After college, I made a concerted effort to build my career by learning from seasoned executives. At a breakfast with the president of a respected organization, I asked, “What does it take to be president?”
The answer wasn’t quite what I expected. As a young 21-year-old, whose ambition was bigger than the oversized suit I wore, his reply confused me. He sat back in his chair, and in a resigned tone said, “Everyone thinks they want to be president, but they don’t want to be president. I’m tired of missing my son’s soccer games.”
I share this story because it isn’t a rare occurrence. The more I speak with executives who have climbed the ranks of corporate America, the more I learn about the extreme personal sacrifices that it took to do so.
As we next-generation leaders are in line for executive roles, we are asking, “What is the price of upward mobility?” As organization think about succession planning, they are invested in cultivating up-and-coming talent to lead in the years to come. Smart companies are asking, “How do we foster a culture that engages next-generation leaders while creating a winning company?” Curiously, the answer isn’t more money. So what do next-gen leaders want?
In a word, flexibility. Next-generation leaders are looking for leadership roles without having to sacrifice personal milestones like starting a family or maintaining relationships outside of the workplace. Flexibility in the workplace has become more common, but organizations are still behind in providing their employees the mobility they desire. In a survey conducted for the Harvard Business Review in June, 96 percent of professionals in the United States said they want flexibility but only 47 percent actually have it.
Although flexibility is still the exception rather than the rule, companies have many options in offering a less-stringent work structure to employees. Flexibility can come in many forms, including telecommuting, flexible scheduling, results-oriented work environments and part-time scheduling. With tools such as Slack, Trello, Zoom and Google Suite making remote work easier than ever, organizations have opportunities to offer their employees something more than just a merit increase to remain competitive in employee retention. At Work Wisdom, I work “alongside” colleagues in both Brooklyn and Baltimore because we’ve deeply embraced technology.
Secondly, next-generation leaders are craving mentorship, coaching and community engagement. They are seeking not only to become better leaders within their organizations, but to become greater influences in their communities.
Organizations benefit by having leaders develop in ways that benefit the community as a whole and not just the bottom line. Daniel Goleman, author of “Emotional Intelligence,” reports that employees thrive in the workplace if they focus on developing self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and people skills. These pillars aren’t just the ingredients for making a great leader, they’re what makes a great human. Next-generation leaders are more willing to stay and grow with an organization that they feel is helping them to grow personally as well as professionally.
Thirdly, while all of these strategies focus on the employees, organizations also have to take a hard look in the mirror. Next-generation leaders have options when it comes to opportunities for employment. While they want to personally and professionally evolve, they also want their organizations to have purpose-driven cultures. They want to feel as though they are solving a problem or creating a positive impact. Even if your company is not officially a B Corporation, adopting socially responsible practices, or ‘acting like a B Corp’ can enhance engagement for next-gen leaders.
Employees who step up as leaders will need more than financial incentive to motivate them. A purpose-driven culture benefits the organization as a whole. In the Harvard Business Review’s “Creating a Purpose-Driven Organization” Robert E. Quinn and Anjan V. Thakor refer to the Gartenberg Study, which revealed that organizations that communicate their purposes clearly saw a positive impact both financially and operationally.
Next-generation leaders are valuable assets to the companies and the communities they serve. Thinking about what makes and keeps them happy and motivated is a best business practice. As industries change and organizational boundaries begin to expand, ensuring that there is consistency in leadership practices, values and culture is important for organizations to remain competitive, maintain a positive culture and deeply connect with both their teams and customers.