Invest Your Development Dollars in Mid-Career High Potentials, Not Aging Senior Executives

“I’m too old for this shit!”  (Danny Glover – from Lethal Weapon movie series)

While these are the words of Danny Glover playing the role of an aging law enforcement officer in one of the Lethal Weapons movies after he is continually being dragged into dangerous and physically and emotionally challenging situations by his deputy played by Mel Gibson, I have actually heard these very words uttered by some aging senior executives I have worked with in leadership development programs.  The Center for Creative Leadership has determined that 50% of development happens as a result of receiving feedback and accepting that feedback, 25% comes from caring about and being motivated by the most relevant parts of feedback and 25% comes from the actual skill building related to the feedback.  In some of my work with more aged senior executives it has not been unusual for me to hear them say “I have heard that feedback before and accept it but I will be out of here soon so I don’t care.”  There we are – stuck at 50% — “I am too old for this shit!”

As an executive development consultant who has worked with hundreds of executives in dozens of leadership development programs and initiatives over the years, I have to say I am becoming less and less comfortable taking money from companies who put on expensive leadership programs for executives who only have about an 8-10 year runway left in their careers.  I say this with full awareness that such executives still have great “signalling” amplitude for their subordinates and stakeholders, i.e. their words and actions become louder messages beyond them.  It is still important that such executives receive some development in the form of feedback and coaching, so at a minimum, their signalling is not impeding the development and growth of others.  However, the real ROI in development dollars comes from an investment in mid-career high potentials. Why?  They are usually thirsting for developmental feedback, have more career time to make the important changes, and finally, investment in them tells them they are important and part of the organization’s future which minimizes the flight risk of the best next generation talent.  More enlightened companies, and there are increasing numbers of them, are doing just that.  In particular, one company I know runs developmental assessment centres to help mid-career talent focus on either people management or individual contributor development tracks.  They realize that not everyone will be suited for people management, the traditional development ladder, and don’t want to exclude and impede the development of other bright talented individuals and thus risk losing them.  Another company provides in-depth development-oriented action learning leadership programs for their mid-career high potentials which includes assessments, coaching, feedback, executive mentors and is facilitated by external leadership development experts.  I have been involved in some of these.  Currently, an organization has engaged me to provide some very thorough developmental assessments of a very bright and talented 32 year old emerging executive who has some interpersonal and potentially derailing rough edges.  Why? Her technical talent is a tremendous asset to the work of the organization, and on her side is time, youth, and positive responsiveness to feedback  enabling her to increase her effectiveness.  Investing in mid-career high potentials is just good business.

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