Job Hunting

Next-Gen Executives: Not Up To the Task?

A new survey reveals that corporate managers have serious doubts about those who will follow.
Lisa YoonAugust 26, 2002

Are excellent corporate executives getting hard to find?

Looks that way. According to a Conference Board study of next-generation business leaders, current corporate executives say they’re worried about the capabilities of future corporate executives. Indeed, of the more than 150 executives surveyed, only one-third rated the future leadership capabilities of their companies as excellent or good. Five years ago, nearly half of the respondents in the Conference Board study gave high marks to their future officers.

Says the Conference Board’s Ann Barrett, co-author of the study: “Hyper competition, fast-changing technology, and closer scrutiny from corporate boards are putting increasing pressure on companies to develop effective leaders for the future.”

Indeed, this dwindling gene pool of leader is leading some companies to step up their investments in leadership development. “Over the next decade, exceptional leadership talent will become scarcer,” says William C. Byham, CEO of Development Dimensions International, which sponsored the study. “CEOs must make the commitment to personally devote the time and resources to ensure they are identifying and developing their future leaders.”

So what’s missing from today’s budding senior managers? Apparently, team players are a rare commodity these days. Survey participants noted that crucial team-building skills are often lacking in today’s new breed of young corporate managers. They also pointed out that some mid-level managers exhibit bad behavior, such as personal arrogance, insensitivity to colleagues and customers, and an excessively controlling leadership style.

In some cases, however, the lack of the right leadership qualities is a moot point. Why? After seeing the stress and pressure their current bosses face, many young managers don’t want the top jobs at their companies. “Demands on future business leaders may be so enormous that the pool of qualified leaders will shrink even further,” says Barrett. “(Future leaders) may simply see the risk of premature burnout as too great.”

To attract and develop an adequate number of future executives, some companies are starting to roll out leadership development programs. Those programs involve focusing executive attention and developmental resources on the employees who have the greatest potential for executive success. Some companies are also trying to provide next-generation leaders with a wide range of essential job-related assignments and experiences.

According to the study, companies known for good grooming habits have several things in common. Most have flexible organization structures and are less hierarchical than other companies. That gives potential managers a wide range of learning opportunities. The companies are also generally willing to take risks in moving the careers of their most talented managers along aggressively. Executives at these companies also reward risk-taking — and tolerate failure.

Maybe most importantly, managers at many of these companies assume that leadership development is a fundamental expectation of their jobs, and are therefore willing to make a long-term commitment before seeing an immediate return on investment.

CFOs on the Move

Liz Claiborne Inc. VP and CFO Michael Scarpa was promoted with title of SVP. Latest in series of promotions since Scarpa joined apparel specialist in 1983 as budget manager… Swedish telecommunications carrier Telia named Jorgen Latte acting chief financial officer. Latte, currently financial director of Telia Mobile, replaces Bo Jacobsson, who will become chief executive of Trelleborg… Chris Tyler named finance chief of Cable & Wireless, West Indies… Tyler, who joined the group in 1995, had been director of investor relations for the past three years…

(Editor’s note: Working the runway is one thing, but working capital is another. How does Liz Claiborne Inc. measure up against its peers? See for yourself with the CFO PeerMetrix interactive scorecards.)