Enriching The Leadership Pipeline

Today’s students are tomorrow's leaders and if they want to recruit and retain them, CEOs need to understand what they really want.

Tomorrow’s leaders are in our classrooms today. The students and recent alumni of today’s business schools and other academic programs often have different world views than older generations. And yet some of their goals are the same. I have the good fortune to teach many of these young people, and I stay in touch with them after they graduate. Here is what many of them are looking for:

• Purpose and Engagement

Often students tell me that they want to work for companies that are doing well by doing good. They say things like, “I want to stay engaged. I don’t want to lose my sense of purpose.” They understand that of course companies have to be profitable, and that the “triple bottom line” is people, planet, profit. With this in mind, a company can do well by doing good—that is, improving its bottom line (shareholder value) as a consequence of creating positive results for other stakeholders (employees, customers, suppliers, the communities in which they operate) and for society. As one student said about climate change, “…there’s a huge business opportunity there…and a huge market for solving it…earlier we were relegated to do-gooder-ism, but now we know it can also make you money.”

• Being Coached Instead of Being Managed

We’ve all heard the adage that people leave supervisors, not companies. Gallup found that 70% of the variance in team engagement is determined solely by the manager. In Gallup’s 2019 book, It’s the Manager, it was reported that what Millennials (indeed, many of today’s workers) want and value is not a boss, but a coach. A young alumna of our program recently said to me, “I’m so lucky. I have a great job and a great supervisor!”

• A Decent Salary

Students from low income families and immigrant kids seem especially oriented toward landing on solid financial ground. And overall, the need to earn a reasonable living hasn’t changed much. But lots of young achievers these days are seeking careers that also mean something and lead somewhere. So money alone isn’t enough to recruit and retain many of today’s up and comers. One of our most talented recent graduates said that a paycheck will always be a way to value your work and pay the bills, but “purpose is what makes the effort really worth it.”

• A Healthy Work Culture

“I want a career that is so awesome that you feel like you’re not even working.” Now that’s a truly worthy goal. Of course work is work, and Millennials get that. But they want a company that values them, that invests in its talent and provides meaning, growth, honest feedback and personal development. This isn’t pie in the sky. Many companies do it this way, and they benefit and gain a competitive edge as a result.

• True Work/Life Balance

We often hear today that young people don’t have the work ethic their parents did, and that they’re more focused on the “life” side of the scale. I find that they are often misjudged. They do work hard, and they care. Their idea is, “I’ll get the work done; I’ll work when and where I want, but I will produce results.” To them, work is a thing, not a place. They know, as a student said, that “we are in a global economy with fierce competition.” However, the life side is also very important. As one alum put it, “Truly living, being happy, and feeling intellectually and emotionally safe are what we’re searching for.” That’s not too much to ask.

A PwC survey of business leaders showed that attracting and keeping younger workers is one of their biggest challenges. Talented young people are expensive to recruit and retain. And they represent an asset that simply can’t be duplicated or ignored. They gravitate to those organizations that offer the opportunity to be entrepreneurial, to achieve and to feel good about where they work. These employees are engaged and involved, and they are a direct connection to business success.

So to compete and succeed, companies need to understand and respond to what these young professionals want and need. A good report on thinking about how you can tap the young talent pipeline is Gallup’s “How Millennials Want to Work and Live.”

These ideas are going mainstream. Fortunately, universities are figuring it out, and so are many companies, so we’re on the right track. We have a world full of problems, but the future, under these young tigers, seems bright. I’m proud of them, and I’m very pleased that they will be the leaders of tomorrow.

Bill Novelli
Bill Novelli, author of Good Business, has a distinguished career as a leader in the corporate and non-profit worlds. He was CEO of AARP, founder and president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, EVP of CARE, and president of Porter Novelli, the global public relations agency. He began his career at Unilever and also was Director of Advertising & Creative Services at the Peace Corps. Today, Novelli is a professor in the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University where he teaches in the MBA program, and also founded and oversees the Georgetown Business for Impact initiative.