Welcome to the Post-Executive Age

4008cb4e126173b43791c1bb8725b74c - Welcome to the Post-Executive Age

I was chatting with colleagues over lunch during a workshop a few weeks ago when a consultant from a leadership development firm polled us about career development trends we’re noticing in our client organizations.

We all agreed that our training programs targeting high-potential leaders have been selling well. We noted that due to a cruel demographic anomaly, “Baby Boomer” executives with 20 to 30 years of corporate experience are preparing for retirement and there aren’t enough “Generation X” managers ready to take their place. Organizations are hoping to compensate for fewer years-between-the-ears by introducing sophisticated leadership development programs in order to ready young managers for the big jobs.

To make matters worse for the human resource and talent development professionals in large corporations, millennials—who are just now moving into their first supervisory roles—don’t seem to be setting their sites on the C-Suite. It may be too soon to tell how millennials will reshape traditional organizational structures, but we may be getting some clues from movements like the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street.

Writing about leadership and the “Occupy Wall Street” movement for the Washington Post, Heather Gautney, an assistant professor of sociology at Fordham University, noted, “This is not just a charming mess. We are all leaders represents a real praxis, and it has a real history. …Similar to the feminist and alter-globalization movements, these groups want to avoid replicating the authoritarian structures of the institutions they are opposing.”

Perhaps we’re witnessing the demise of an organizational form built on the premise that the most important decision a company can make is about who it puts in the driver’s seat. But if no one wants the driver’s seat, we’re going to need a new kind of vehicle. Let’s imagine a new-age organization that reframes executive-age assumptions…

  • >> In the executive age, we worked our way to the top. Leadership was hierarchical and compensation was based on title. The boss told you how you were doing and there was a single point of accountability. Anyone with high-potential was groomed for the C-Suite and, the belief was, technocrats should be in charge.
  • >> In today’s post-executive age, we don’t aim for the top, we work our way around. Leaders are defined by the work they do and compensation is based on the contributions you put in. Today, the people you serve tell you how you’re doing, not the boss. Responsibilities are shared, you identify and support everyone’s potential, and decision-makers seek input from wise crowds and stakeholders.

Perhaps those of us who support organizations by developing its leaders would be more helpful if we focused on teaching people to lead locally when the situation calls for leadership rather than preparing people to lead globally by forcing leadership on a system even when it’s not warranted just because the job title calls for it.

Read other posts by Jay G. Cone

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