American business has done a very poor job of leadership, in fact perhaps the country has done a poor job of leadership. I find that companies often do not provide leadership training to people they promote into leadership positions. They think that by giving them a title they have imbued in them all the skills necessary to be a good supervisor, manager or leader. Sometimes it works but often it does not. Fortunately the next generation appears to be taking their future into their own hands.
Little to no training
According to Francis Koster, the Optimistic Futurist, a Harvard Business Review article stated that
Corporations appoint people to supervisory positions at an average age of around 30, but these lucky people were first sent for supervisory training at an average age of 42! These individuals were doomed to spend fully one-third of their management career without ever undergoing training in how to be a supervisor and leader.
This has, as I mentioned above, been confirmed by my own experience. Sometimes, if the person that has been promoted had a good role model, they might do a good job of leadership. But what if they did not have a good role model? Then they either become a reflection of the bad example or they wing it and have to learn by trial or error. This is a poor way to learn leadership.
The Next generation is not waiting
Koster said in an article that he has found that many high school students today are not waiting to be shown how to be good leaders but are creating their own leadership opportunities. Here are some examples:
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- Students in a Concord, New Hampshire high school thought that the school recycling program was very poor. Without any teacher or administration leadership they one day emptied all the trash out into one area. They then sorted through it and recovered over 250 of recyclable material of the 275 pounds dumped out. After that embarrassing example the adults followed the kids’ example and a better program for recycling was created, paying dividends to the school.
- At Harvard the freshman class living in a dorm discovered to things that did not sit well with them. First a tremendous amount of food was being disposed of on a daily basis. Secondly, the plants outside the dorm were being sprayed with chemicals. That created an opportunity. They set up a collection point for old food and with it created a worm farm in the basement of the dorm. The worms then created an organic soil amendment that was used to keeps the plants heathier and reduced the use of chemicals in their living area.
- Another group of students concerned about pollution and energy use measured the energy of their school, using devices they bought on the Internet. The changes they recommended saved the school money, which allowed them to keep teachers employed.
- In another high school students concerned about race relations created a year-long program of information and encouraged people to sit at lunch tables to get to know people they would not normally have met. They created a “wall of intolerance” where they wrote every nasty name they had been called. Then at a ceremony they knocked the wall down.
According to Koster “In each of these examples, the students wanted to create a better society. They worked in the arena of everyday behavior. In some cases they pulled these impressive efforts off in spite of the adults around them, not because of their support.” These children have created leadership examples that many adults should take note of.
These kids are the next generation of workers. Those of us in business should pay attention to the role model they are setting for leadership and not assume that we have to teach them. Perhaps we should learn from them.