After the Exodus After the Exodus

After the Exodus

Not content to be typecast as the Dark Knight, the actor Christian Bale is taking on an even more iconic role (played in a previous generation by Charlton Heston) in a movie just released called Exodus: Gods and Kings.  If you have seen the original movie (or, perhaps, read the book on which it is based), you know that the Exodus story is about an inspired leader of old who led his team on a glorious journey, only to discover that he was going to be relieved of command before reaching their ultimate destination.  Fortunately, that leader had prepared for this moment by identifying and mentoring a successor from the next generation – his lieutenant Joshua – who was able to lead the team to victory after taking over.
This classic example of succession planning leads to two questions every organization should consider as part of its strategic planning:  who are your Joshuas, and what do you need to do to prepare them to succeed you?
Generation  iY
These questions were prompted by a talk given at the recent America's Best Hope leadership conference ( by Dr. Tim Elmore, author and founder of Growing Leaders, an organization devoted to developing emerging leaders.  Dr. Elmore is perhaps best known for his book, Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future, which describes the plight of the "Generation Y" (or "Millennials") born between 1984 and 2002.  The book places a particular emphasis on those born after 1990, whose world has been defined largely by the Internet and technology such as iPods, iPads, and iTunes, leading Dr. Elmore to dub them "Generation iY."
As Dr. Elmore notes, this group is now entering the U.S. workforce with dramatically different worldviews and experiences than the Boomer and Generation X workers who preceded them.  Generation Y has been raised in a world of speed, convenience, entertainment, nurturing and entitlement, which has shaped them in ways both positive and negative.  On the positive side, Generation Y is more comfortable with changing technology, with a greater orientation toward community and diversity and a hunger for meaning in their work-lives.
The flip side of the Internet "bubble" in which they were raised, however, is that members of Generation Y have been deprived of many of the challenges essential for developing the life skills and work habits necessary to succeed in the workplace, including perseverance, patience and grit.  In Dr. Elmore's view, this has led to an extended period of adolescence in which "26 is the new 18," and the migration from "backpack to briefcase" has been delayed.
Demographics Is Destiny
Setting aside the "these kids today!" harrumphing from the Generation X author of this piece, the real challenge Elmore points out arises from sheer demographics:
  • The Baby Boomers (born roughly between 1946 and 1964) were previously the largest generation in American history, with roughly 76 million people.
  • The Generation X or "Baby Buster" generation that followed (born between 1965 and 1983) was significantly smaller, with fewer than 46 million people.
  • Generation Y has surpassed even the Boomers, with approximately 80 million born in the U.S. and the potential of growing closer to 100 million due to immigration.
By 2025, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that the 76 million Boomers – who currently represent 45 percent of the U.S. workforce and occupy the top ranks of leadership in business, government, and other organizations across the nation -- will have retired.  However, there are only 46 million individuals from Generation X to replace them, leaving a gap of 30 million.
Putting it more starkly, the demographics challenge Dr. Elmore identifies is that the most experienced leaders and workers across the country will be retiring over the next decade in greater numbers and more quickly than we can replace them.  At the same time, the youngest workers – with their distinctive worldviews, work styles, and ambitions – will be entering the workplace in greater numbers and more quickly than we can prepare them.
Finding Your Joshuas (And Jessicas)
Bringing this full circle, the leader portrayed in different generations by Bale and Heston had an impressive life story and would have been remembered for his miraculous achievements even if he had stopped after liberating his people from their terrible circumstances.  As impressive as that feat was, his legacy would have been incomplete if not for his selection and mentoring of his successor, Joshua, who used his gifts and training to tear down walls, trumpet his team's values, and ultimately lead them to the victory they had been promised.
The Boomers who are planning their own exodus from the workforce over the coming decade face a similar challenge.  Although they have accomplished great things both individually and as part of the organizations they lead, their ultimate legacy will be defined by their success in identifying and training the next generation of 30 million leaders and workers to replace them some day. 
If Dr. Elmore is right, that day is coming soon, and the Generation Y workers who are coming to replace them are in desperate need of mentoring from the Boomers before they go.  Organizations facing this exodus would do well to follow the example described above by implementing programs now geared toward identifying future Joshua's and Jessica's and providing them with the training and guidance they will need to lead their teams to the "promised land."

This publication is intended for general information purposes only and does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice. The reader must consult with legal counsel to determine how laws or decisions discussed herein apply to the reader's specific circumstances.
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