Baby Boomers are retiring en masse, soooo….

Hopefully we all know this by now — as Boomers retire and subsequently get older, two of the most impacted fields should be (a) leadership development and (b) health care. Health care seems to vaguely have an idea what it’s doing with the Boomer retirement influx. Leadership development does not.

I’m going to begin here by pointing you to a recent article from HBR. It’s about leadership development programs at American Express and Johnson and Johnson. The article isn’t that good, and the programs are largely a hand job to MBAs — I wouldn’t even recommend using those specific models, honestly. Most of the examples are about getting already-powerful or soon-to-be-powerful white guys in a room and seeing how they make decisions. That’s one form of leadership, sure, but it does nothing about “How are you going to interact with those who report to you?” Most people can succeed interacting at their level or managing up. Very few know how to manage down, and that’s where everything is broken.

I digress.

There are a couple of interesting parts to this article, though. Let me pop out two of them for you:

Our research also found that young leaders are willing to leave if they are not advancing, but prefer to stay as long as they’re engaged. (Almost 44% of study participants were willing to stay 15 years or longer.) When asked what would prompt them to leave, many cited a lack of developmental opportunities.

This one is a classic “swerve” study result. What it really means is: “Pay me more, bitch.” What people take it to mean is “Give me interesting things to work on.” You need to read between the lines a little. No one wants to be bored, but no one wants advancement without compensation advancement at the same time. That’s just not how the game works.

Here’s №2:

Moreover, we found that complete self-directed learning, while ranked second by CHROs in our survey, did not rank highly among younger leaders because they prefer one-on-one learning and direct feedback.

Here’s how I would read that one: CHROs are trying to design “self-directed learning” programs, either because:

  • They went to a trade show where someone said millennials want that, or…
  • … their budget keeps getting sliced because their execs don’t care about HR, so they had to do something that required no real staff to implement

But self-directed learning, while cheaper, doesn’t really work for emergent leaders.

So now we come back to the main problem:

10K Boomers are retiring daily. What’s your move?

You need to get these 20–30 somethings equipped with a few skill sets:

  • Institutional information
  • The ability to manage others
  • Revenue-increasing efforts

… and you need to do it relatively fast, because in a year or two, most of your top decision-makers might be on a golf course somewhere avoiding their wives.

A potential series of steps:

  1. Throw ageism out the windowand look at some 48–54 year-olds for these roles. They have more knowledge anyway.
  2. Remove HR from the official “developing leaders” context and make it the responsibility of individual managers.
  3. Provide managers with resources on what to teach and how.
  4. Do not let “busy” be an excuse.
  5. Consider tying incentives/compensation to “the ability to develop younger leaders.”
  6. Understand that most pre-existing leadership/manager development models are hot trash, and you need new models.
  7. One model might be a Knowledge-Sharing Program.
  8. One might be Idea-Sharing.
  9. How about programs that remove the task work for a few hoursand focus on bonding the team?

The central problem

Too many peeps still conceptualize “management” as managing a series of tasks and processes. It’s not that. That’s part of it, but you get the extra money in part to manage human beings, because people are messy, and if you have 10 of them under you, well, you deserve the scratch.

Most people I’ve seen completely ignore that and go focus even harder on the tasks and processes. They off-load the people stuff to some HR Tech software suite. Again, that’s not management. That’s definitely not leadership, and, frankly, it’s barely even being human.

But it’s been happening for so long that we just keep letting people get away with it.

And that’s the greatest fear: as these Boomers head off to their villas in Italy, how bad is the management crisis in most white-collar orgs going to be? I’d guess pretty bad. And remember, all that “millennial mindset” stuff about open office plans and transparent feedback? That’s going to look a lot different when that millennial is 41 with three kids.

We need to care about the human side of leadership, at least while automation isn’t at scale. That’s how we’re going to develop better leaders as the Boomers retire. Some ideas are above. But it’s not necessarily about “stretch programs” or “fast-track MBA Board meeting modeling” stuff. It’s about having conversations, learning about the team, knowing what makes people tick, and putting people in the right spots. That’s the real deal.