Last week I had a conversation with the owner of a very successful business that reminded me of dozens of conversations I’ve had in the past. We were talking about the owner’s future (he’s thinking about retirement in the next 5-7 years) and I asked him who would be running the place when he leaves. He said, “I don’t know – we’ll figure that out someday.”
Unfortunately, for most people “someday” is code for “never”. Even more unfortunately, that answer is fairly common. Most business owners and leaders just aren’t committed to developing more leaders in their organization. And they usually pay for it later. In some cases they get to retirement but nobody’s ready to take their place; they end up working way past the time they wanted to stop, or they end up shutting the business down, or they sell the business and the lack of ready-to-go leadership drives the price down. In other cases, the pain comes from having opportunities to grow and develop the business, but not having enough of the right people who are capable of handling the responsibility.
So why does this keep happening? Why don’t business leaders do a better job preparing & developing leaders in their businesses? Every situation is different, but the themes are the same:
- Money – Some leaders are so focused on the short-term bottom line that they aren’t willing to invest enough money to develop new leaders. They don’t have the foresight to recognize that an investment in developing leaders today will pay huge dividends later.
- Time – You can’t just flip a switch and have great new leaders. It takes time and effort on the part of current leadership. If you are the leader of your organization, you can’t delegate leadership development entirely. At some point you have to be involved. Too many current leaders aren’t.
- Modesty – Perhaps “modest” isn’t the best word to describe most business leaders, but it may fit in this context. I’ve had numerous conversations with leaders about preparing the “next generation” and a common response is, “There isn’t anything I do that’s all that hard, they’ll pick it up, we don’t have to do anything extra for them.” Except it is hard, and you don’t just “pick it up”. Sometimes leaders have been doing it for so long they forget how much they’ve learned and how hard it was along the way. Maybe “forgetfulness” is a better term.
- History repeats itself – “Nobody helped me figure this out, and I did fine – they don’t need any help either” is another common statement. Well, maybe nobody helped you, but so what? When you were first getting started, wouldn’t it have gone much more smoothly if you would have had some support? Some help? Just because your life was hard doesn’t mean you should try and make everybody else’s just as hard.
So what’s holding you back? Why aren’t you developing your people? What’s keeping you from providing them the skills, the confidence, the network they need to keep you business moving to the next level? Whatever barrier is in your way, get through it. I’ve never heard the head of any organization say they had too many leaders. Start getting yours ready today.