Future Leadership Gap: A Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Contributing Author: Rick Underwood

A huge amount of research has confirmed what we all know. A leadership crisis is heading our way. The global workforce is undergoing a dramatic shift with Baby Boomers and Traditionalist retiring. In four years Millennials – the people born between 1977 and 1997 – will account for nearly half the employees in the world. This group already makes up a majority in some organizations. A recent conversation with an educator in a large public school district confirmed that teachers for the most part lacked the skills for teaching leadership skills to students. However, unlike the BP oil spill for which there seems to be no answer, we can avert a crisis by listening to what these talented young people say about what they want and need in the workplace.

In a poll of 2,200 young professionals across a wide range of industries, Millennials were asked about their values, their behavior at work, and what they wanted from their employers. (Meister and Willyerd, Harvard Business Review) Some of the results of this study revealed that these young professionals valued:

  • Work as a key part of life
  • Want work that is personally meaningful
  • Opportunities to make friends at work
  • Be able to connect to a larger purpose
  • Need a constant stream of feedback

Understanding these values and expectations are very important in engaging and mentoring these young potential leaders. Paul J. Meyer and Randy Slechta suggest that “a leadership gap is created whenever one or more of the following elements is neglected or underdeveloped: an intimate knowledge of where the group intends to go and how it will get there; the ability of both leaders and team members to focus on a productive contribution to themselves and others; and the common desire to do whatever is necessary to achieve a positive outcome.” Meister and Willyerd’s study also discovered five characteristics Millennials want from their boss, their company, and what they want to learn. Knowing these characteristics can enhance an organization’s efforts to create meaningful and effective leadership development/mentoring programs.

What Millennials want from their boss…

  • Help in navigating their career path
  • Give straight feedback on performance
  • Coach and mentor them
  • Help them find appropriate formal development programs
  • Some flexibility when it comes to schedules

What Millennials want  from their organizations…

  • Offer them a clear career path
  • Help them develop their skills for the future
  • Values of the company are lived out daily
  • Choice in benefits and awards packages
  • Allows them to blend work with rest of life

What Millennials want to learn…

  • Creativity and innovation strategies
  • Technical skills in their area of expertise
  • Self-management and personal productivity
  • Personal and professional leadership skills
  • Knowledge about their industry

Many companies have cut “discretionary” spending, which often includes investing in the development of these young potential leaders. Over the long term this reduction in expenses eventually cause many bright Millennials to seek other employers that will meet their expectations, add to the leadership gap, and leave an organization void of future leaders. All employees want to feel valued, empowered and engaged at work. They expect a lot out of their organizations and bosses and they also expect a lot of themselves. Development programs that enable employees to change work habits and behaviors, set meaningful personal goals in line with the organizations’ strategic objectives, and integrate their new learning directly on the job have been proven to provide excellent return on the investments. It is up to those of us currently in leadership positions to provide a bridge over the potential troubled waters. You can start by sharing this article with the young people who work for you as a discussion starter and then listen, listen and listen.


Leadership Management® Institute
Reprinted with permission
Strategic Essentials is a Managing Partner for Leadership Management® International, Inc.

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