5 Ways To Avoid Tomorrow’s Leadership Mistakes

If you could see a mistake coming, how would you change it?

5 Ways To Avoid Tomorrow’s Leadership Mistakes
[Photo: Flickr user Santiago Medem]

As compelling a thought as it is that tomorrow is always a fresh start, in business failing to plan for tomorrow means our mistakes lay waiting for us to stumble upon.


By 2020 more than half of the workforce in most countries will be Millennials, more non-Caucasian babies are born in the United States than Caucasian, women are earning more degrees and advanced degrees than men, and McKinsey estimates that by 2025 half of the world’s largest companies will be headquartered in emerging economies. On top of that, the workforce is likely to be more flexible. A 5,500 person global study of executives and workers revealed that 83% of executives plan on using more contract, temporary, part-time, or consultant labor.

A diverse, global workforce is staring us in the face, and to have the leaders we need we must start preparing them now. Here are five practices to prepare us for leading tomorrow’s workforce:

1. Conduct A Workforce Analysis

Where will your leadership needs be and how many will you need? If you match your business growth plans against your existing leadership team, then age them by five years, will you have the right people in the right place at the right time? Chances are the answer is no, but at least through analysis you will be able to see where the most vulnerable places are and begin to put together a workforce plan there.

2. Hire And Prepare A Diverse Leadership Team

In the U.S. 10,000 people a day turn 65, with nearly 80% of those retired by the time they turn 65. This silver tsunami will open up a lifetime opportunity to change the makeup of your leadership team.

Insist on having a diverse and global slate presented for every new leadership opening. Your slate should represent the makeup of your workforce. To have a viable pipeline of diverse candidates, review your hiring results for the year and ask how you can improve the early stage of the pipeline. Allow self-nomination for openings through an open and transparent posting system. The candidate pool might surprise you.

3. Emphasize And Reward Leadership Skills At All Levels

Given that it takes time to develop leaders, we must create a culture that values leadership at all levels. Encourage employees to develop those skills by leading projects, reaching across functional boundaries, or volunteering in corporate social responsibility settings.


4. Create Accelerated Leadership Development Programs

The best companies are planning ahead by developing leaders early. Although most leaders enter their first leadership position by the time they are 30 years old, they don’t get their first leadership training until they are 42. We wait too long to train leaders.

Accelerated training programs can include business or management simulations, intentional job rotations, creating an environment rich with feedback, succession plans for all leadership positions and all key roles, and a comprehensive curriculum with an emphasis on leader-led training.

5. Hold Your Leaders Accountable For Developing Leaders

Ask leaders if they are developing others, and when they inevitably say “yes,” ask them to prove it. The best proof is the leader who develops others as evidenced by promotions across the company. Do you know who your best people developers are? Do you move your high potential talent to work for them? Look for places where a manager has had the same team for a long period of time, and assess whether stagnation has set in. In some cases, even if high-performing, job rotations could help spread that high performance to other groups. Use your talent review process to highlight your best people developers and reward those leaders for creating a sustainable organization.

To create a sustainable future for our organizations, we must have the leadership we need. The leaders we need in five years should already be in some stage of the development pipeline. Are yours?

Karie Willyerd is the coauthor of The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop, and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today. She is the SVP of learning and social adoption for SuccessFactors, an SAP company, and can be reached at