for failure

June 17, 2018

Dr Renate Scherrer

Many employees dream of being promoted to the corner office and being a key part of the organisation’s success. In fact, few will decline an opportunity to journey there. Seasoned leaders can, however, attest to the reality that managing people is often the hardest part of their role and that there seems to be an abundance of examples of new leaders who are unable to reach the goals they set for themselves and their teams.

More than a third of SA citizens are millennials. Add to this the perspectives from a recent study about millennials in South Africa: almost 50% of the participants indicated that mentoring others is the most attractive aspect of leadership, and nearly 60% seek traditional management-track corporate careers (Universum South Africa).

This means that young people are taking up leadership positions at an accelerated rate. However, as a Harvard Business Review article points out, between 20% and 40% of new leaders fail in their new roles.

Dr Renate Scherrer, Managing Director of JvR Consulting, says the two main reasons for failure on the individual leader’s side is the lack of certain requisite skills and the presence of certain “undesirable” characteristics. “However, one will not only look to the individual for reasons, since a leader never fails in isolation. One also needs to consider the contribution the organisation made and the support it offered or did not offer.”

Matching company requirements and individual aspirations
It seems like organisations are often very good at appointing exactly the type of leaders they vow to avoid, those individuals who end up being the company’s Achilles heel. Future-fit organisations are also less hierarchical and offer fewer traditional career paths where the assumed way to self-actualisation and growth is to climb the corporate ladder.

It is, therefore, becoming even more critical to appoint the right people into leadership. In order to do this, organisations need to map the basic requirements of the organisation. They need to be clear about the core components of their people strategy, what skills are needed to meet the organisational objectives and align people decisions to this.

Further to this, organisations have to measure current and future talent against these criteria and drill deeper than surface characteristics such as charisma, social skill and self-confidence to determine leadership suitability.
Lastly, organisations need to then mobilise identified individuals to make strategic career decisions aligned to their own core values and strengths, and in line with the organisational intent.

Promote to fail
Scherrer says in many instances there is not enough time spent on the preparation phase of the new leader. They are simply put into the role and expected to know what to do. “Companies are not mindful enough to ensure that people, especially given the number of millennials in the workforce, are equipped for the roles they are chosen for.”

Many people are still being promoted because they have a specialised skill and can deliver on key requirements. However, being promoted into a leadership position changes the rules of the game, especially with modern day requirements of needing to lead, connect and enable virtual teams to perform under increased pressure and stress. It then becomes the classic reality of “what got you here, will not get you there”, and critically important to also “manage” those undesirable dark side characteristics that may negatively impact leadership effectiveness. These characteristics typically manifest during times of stress and uncertainty.

Accelerated and continuous development
Once there is an awareness of certain shortcomings, development becomes a key requirement. Struggling and new leaders must be equipped with a personalised development plan – i.e. some people may benefit from coaching or mentoring, others from job rotation or formal courses. Clear and structured development plans to which people are held accountable is a key requirement in this process.

“Progress against the plan has to be carefully measured. There has to be a baseline and frequent and continuous assessment of progress, as well as brutally honest feedback.”

By doing nothing to support new leaders, the company is doing something. It is setting them up for failure. It will cost them dearly.

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