Who are you saying has a gap?

Recently I had the good fortune to work with a group of smart, educated professionals from a great organization, The Nature Conservancy. I am grateful for the work their do towards their mission of “conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends.”

Our day was spent in an interactive experience with horse partners in collaboration with Healing Reins, a local therapeutic riding center with whom we partner from time to time.  The day was delightful as they explored the dynamics of “partnership across difference.”

As a facilitator, I know that learning is as available to me as it is the participants, but on this day, I was brought up short by my own unconscious bias. The net result was a complete re frame for me.  One leader had mentioned their question of whether new talent was entering their field, and I bridged on what they were saying with a comment about the burgeoning trend that we speak of often, the “talent gap” anticipated ahead due to the volume of baby boomers expected to retire in the next two years.

Another leader spoke up and said to me “I take issue with the language you use.  There isn’t, from my view, a “talent gap” ahead. As a younger person in the workplace, I am ready and eager to learn and to lead. Why is it that so many people act like the world will fall apart when current senior leaders retire?”

I found myself feeling at first defensive…”yes but so many leaders are retiring, and are we really adequately training the younger folks coming up…” and then I realized that his perspective was a precious one for me. I found myself wondering, what story do I, and others of my generation, tell ourselves about what will happen when we leave the helm? Is it that we believe we are so unique, so talented, so wise that no one can possibly fill our shoes? Do we have a story that entering employees are somehow deficient?  And finally, are we, and am I, doing everything I can to give those coming up behind the information, support, and challenging assignments they need to success in the organizations we will one day exit?

We had a great conversation about partnership across differences, and about the fact that greatness comes in all styles and approaches. We discussed how leadership in organizations like TNC may look different tomorrow with new views and attitudes in place, but different doesn’t mean “worse.”

It sure got my wheels churning about my own legacy, my own control, and my own hope. It is true that I will pass the baton at some point to those with the energy and fortitude and hope to run my practice and do the work with do with organizations all over the world. It got me thinking about what it would mean to view the situation of boomer retirement and transition as a stage of evolution rather than a gap, and one that presents infinite possibility.

Are you thinking ahead about the people who are entering your organization now and will lead it tomorrow? Are you open to not only what they want to do,  but how they want to do it?  Is it possible their ideas represent not a deficit but an opportunity? I know my 30 years of experience is worth something, but I also know I won’t be doing what I do forever, and that as long as I hold onto my belief that I must hold on due to a coming gap, it is a self fulfilling prophecy.

Jim Morris