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Businesses Need Younger Leadership: Grooming the Next Generation of Leaders


As the average age of retirement rises and multiple generations occupy today's workforce, organizational leadership faces a looming generational shift. While experience remains valuable, businesses that fail to integrate younger talent into their leadership pipelines risk losing relevance and competitiveness. Research shows diversifying leadership with fresh perspectives benefits decision-making and strategic planning. However, grooming the next generation requires intentional effort from current executives.


Today we will explore why cultivating younger leaders matters and offers recommendations for businesses to get started.


Why Businesses Need Younger Leaders


Research identifies several compelling reasons why businesses must thoughtfully bring younger employees into leadership roles over time.


Demographic Shifts


First, demographic projections show the share of older workers is growing substantially while the proportion of younger individuals is declining (Fry, 2020). This "age bubble" means a retirement wave in the coming decade could drain talent and expertise from some organizations if successor leaders are not identified and developed early. Companies that anticipate this trend by empowering emerging young leaders will ensure continuity and minimize disruption from inevitable turnover.


Technological Fluency


Second, younger generations have a sharper technological fluency developed from coming of age with digital tools (Twenge, 2017). As new platforms, interfaces, and ways of working continuously emerge, research finds Millennial and Gen Z leaders can help organizations leverage technology in strategic ways that older executives less accustomed to constant change may struggle with (Hathaway, 2017; Cogin, 2012). Incorporating digital natives into leadership cultivates the discernment needed to chart effective digital transformation paths.


Innovation and Creativity


Third, the innovative and entrepreneurial mindsets of youth facilitate creative thinking important for competitive advantage (IBM, 2010; Madison, 2019). Studies show diversity in age, experience, and perspectives enhances ideation, problem-solving, and strategic decision making compared to homogeneous leadership compositions (Rock & Grant, 2016). Younger leaders' fresh perspectives counter stale assumptions and spur innovative solutions benefiting organizations.


Talent Retention


Fourth, research finds Millennials and Gen Z expect leadership opportunities relatively early in their careers for job satisfaction and loyalty (Gallup, 2016; Horovitz, 2012). Providing clear paths for advancement motivates talented younger individuals to commit to organizations long-term rather than job hopping. Companies serious about attracting and retaining top young talent recognize they must develop internal multi-generational pipelines versus relying solely on hiring seasoned outsiders.


Getting Started Cultivating Younger Leaders


Here are some practical steps for organizations to launch developmental initiatives:


Identify High-Potential Emerging Leaders Early


As a first step, companies should implement structured methods for line managers and senior executives to identify top-performing young individuals across all divisions display-ing leadership qualities like vision, initiative, maturity, communication skills, and a strong work ethic within two to five years of joining. Provide transparent criteria to evaluate potential at regular intervals and establish intentional mentorship.


Create Formal Leadership Development Programs


Organizations then must develop formal rotational and/or accelerator programs to systematically expose and train rising stars. Curriculums should combine project management and soft skill building, participation in cross-functional/divisional task forces, shadowing senior executives, networking opportunities, and stretching assignments to cultivate well-rounded leaders ready for upper roles within five to ten years.


Offer Stretch Assignments and Special Projects


Informal but critical leadership experience comes from high-profile, challenging projects and initiatives outside one’s core functional responsibilities. Organizations can provide emerging talent temporary acting roles, crisis response leadership, CEO staff assignments, spinoff business launches, and operational turnarounds supplemented with coaching. Such visible stretch experiences prepare younger individuals for executive positions.


Rotate Leaders Through Divisions and Geographies


Internal movement across business units/functions and international geographies offers well-rounded exposure to various operational challenges and best practices. Job rotations provide developmental exposure, enhance strategic network building and cultural understanding essential for modern business leaders working globally in matrix set-ups.


Provide Formal Mentorship and Sponsorship


Aligning each high-potential individual with two executive mentors and one high-level sponsor helps guide career ambitions and advancement while advocating for critical developmental opportunities. Regular check-ins ensure rising stars receive psychosocial and political support throughout their leadership journeys. Such formal relationships boost retention of top young talent.


Continuously Evaluate and Promote Readiness


Development programs must include structured feedback events, multi-rater surveys and assessment centers to evaluate progress, adaptation to new roles and identify skills gaps. Organizations must swiftly promote ready individuals into director-level strategic roles as vacancies emerge or new positions are carved based on performance differentiation. Recognizing merit maintains employee motivation.


Proctor & Gamble's Leadership Acceleration Process


A best practice example comes from Procter & Gamble’s (P&G) Leadership Acceleration Process (LAP) designed to groom 60 high-potential employees annually through intensive global rotations within three years into branded business general management roles.


  • Identification: Line managers nominate top 10-15% talent with five or less years' P&G experience to VP-led committees for detailed reviews.

  • Launchpad: During an initial six months, program participants shadow P&G senior leaders to gain exposure before heading overseas.

  • Global Rotations: Individuals then relocate internationally twice for one-year general management stints across different categories, regions, and divisions like Beauty, Fabric Care or Asia Pacific.

  • Coaching: Each LAP member receives monthly check-ins from a regional HR director and mentoring from senior global business unit (GBU) officers.

  • Promotion: P&G promotes 70-80% of LAP graduates to brand management/director roles from which they can rise to top executive positions, ensuring strong succession pipelines. The initiative illustrates how structured development in diverse settings cultivates new organizational leaders over time.


Conclusion


Businesses must proactively usher younger talent into leadership to drive innovation, maximize technology advantages and ensure robust succession amid demographic shifts. While experience remains crucial, intentionally developing emerging leaders through transparent identification, tailored programs, coaching and special assignments renews organizations with fresh perspectives guiding strategic decisions. Formal mentorship and continuous evaluation further enable younger individuals to thrive in progressively bigger roles. When done right, a multi-generational leadership approach benefits both employees and employers through fully developed emerging leaders energizing businesses for long-term competitiveness in dynamic environments.


References

 

Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



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