Recently, I had the privilege to collaborate once again with the Lakeland Economic Development Council to survey Lakeland-based CEOs about their outlook on their businesses and the broader economy as we emerge from the pandemic. Three years ago, we conducted a similar survey. Comparing the results has revealed that while CEOs are more optimistic than they were in 2017, they feel significantly less prepared to achieve growth plans.
There were five underlying concerns that the survey highlighted as reasons these CEOs are feeling less prepared.
- Uncertainties associated with managing through the pandemic have made it challenging to plan and forecast.
- Awareness that the pace of change has been amplified and that the need to be adaptable and agile has increased dramatically.
- Lack of confidence in current leaders’ abilities to manage remote teams outside the traditional office’s confines.
- Apprehension about whether our market’s existing talent pipeline will deliver qualified candidates.
- Hesitation over today’s and emerging executives’ readiness to take on more complex and ambiguous roles.
With more than half of surveyed CEOs needing to fill at least one executive-level position over the next three years, concerns about the current talent pipeline and executive readiness become paramount to their organization’s ability to move forward post-pandemic. National research shows that open executive positions will create more significant gaps in organizational structures as Baby Boomers continue to exit the workforce, CEOs depart in record numbers (Challenger, Gray, Christmas 2019 Year-End CEO report), and C-Suite turnover, which came in at 16.5% for 2019, continues to rise as 2020 comes to a close (Crist Kolder Associates).
Yet, as the need for qualified leaders increases, the availability of candidates with the right level of executive readiness has languished. According to DDI’s most recent Global Leadership Forecast, executive bench strength has weakened by 28% in the last seven years, and only 40% of current executives feel they have received high-quality leadership development opportunities. New leaders struggle with competing priorities, adapting to a larger span of control, and navigating politics. Cultivating an executive presence and credibility takes time and attentive mentoring. Simply put, many new executives feel ill-equipped for their elevated roles.
New executives report feeling initial confusion, and this lack of direction leads to dysfunctional teams who distrust leadership. Distrust leads to disengagement from core team members and, eventually, loss of talent and a compromised organizational culture.
Frighteningly, nearly half of new executives are regarded as failures or disappointments by senior management just two years after their executive transition (McKinsey 2019).
Given what is at stake, what can organizations do today in preparation for upcoming leadership needs?
- Identify emerging leaders who have the potential to step into executive roles and create an individualized structured professional development plan.Recognize that professional development is not a one size fits all proposition and that a successful program is tailored to the individual’s strengths and weaknesses.
- Define the executive’s new role clearly by providing priorities and goals with minimal ambiguity.Provide opportunities for the new leader to experience some quick wins early on.
- Continue to provide formal executive training opportunities and provide one-on-one support.The complex challenges a new executive will face cannot be adequately addressed in a group training setting.
- Pair new leaders with an internal mentor/champion. An influential mentor/champion can help navigate stakeholder resistance, advocate for proposed plans, and build a strong network.
- Provide an executive coach. Executive coaches can increase confidence by serving as an objective sounding board, providing specific developmental feedback, revealing blind spots, and recommending strategies to mitigate personality traits that may derail success.
I believe in the economic engine that is driving Lakeland’s businesses to new heights. As organizations continue to adapt to the new reality created by the pandemic, their level of success will largely depend on the organization’s willingness to invest in its emerging leaders. The next generation of leaders is out there, ready to be tapped for new roles, and eager to help organizations achieve new goals. With more well-rounded and individualized development and support, they will realize their full potential and serve Lakeland’s businesses as stewards for growth and sustainable profitability.