Three Ways to Prepare Your Gen X and Millennial Talent for Executive Roles

Karen Greenbaum, CEO and President of the AESC

Karen Greenbaum, Forbes Human Resources Council Contributor, CEO and President of the AESC

I am constantly looking ahead at the top challenges of tomorrow so my organization can be well-prepared to offer guidance to business leaders today. I recently discussed aging demographics as the top leadership challenge for C-suite leaders over the next five years. As the baby boom generation continues to retire en masse in developed markets around the world, organizations are increasingly left without the right successors who are prepared to lead.

In a recent study, “The New Wave: Next Generation Executive Talent” conducted by my organization AESC, more than 850 business leaders worldwide from across sectors and geographies ranked the following as the top leadership attributes of Gen Xers and millennials that could provide a competitive advantage to their organizations:

  • Leading change
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Critical thinking
  • Innovative

With the ability to drive change as the number one leadership attribute of Gen Xers and millennials that organizations desire, today’s C-suite leaders understand that the current business climate demands a new breed of executive talent. The rapid growth of technology has eliminated barriers between companies, customers and shareholders, has erased geographic boundaries and has introduced a new era of global business defined by constant change and expedited innovation.

As the pace of change accelerates and the business environment becomes more complex, how can today’s C-suite leaders leverage the winning attributes of next-generation leaders and prepare high-potential talent to step into executive roles? Here's what Gen-Xers and millennials in our own profession -- executive search and leadership consulting -- believe today’s leaders can do to best prepare Gen X and millennial talent for the C-suite:

Offer Focused Development

As baby boom leaders retire, they take with them deep business and customer relationships, technical and industry expertise, and institutional knowledge that has taken years to build. To ensure business continuity while at the same time leveraging the unique attributes of Gen X and millennial talent, organizations must strategically develop their talent at all levels, especially their high-potentials approaching senior management level. Today, C-suite leaders must identify internally those who will be leading tomorrow and develop an action plan for their success. Assessments can help in the identification process of high-potentials and uncover knowledge and skills gaps.

Focused development should include systematic knowledge transfer, relationship building, coaching, mentorship and stretch assignments. Ensure high-potentials understand where knowledge resides inside and outside the organization, who are the go-to contacts internally and externally and which knowledge is most at risk of being lost. Introduce your high performing Gen X and millennial talent to critical customers and vendors, and develop ways for them to start building relationships with these contacts on their own. Provide coaching to develop self-awareness among Gen X and millennial talent, helping them understand their own leadership values and drivers and how those align with the organization’s long-term vision. Identify mentors internally who can step up and provide high-potentials with competitive intel or a strategic introduction to help prepare them for the future. Provide high-performing Gen X and millennial talent with stretch assignments to build their skills and cross-functional knowledge. While the value of success from stretch assignments will be apparent, don’t overlook the value of failure and learning opportunities gleaned from a lack of immediate success.

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Include High-Potentials In Decision-Making

High-performing Gen Xers and millennials are motivated and want to be included in decision making now. Today’s business leaders can leverage the entrepreneurial and critical thinking attributes brought by next-generation talent by including them in critical decision making before they are in the senior ranks. Tomorrow’s organizations will be even less hierarchical and more fluid than today’s. For Gen Xers and millennials to be prepared to step into executive roles, they’ll need to be well-versed and confident in leading flat organizations without formal hierarchies.

Prepare your future executives now by regularly soliciting their feedback on important organizational decisions. Allow them to quickly assemble across functions to tackle a specific component of a strategic organizational plan. Ensure they are looped in to board-level dialogue and objectives and provide them opportunities to ask questions and provide thoughts on long-term plans and initiatives.

Ensure A Diverse And Inclusive Leadership Team Now

As a group, Gen X and millennial talent are more diverse than their baby-boomer predecessors and when in the leadership ranks, will be required to connect with more diverse customers, shareholders and employees. They will be expected to lead across geographies and exude cultural awareness. High performers of this demographic already bring heightened emotional intelligence, but to fully leverage their successful attributes, business leaders and boards today need to look at their C-suite and board composition and ask if it is reflective of the talent they wish to attract and develop in the future.

In many cases, the answer is likely no. While organizations and business leaders around the world understand the business imperative of a diverse workforce, we still have a long way to go in senior management levels, the C-suite and the board. A diverse leadership team can pave the way for future leaders, allowing them to see a clearer path to success. Organizations need to understand that it’s not just about selecting diverse leaders; it’s also about creating a strong, inclusive culture from the top down. A diverse, inclusive culture helps an organization create a strong “employment brand” to attract the very best talent. This same culture also helps to drive innovation and global growth.

To ensure business continuity and competition in the marketplace, global business leaders cannot afford to ignore succession strategy and next generation leadership development. Gen X and millennial talent bring attributes ripe for leading the change required for organizations to have a successful future. But if organizations fail to prepare the next generation today, they risk irrelevance tomorrow.

Photo courtesy of ShutterStock

This article was originally posted on Forbes.