Preparing for a Generational Shift

In businesses large and small, greying boom boomers are approaching retirement age. That means grooming new leaders to fill their shoes

America's business community is preparing for the mass retirement of baby boomers by ramping up training programs to groom a new generation of leaders, according to a recent study. The majority of human-resources professionals -- 61% -- polled in August and September, 2003, by DBM, a global consultancy based in New York, say they have implemented executive coaching programs in the workplace. Most of those who have started executive training -- 66% -- say "high-potential grooming" and "performance enhancement" best describe their goals.

"Succession planning and retention of senior leaders will be top priorities for organizations, as large numbers of baby boomers retire from the workforce," notes Gregg Johnson, a DBM senior vice-president. "Until now, companies have lacked the focus or the means to implement comprehensive executive coaching initiatives. The steady improvement of the economy and a demographic shift in the workforce will compel corporations to fill the leadership gaps with younger workers who will need to ramp up on the skills necessary to take their companies to the next level."


  While the report placed its primary focus on Corporate America, some of the lessons -- and the problems associated with planning for succession -- will resonate with entrepreneurs. For example, the biggest obstacle to starting executive-coaching programs on the job is the lack of time to focus on anything beyond the daily grind, the survey found. Nearly 60% of those polled cited deadline pressures and budget consideration as reasons for delaying leadership-development programs.

Johnson adds that finding the right coach for up-and-coming executives is the crucial first step in preparing a new generation of leaders. A mix of real-world business experience and the right personal characteristics is vital. A few things to look for in an executive coach:

High-level business experience. For an executive coach to provide the appropriate guidance, he/she should have worked in the corporate world in a senior level capacity.

Interpersonal skills. The coach must be adept at handling complex interpersonal dynamics, at sizing up a situation quickly, and dealing with a panoply of personalities.

Integrity. Executive coaching often involves discussing sensitive issues and high-level, strategic and confidential corporate information. Honesty and the ability not to betray confidence are essential.

Political savvy. Executives must be able to navigate the political waters of their organization. A competent coach needs to be able to advise individuals on how it is done.

Organizational insight. The goal of executive coaching is to strengthen a person's performance as it relates to real corporate objectives. That requires an understanding of both the executive's and company's needs, and how to make them work together to achieve clearly defined goals and expectations.

By Karen E. Klein in Los Angeles

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