Despite all the patronising of the Millennials, the future is in safe hands if we can free them to lead

By Chris Sheppardson, Managing Director, EP

If one looks at the picture of the last fifteen years with an objective eye, there are a number of basic truths that do strike out:

  • There is a disconnect between generations, and the baby boom generation does have a tendency to highly patronise the millennials. Whether fair or not, it is hard to see how it is helpful?
  • The young are being laden with greater debt and it is clear that they are struggling to break through into leadership roles. Most boards are asking where is the future leadership talent and why are they not breaking through? Maybe the question to ask, why are we struggling to nurture future leadership?
  • The relative amount invested into leadership development has fallen and one of the common reasons I am given, often off the record, is because margins are tight, the focus is on the Quarterly results and that people development is a luxury and not a priority – even though many that say such words were given far more support themselves when they were young.
  • There is a clear and concerning issue over the declining mental health of those at University and work. It is pretty sad when the government need to appoint a Minister of Suicide in this day and age.

The rights and wrongs of the debate can be discussed for hours, days and weeks – all that matters is that we really do work to develop leadership once again and invest in it. One can read almost any survey from the 1990s – the decade that was the bedrock of the great boom that followed – and it will tell you that training and development was the number one factor that retained talent and attracted talent. That decade also developed arguably one of the most groups of young talent to emerge. In simple terms, training and development worked and was important – so this is just arguing for a return to the proven model.

Yes there are those that argue that the generation that did emerge during the 90s has not fulfilled the legacy that it was given by those that preceded and who fought their way through the recessions of the 70s and 80s but this is as irrelevant as the patronising of the millennials. What has changed so much is the often inspiring advancement in technology that has allowed business to keep prices down, improve transparency and many practices but also maybe created too much process and compliance that hinders talent’s natural development.

People are naturally creative and need a voice in a world that is becoming increasingly more controlled and rejecting the mavericks that once were seen as positive counter balances. So much about talent development is about being allowed and encouraged to have a voice, to take risks, to able to fail and yet learn.

There is, for many reasons, an increased fear of failure and yet failure can be a great asset in learning. So many are terrified at failing. This is not new thing. It has one of the great contradictions about the British for decades. It is why Britain is a case study in itself. In music and writing we have embraced the maverick and rebels – The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Punks, Queen – great poets and writers from the Bronte sisters to Dickens, Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde to Wilfred Owen to Alan Bennett. We take great pride in such talents.

In sport, we have had to learn how to free up talent. Back in the 1970s, Jack Nicklaus, the great American golfer, commented that the British player would also go for the safe shot rather than the winning shot. In many sports that we loved, we often struggled as our play was “conservative” in approach and often discouraged the player that had that extra vision to do the extraordinary. Glenn Hoddle, the great footballer, was both seen as exceptional and a luxury. England’s Rugby teams of the 80s and 90s was often dominated by the forwards and mistrusted the backs.

But in recent times – through the use of foreign coaches – our talent has been freed up. Maybe the best example is in rowing with Jürgen Grobler? Why has this been the case?

Now is the time for business. The next generation is full of exceptional talent and we need to make sure that the ground is laid for their own successes. All the stats tell us we are making it too hard for this next generation-– 80,000 students being treated for mental health issues such as anxiety, increased debt levels, increased levels of suicide, 1:4 at work struggling with stress – so let’s work to created programmes that do encourage talent and leadership that is prepared to have a voice and say what is right.

We have exceptional talent, exceptional people – now we need to develop them and most especially their mental approach.