Lloyd slumped in his chair with his head in his hands. As unusual as it is in today’s corporate world, Lloyd had devoted himself to one organization for many years. Rising from hourly employee to senior leadership had taken him decades to accomplish, but his heart for business and his organization had always made the journey seem worthwhile. Recently, he was not so sure. Over the years, he had assumed ample responsibility and performed well. It was difficult for him to understand why his expertise was being ignored in making key decisions about the function he leads in the business. Without clear feedback, he was unsure if it was his performance as a leader, his competency in his field or his inability to manage the ever-present corporate politics. Whatever the case, Lloyd was growing more frustrated by the day and impacting his engagement as a leader. His company was missing the opportunity to receive the full return on the investments they had made in Lloyd during his lengthy career. It had become a lose-lose scenario for Lloyd and his organization.
It’s easy to be attracted to the newest trend, the latest version and the shiniest model. We forget that the older model might be sturdier and enduring. In some ways, it is like owning a home. For years, we might make improvements to the home, updating kitchens and bathrooms, adding additions and investing years in beautiful landscaping. Then, we see a new home that is clean, fresh and the latest style. We can quickly forget the years of investment we made in our present home, in our attraction to the latest and greatest. It’s a stewardship decision. Maybe the current home has a sinking foundation, a leaking roof and rotting windows and the repairs have become too costly. In that case, a new home might be a better long-term investment. However, sometimes, absent significant problems, the better stewardship decision is to continue to invest in the current home. Such can be the case in decisions about investing in people.
We hear lots of discussion about selecting leaders, growing leaders and leading leaders. Organizations invest in leadership development programs and Ivy League executive education for leaders. “Find more leaders” is often the edict given to human resources professionals from their organizations. Leadership is likely the key competitive advantage for all businesses, so we constantly seek it and value finding it and growing it. With so much emphasis placed on having great leaders, it makes sense to be a steward of those leaders. However, oftentimes, organizations focus only on the value of developing new leaders and neglect the development of seasoned leaders. A few will take their thinking to the next level and continue to invest in seasoned leaders. Organizations that invest both in new leadership and seasoned leadership will clearly create the most competitive workforce to win in marketplace.
How can businesses be stewards of seasoned leaders? Here are 6 ideas to consider:
1. Enable seasoned leaders to mentor other leaders. Don’t just suggest mentoring, but make this a key role for tenured leaders to pour their contextual and cultural knowledge of the organization into other leaders.
2. Ask seasoned leaders their perspective about broad issues in the organization. Over their long tenure, these leaders have observed many ups and downs and have likely grown relationships throughout the business. The organization can benefit from their “insider” knowledge.
3. Don’t assume seasoned leaders do not have new ideas. Many of these leaders are attracted to innovation and because they are experienced, they recognize whether or not something is truly a new idea, or a re-packaged old one.
4. Tap into the wisdom of seasoned leaders. Seasoned leaders have likely experienced many successes, failures and setbacks. Wisdom comes from navigating successfully through opportunities. Seek their wisdom when making key decisions.
5. Continue to invest in the growth of seasoned leaders. These leaders are often less encumbered by other outside of work responsibilities and available for assignments that serve the business needs. These leaders often help companies transition new functions. As long as they work for you, continue to invest in their growth for the greatest return on the investments you have already made.
6. Respect and appreciate seasoned leaders. Their contributions have likely been invaluable in building your organization. Respect and appreciate them late in their careers and they will continue to contribute to the success of the business in intangible ways.
Long career paths at one organization are no longer the norm. For the few organizations fortunate enough to retain tenured talent, it is important to engage seasoned leadership by leveraging their skills, abilities, experiences and business insights. Effectively stewarding seasoned leadership will not only contribute to business results, it will strengthen the overall culture, too!