The official blog of Abacus Group — a place to share our knowledge and thoughts on trends in recruiting

February 21, 2019

Encouraging the Next Generation of Executives to Lead Now


In October of last year, Partner and Managing Director at Boston Consulting Group and expert on leadership in the workplace, Elizabeth Lyle, gave a TED Talk titled “How to break bad management habits before they reach the next generation of leaders”. In her talk, Lyle discusses the need for middle-managers to make changes and act as leaders before stepping into senior roles.

“I believe there is a window of time in the formative middle-manager years when we can lay the groundwork for… leadership, but we’re missing it. Why?” Lyle explains. “Because our future leaders are learning from senior role models who just aren’t ready to role model yet, much less change the systems that made them so successful. We need middle managers and senior leaders to work together to define a new way of leading and develop each other to rise to the occasion.”

Lyle offers a situation to illustrate this. Jane, a senior level executive, has a very old-fashioned leadership style. She has high expectations for those working with her and would rather go with her gut than outsource idea from others. However, this is not the management style that is going to lead her company to success. Then there is John, a middle-management employee who works for Jane. He tells Lyle that there is an issue that is going to have to be solved by the CEO. However, before the CEO is presented with the situation, about eight other meetings are going to happen beforehand to get all the senior level executives on board. John knows this is not an effective strategy and says in the future it will be done different, but for now, he is going to deal with it.

Here lies the problem that Lyle sees in many companies that she visits. John believes that he needs to be in Jane’s position to make changes, but by that time, he’ll have Jane’s mindset that this is just the way things are done. Lyle offers this solution: John should approach Jane with a well-thought-out proposal to no longer have the pre-meetings and ask her to back him up on this change. Now this will be challenging for both John and Jane, but if they communicate thoughtfully about their opinions, John will be able to make positive changes for the company he hopes to lead one day, and Jane might gain some new perspective on her own management habits.

Lyle concludes the TED Talk by quoting a speech by Warren Buffet where he states, “The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they’re too heavy to be broken.” By empowering middle-managers to approach their senior level bosses with potential improvements and allowing them to lead in the implementation of the changes, companies can only improve their processes, become more efficient, and reach higher levels of success.

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