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A Leadership Vacuum

And what that means for you! 

There is a vacuum of leadership in the world. You might have noticed. It’s obvious in politics but it’s also happening in our institutions, workplaces, and schools. We’re seeing an extensive range of leadership qualities, really good and really bad… but mostly we’re seeing less of it!

What does that mean for you?

It means there are lots of opportunities for people in their middle years willing to step up! But are you willing?

Until recently there was an unexamined assumption that people would take leadership opportunities if they were available, fight for them in fact. The reality is turning out to be more complex.

The employment market is hot right now, and even hotter for good, young (under 50) leaders. The world needs us, but compared to demand, supply is just not keeping up!

I was talking to a federal politician the other day and they were lamenting the lack of young leadership quality in their party. I talk to school leaders, academics, principals, and senior bureaucrats. While people are stepping up, there’s just not the clamor for taking leadership roles everyone expected there to be.

And with the Boomer generation and the Covid-refugees starting to leave leadership roles, there just isn’t the backfilling you’d expect.

It’s a Dilemma

We think that people should want to step up because they want more influence, more money, and better prospects. That's the traditional mindset… but it isn’t cutting it for people

The price of leadership increasingly seems too high for people and the rewards less valuable.

There are a number of drivers impacting this phenomenon:

The world has become more complicated, so leadership is harder

That’s certainly true. We’ve had VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) and now we have BANI (Brittle, Anxious, Non-Linear, Incomprehensible).

The days of people expecting leaders to know what to do is over… which leaves no one knowing what to do!

It’s demographic

It is a fact that there are fewer Generation X’ers to fill the space being left by the departing Boomers. The 2021 census shows us that less than 20% of the Australian population are Gen X’ers, and this proportion is shrinking every year.

Simply from a number’s perspective, the number of leadership spots is expanding faster than the cohort trained to fill them.

Leadership itself has changed

What leadership itself means has changed in the last ten years... a lot!

The world demands Robert Greenleaf’s servant leadership now more than ever(where you park your ego at the door, go to the level people are at and ask how you can help them do what they do, not what they can help you do what you do) and it’s getting harder to be any other kind of leader!

This is a challenge for some who have climbed the ladder without a fundamental challenge to their leadership style.

People aren’t valuing the things leadership roles bring AND they value other things more.

This is a big one. Like so many things, COVID accelerated a profound shift in what people value… and it’s not going back. That’s always been the case with Pandemics (see “Wars Change Things, Pandemics Accelerate Them”) but people are also not valuing what leadership provides. As the global challenges we face get bigger, many people are considering a more local context. This is partly to protect themselves and their families, partly because they see the value in their local communities.

Push and pull, the fact is that traditional leadership roles simply aren’t as appealing as they used to be.

A materialistic Leadership Culture

This may be contentious, but I assert an important driver of the leadership vacuum is that many in the Boomer generation of leaders simply didn’t open opportunities for the next generation to assume their roles. They weren’t playing what Simon Sinek calls The Infinite Game and wasn’t interested in empowering and enabling their replacements.

Think of the 90’s and 2000s when many older leaders learned the ropes in an individualistic and, to be honest, self-centered leadership culture.

Thinking about what would happen after you had gone simply wasn’t a high priority.

So, that’s where we are now.

Where do you sit on this spectrum??


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