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Where are our Future Leaders?

One of the leading executive outplacement firms recently reported survey results for the third year running indicating that lack of high-potential leaders is a principal concern for HR executives.  What’s happened to the leadership pipeline causing so many firms to express concern?  Here are a few ideas and a suggestion about what to do.

Economic Volatility

In the '70s and early '80s, many companies had leadership development programs. Companies would recruit promising candidates out of school or the military, or they would select qualified internal candidates, to be placed into custom-designed development programs.  Candidates received indoctrination into company culture and systems and would be trained in the latest leadership techniques. They would be given assignments within the company to test their skills and would eventually be placed in a meaningful role. This approach created a common experience and language for approaching leadership challenges.

With the recession in the mid-'80s and subsequent economic volatility, such programs were discontinued. In fact, many companies eliminated their internal training and development groups altogether. When economics improved, companies sought out university-developed programs.  When times got tough again, funding for such programs dried up. In many cases, there was little long-term commitment to growing future leaders. Then, as now, the best producer was promoted into management, only to find that he or she was ill-equipped to lead rather than do.

Management Initiatives

Total Quality Management and Re-Engineering had a dramatic impact on talent development. Many front-line supervisory and middle management positions were eliminated as self-directed work teams gained prominence. This created a gap in leadership as working teams reported to what were upper middle-management positions. Supervisors who once oversaw teams of 8 or 10 people now oversaw the work of 20 to 30 people. There was no place for an emerging leader to learn the human relations skills that were necessary to lead others.


The movement of manufacturing work offshore eliminated entry-level leadership positions. Today’s workers are knowledge workers who may work remotely, connected to an organization through computer links. If a person is gifted technically, it doesn’t matter if they can relate effectively with others. Because technical competence is so important, building human relationship skills, which is critical to good leadership, is overlooked. 

Generational Preferences

The millennium generation is less concerned about building relationships and progressing within a company. They will manage their own careers and will quickly move to opportunity in another company rather than invest in one organization. Many do not aspire to holding a leadership role.


The impact of this “perfect storm” is being felt. As the boomers retire, there are fewer people who are able and willing to step into leadership roles.

What is an organization to do? If you are a large company with the resources and appetite to create and support a leadership development program, do it!  If you don’t want to develop your own program, or if you are a small to medium sized company (where most of the jobs are being created), look for a few quality programs and vendors and stick with them. Don’t just engage the author of the latest book. Choose time-tested programs that are proven to yield results.

One of The Centre Group’s core service areas is Leadership Skills Development.  If you are experiencing the same concerns about leadership as so may HR executives, contact us. We will be happy to help you consider alternative approaches and choose the one that will produce the highest probability of success.

--Joel Myers

The Centre Group
Memphis Youth Career Development Program
Workforce Investment Network
Posted: 9/24/2013 7:49:13 AM | with 0 comments
Filed under: career, chamber, emerge, employ, environmnet, human, jobs, lead, leader, leadership, management, memphis, resouces, supervisor, team

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Your business may be small, but that doesn't mean that your impact can't be huge! The Greater Memphis Chamber's Small Business Council serves to encourage, support, recognize and be a resource to small- and medium-sized businesses in the Memphis area. Here, our talented panel of contributors will present big ideas that could make a huge difference to your small business. And don't be afraid to ask questions ... no matter how small.

Sales & Small Business Ownership
Voss W. Graham is CEO and Senior Business Advisor for InnerActive Consulting Group Inc. He is known by his clients as "a knowledgeable partner who helps our team achieve business growth." He provides practical experience as a small business owner for over 29 years, yet is often engaged with Fortune 500 companies in the development of their people and business strategies.

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Several professionals and strategists from the local Obsidian Public Relations firm provide excellent advice on everything from research to media relations to event planning. They believe that all companies, no matter how big or small the company or its budget, should have a public relations plan driving how they manage their relationships with key stakeholders. Public relations is an integral part of doing business the right way.

Human Resources
Joel Myers is a career Human Resources professional, with over 40 years in the field including 26 years in consulting.

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Marketing & Public Relations
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Design and Digital Strategy
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