Do YOU Have 30 Years to Wait to Develop Leaders at Your Company?
Organizational Development research tells us that it takes 30 years of on-the-job experience for someone to acquire enough well-rounded skills to be a successful leader. In addition to on-the-job experience, it is important to have experience in numerous areas of business. Hence time on-the-job + exposure to many areas of business = a C-level individual with the perspective needed to run an organization. But thirty years? Who has that kind of time?
Here are a few profiles of organizational leaders who have been on that 30 year journey:
Mary Barra, Chairman and CEO of General Motors
Prior to becoming the CEO, Barra worked in product development, purchasing and supply chain, human resources, global manufacturing engineering, as a plant manager, and in several engineering and staff positions. She joined GM in 1980 and spent her entire career (30+ years) at the company.
Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart
McMillan joined Walmart as a teenage warehouse worker (in 1984) at a local store. He rose through the ranks, working as a buyer, in various levels of store management, and eventually headed up Sam’s Club and Walmart’s international operations (operating in 26 countries outside of the US).
Ginni Rometty, Chairman, President and CEO, IBM
Prior to being promoted to CEO, Rometty held senior-level positions in sales, marketing and strategy. She began her career at IBM in 1981 as a systems engineer and worked in IBM Consulting as well.
Not everyone has to be a “lifer” within an organization, however. Generalized business experience is helpful as well.
Kenneth Frazier, CEO of Merck & Co.
Frazier spent 20 years as a trial attorney – spending numerous summers teaching trail advocacy in South Africa – before joining Merck as counsel in the public affairs division in 1992. From 2007 to 2011 he led the Human Health division of Merck, before being named President in 2011 and then CEO in 2014.
The most prominent trait of these CEOs (and undoubtedly thousands of others) is the variety of roles and functions within which they worked (and learned). In fact, two separate articles by Forbes in 2015 and the NY Times in 2016, point out the “path to CEO” is dependent on well-rounded experience and experience in many functional areas. This is an approach that corporate education could support, but rarely does. We tend to “silo” people in to a role or function and encourage them to become a specialist; concentrating all of their experience in that specialist area.
From the NY Times article:
Marc Andreessen, the prominent venture capitalist, has gone so far as to call [well-rounded experience] the “secret formula to becoming a C.E.O.” The most successful corporate leaders, he wrote, “are almost never the best product visionaries, or the best salespeople, or the best marketing people, or the best finance people, or even the best managers, but they are top 25 percent in some set of those skills, and then all of a sudden they’re qualified to actually run something important.”
We Don’t Have That Kind of Time
Unfortunately, we don’t have 30 years to get our next generation of leaders ready. In order for our companies to remain vital 15 to 20 years from now (when the Boomers, with the most work-experience are all gone) we need a way to accelerate that well rounded learning. The Training Doctor’s Thinking Curriculum has one such answer. The customized curriculum is designed to facilitate the very things that make a C-suite leader: a variety of functional experiences, an understanding of finance and strategy, being able to synthesis information about unfamiliar situations, networking and making connections, and more (these attributes were identified in a 2016 study of 459,000 executive profiles via LinkedIn). The best part of The Training Doctor’s Thinking Curriculum is that it allows an organization to “bring up” leaders from within the organization which is often critical in terms of historical knowledge and cultural fit.
A recent publication from DDI, titled High-Resolution Leadership, highlights both the length of time it takes to develop leadership skills, as well as the need to accelerate the process:
“Business has hastened the pace of leaders being thrust into roles of increasing scope and responsibility, ready or not. Too often this leads to a mass “arrival of the unprepared” into more complex and perilous higher-level roles where stakeholder scrutiny and the cost of failure are exponentially higher. Leadership is a discipline. Improvement requires learning, practice and feedback – lots of each. But generic skill development won’t provide the capability you need for your business. Any efforts you make to accelerate the growth of leaders should train them to apply newly learned skills to the specific challenges and needs that your organization faces now and will face in the near future.”
It’s folly to focus solely on leadership development, however. It’s in every organization’s best interest to build the skills of everyone in the organization. What organization can say they don’t need people who understand strategy, problem solving, risk management, or decision making? What organizations would rather get-by with employees who don’t have self- management skills (as Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanik recently demonstrated) or who don’t embrace ethics, teaming, or continuous improvement?