Article: Lack of Future Leaders Poses Long-Term Threat to U.S. Workforce

Rob Goffee (L) & Gareth Jones (R) l Photo by Kim Grace

Rob Goffee (L) & Gareth Jones (R) l Photo by Kim Grace

By 2010, young workers groomed for leader posts will decline by 10%, study says; Companies reveal imminent brain drain poses real threat.

A September 2005 report from not-for-profit business research group Conference Board revealed that by 2010, the U.S. workforce will face a sobering situation. According to the study: the number of 35 to 44 year-old U.S. workers will decline by 10%, while 45 to 54 year-olds will grow by 21%, and older workers – 55 to 64 year-olds – will expand by 52%. This drain of younger workers poses a serious threat to companies: a lack of leadership in the workplace of the future. As well, as older workers prepare to retire, companies say they grow more concerned that the departure of mature workers will result in knowledge vulnerabilities. This looming crisis has spawned a War for Talent and a boom in leadership studies as organizations scramble to cultivate a new generation of leaders.

“Traditionally, leadership studies have focused on the characteristics of leaders and assume that leadership is something we do to other people,” observe Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones in their new book, WHY SHOULD ANYONE BE LED BY YOU? WHAT IT TAKES TO BE AN AUTHENTIC LEADER (Harvard Business School Press; $26.95, hardcover; February 2006). Rather than set forth a recipe for developing future leaders, the authors emphasize the situational or contextual, non-hierarchal, and most importantly, the relational nature of leadership. Effective, inspirational leaders are skillfully authentic, observe the authors. Though highly individualistic – even eccentric at times – their personalities are balanced and checked by the following abilities:

  • Authentic chameleons: They are often seen by their colleagues as possessing enigmatic qualities, selectively exhibiting their weaknesses. By exposing some vulnerability, they reveal their approachability and humanity. They capitalize on what’s unique about themselves.
  • Adept managers of social distance: They adjust enough to the existing culture to gain the traction and leverage necessary to be effective while maintaining enough social distance to ensure the respect and support they need to lead.
  • Situation sensors: Their ability to collect and interpret soft data helps them be themselves in context and know just when and how to act. They are able to gauge the appropriate time and course of action.
  • Masters of tough empathy: Inspirational leaders empathize passionately – and realistically – with people and care intensely about the work employees do.

Founding partners of Creative Management Associations, an organizational consulting firm in London, Goffee and Jones have drawn on their own research, begun some 25 years ago, to create a model of effective leadership with proven theories tested with thousands of executives in workshops worldwide, and through observation with numerous clients and within their own organization. Marshaling a wealth of sociological study and real world examples – including Richard Branson, Franz Humer (Roche), Nelson Mandela, and Greg Dyke (BBC) – the authors illustrate their principles in action, offering tips for honing skillful authenticity, and offering companies realistic solutions to looming leadership problems.

Moving beyond a myopic focus on the characteristics of leaders like Jack Welch or Steve Jobs, Goffee and Jones successfully flesh out a more compelling and ineffable portrait of leadership. With advice on managing the subtle dimensions of team structures and a proprietary model distinguishing four distinct organization types, compelling insight into what followers want from their leaders as well as how followers can contribute to the creation of effective and authentic leadership, WHY SHOULD ANYONE BE LED BY YOU? is destined to change the way companies and business schools teach leadership skills.

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If you want to interview Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, please contact Sue Blake.