This week members of the local OD (Organization Development) Network are meeting to talk about “Next Generation Leadership”.  But does anyone really know what next generation leadership is?  The OD Network members may find themselves the members of the Over Dose Network as they try to parse the ambiguity of this phrase.

 

Does it mean organizations should be led by those who currently are the followers, a situation where the inmates run the asylum?  Or could it mean that each generation requires its own leadership, a situation in which several age-linked cadres of leaders compete for ultimate control?  Hopefully neither of the above absurdities is the real intent of this phrase.  A look at some relevant research may be helpful.

 

In 1996 the founding event of ATG’s Futures Leaders capability was a gathering of educational leaders from all over the United States who were brought together to create a model of “The 21st Century Educational Leader”.  This model became the driver for the preparation, selection and development of community college leaders across the country.  Then, thirteen years later, these leaders were at the forefront of the reinvention of the community college and the evolution of many of these colleges into four-year degree granting institutions.  Now with over twenty years or a generation having elapsed since the creation of this highly impactful leadership model, is it really time to consider “next generation leadership”?  For “The 21st Century Educational Leader” the answer was “Yes”, and an updated model was built in 2016.

 

But is the effectiveness of leadership really determined by generations?  Was leadership in the 1960’s actually very different from leadership in the 1980’s?  Will leadership in 2020 be different from leadership today?  Increasingly mega-data research suggests that the answer is “Yes”.  But that answer doesn’t necessarily make leadership generational. It could just as likely be situational or inspirational.

 

If leadership truly were generational, then each leadership cadre would operate differently from the one before, creating constant chaos and instability in our organizations.  Perhaps that’s what’s actually happening in many of today’s organizations, although my bet would be that they suffer from too little leadership rather than from too much.  Either way, endless waves of change aren’t necessarily by themselves beneficial.

 

But defining next generation leadership ultimately may be a fruitless exercise since data from organizations as diverse as the Center for Creative Leadership, the Society of Association Executives, and ATG’s Futures Leaders suggest that next generation leadership may prove to be a null set.  These data point to the paucity of people prepared to take on the leadership roles of the future.  And as if to insure this nullness, many of our largest organizations have used a recent economic downturn as an excuse to ditch whatever leadership development resources they might have had.

 

So, when it comes to next generation leadership we have seen the enemy and they are us!  Talent management professionals including those in organization development have failed miserably to make the business case even for leadership replacement planning.  And forget about getting ahead of the need for leadership curve.  The only useful response to the next generation leadership problem can be found in a paraphrase from the Jewish Rabbinic literature:  “In a place where there are no leaders, you must strive to become one!”

 

By Dr. Les