DevelopmentInnovationsLeadership
May 3, 2017

Leadership relay between generations

Orchestrating the transition from present to emergent leadership

Millennial is the trendy word utilized to describe young people who were born in the 1980s or 1990s. Millennials are often stereotyped as lethargic and reliant on technology.  But this younger generation also bears several positive traits — highly educated, innovative, civic-minded, confident, resilient.  They will constitute nearly 75% of the Canadian workforce by 2025.

The public service across Canada needs to ensure that the intergenerational transition of leadership is carefully managed to guarantee the success of incoming Millennials, as well as the best possible service to Canadians.  The new generation of young professionals must be equipped with the necessary tools and resources to take on the challenge to lead.

According to Statistics Canada, Millennials made up nearly 25% of the Canadian population in 2016.  The public service needs to integrate the new generation of leaders while acknowledging that they will be serving citizens comprised of larger numbers of young people.  This shift necessitates adaptation to the needs of Canadians through a public service that continues to understand and embrace change.  The transition of leadership is not an option.

Intergenerational transitions occur at a slow pace.  Young professionals within or about to enter the public service who are up to the challenge need to understand that opportunities will emerge.  Millennials have to be wise in approaching these transitions to connect successfully with their counterparts while maintaining an open attitude that enables them to observe, listen, and learn.  Upcoming young leaders are expected to take on roles and responsibilities in middle management as Baby Boomers retire and Generation Xers step up, leaving gaps in the public service.

What does it take to be an emerging leader in the public service?

Young professionals need to demonstrate that they are ready for the task at hand by tactfully asserting their skills and abilities.  What are the competencies required of young professionals who want to succeed departing mid-level managers?  Those necessary for a positive intergenerational transition include:

  • High Ethical Standards – honesty, respect, quality of work;
  • Innovative Disposition – critical thought, proactive attitude, visionary leadership;
  • Emotional Intelligence – assertiveness in complex situations, cognizant of workplace climate and culture;
  • Political Acuity – mindful of formal structure, influence over significant decisions, conscious of potential impact;
  • Adaptability – coachable, flexible, tolerant of critical feedback;
  • Interpersonal Communication – positive attitude, interactive, great writing, remarkable presentations; and
  • Resilience – patient, persistent, humble, goal driven.

These competencies vary by position held and may not be the perfect recipe for success for everyone.  However, when supported by talent management programs, they help differentiate the aptitudes of young professionals for leadership positions within the public service.

The public service in Canada has plans to engage Millennials more fully and proactively. Young leaders who can manage the delivery of citizen-centred programs and services are amongst the highest regarded for leadership positions. This is an opportune time for the public service to continue to recruit well-prepared young leaders, given that retirements are on the rise.

Effective change management requires individuals who can simultaneously plan the transition and train incoming staff.  Although challenging, this is required in order to assure a successful leadership relay.  Recruiters, innovators, and experienced public servants must design strategies that enable a well-managed changeover of leadership with as few gaps and as many improvements as possible.  This approach will ensure a positive, holistic transfer in large, complex public organizations.

Young professionals who are interested in becoming part of this leadership transition must ensure that they satisfy the criteria needed to succeed present leaders, especially those in middle management.  In addition, they must showcase the value-added traits of the younger generation highlighted above.  Millennials must be ready to capitalize on this historic shift as an unprecedented opportunity to contribute to the innovative advancement of Canadian society.

 

Juan Alvarez is a public servant with the government of Canada.  he is a MPPAL candidate at York University. (juan86@yorku.ca)

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