We have more to worry about than Y2K. Just a year later–in 2001–the first wave of baby boomers will turn 55–and retire. When you toss in mergers, acquisitions and downsizing, the average retirement age just might be even lower. That creates all sorts of problems. For instance, how are companies going to be able to handle all those pension and health care costs? But there is an even bigger potential problem. When you count up the years of experience and leadership those future retirees represent, who's going to be left to mind the store? Where will companies and organizations find the talent for so many open positions? Who will lead us into and through the next century?
Those who would qualify as the leaders of tomorrow face a much more rigorous skill test than do their predecessors. Companies today are looking for different things than they did 30 or 40 years ago. Long-range skills are becoming increasingly important. Things like strategic decision-making-visionary leadership-aligning performance for success-communication-innovation—empowering leadership. Those are the things that make or break companies today. And so we require that our new leaders be capable of doing those things.
Increasingly, leaders are being required to transcend cultures and geographic boundaries. We live, after all, in a global society. That's not easy to teach or to learn. That change–and the long-range skills that are now required–make it difficult to prepare tomorrow's leaders in the skills they need to be successful. So adaptability becomes another important skill for leaders to possess to tackle the challenges of tomorrow.
We know some additional things about our new leaders–traits they share with their predecessors. They don't share a particular personality–some are calm, some jovial, some quick-tempered, others serious. Yet somehow those leaders are able to inspire others to follow them to take risks and to do more than they ever thought possible. Good managers know how to write business plans. Good leaders get companies–and people–to change.
Furthermore, studies have shown that organizational performance–revenue, productivity, profitability and market value–are all directly affected by leadership strength. So we know that our future success will depend in large part on the leaders we have in place.
In other words, we're asking the leaders of tomorrow to fill a pretty tall order–long-range skills, the ability to transcend cultures and geographic boundaries, the ability to get companies and people to change. Phew!
Even so, there is ample evidence that the order will be filled. I'm talking about the "40 Leaders Under Forty." This year's roster was picked form over 100 nominations. They are distinguished–as they have been in other years. They've progressed well in their careers, have been able to balance both family and work, have volunteered for community service, and they are paying attention to professional development. And there are signs that they possess the sort of skills that the leaders of tomorrow must have.
But there are not enough hours in the day for any of these people to keep up their busy schedules, to be creative and to stay focused on all their responsibilities. That's why it's important that they have the encouragement of others within their organization. And all of our 40 Leaders Under Forty do. We'd like to think that at least part of that is the result of good leadership already in place–today's leaders tend to create the conditions that invite and encourage others to develop and contribute their own skills–in essence, forming an environment that grows new leaders.
I recently had the privilege of being in a room full of CEOs, presidents, managers, and community leaders who have allowed themselves to be interviewed and photographed for InterBusiness Issues. It was a humbling experience for me. As I stood in their presence, I thought of what I have asked every one of them-who is your mentor? Who has helped you succeed? It was then I realized that they were all my mentors. Every one of them. I looked up every one of them–and learned from them. They have created the conditions that help establish new leaders. Leadership can beget leadership. It's contagious. It can be cultivated. And that's exactly what happening in our community.
The 40 men and women profiled in this issue are the leaders we count on–both today and tomorrow. IBI