A strong pipeline of future leaders is crucial for a company’s success. However, internal talent management has typically been viewed as an expensive and arduous process. At its height, General Electric spent 1 billion each year on training for executives. But those machinations took place behind closed doors, well away from the public sphere, and those executives only emerged when they were GE-market-primed.

Today’s executives don’t have that luxury. In a digital-first marketplace, they are learning to lead under the scrutiny of industry peers, colleagues, and customers. To avoid mis-steps on social (and other) media, they’ll need guidance in shaping their ideas, developing a voice, and promoting a business-savvy public-facing persona.

This is where Executive Thought Leadership comes in. 

Next-Gen C-Suite Readiness

This type of visibility initiative used to be just for the C-Suite, as a way to establish their personal/business brand, while providing a subtle yet effective halo effect for the company. But it’s now vital for those individuals rising up the corporate ladder, especially as the nature of leadership shifts due to post-pandemic hybrid workstyles.

Dr. Martha Maznevski, Professor of Organizational Behavior and Faculty Director for Executive Education at Ivey Business School, Western University, is an expert in developing future leaders. In a recent Op-Ed Professor Maznevski wrote “In effective virtual teams, the leadership role is [now] shared across more people. The coordination job is bigger, so the leader simply can’t do everything well on their own.”

As Dr. Maznevski’s point illustrates, a company’s strategy is no longer directed by a single leader, who then delegates execution to middle management. Teams today are often virtual, and definitely flatter, less hierarchical. It’s crucial for the CEO to know that they’ve got a strong set of executives ready to step up and lead at a team, corporate and industry level.

Allowing their voices to be heard out in the marketplace will help that transition. 

Elevate (Many) Voices

A new generation, accustomed to speaking their mind and embracing transparency, is now entering the workforce. This brings challenges and opportunities when assessing leadership goals because these next generations are driving the expansion of the C-suite both with flatter organizational structures and the prioritization and elevation of roles like DEI to executive-level status.

Dr. Nelarine Cornelius, Professor of Organisation Studies at Queen Mary, University of London, is an expert in DEI, management and corporate development, and has advised senior teams across General Motors Europe.

When providing guidance for the UK government recently, Dr. Cornelius noted, “Workforce diversity and shifting inter-generational expectations demands letting go of 20th century leadership norms, ideas and practices. In the 21st century, there is a heightened expectation that leaders should understand and engage with their followers.”

In other words, 20th-century tactics won’t work on millennial and Gen Z professionals. Managing direct reports while keeping a respectful eye on the Board is no longer enough. 21st-century CEOs need to elevate many voices from within the ranks, using available opportunities to communicate change, encourage loyalty, and celebrate difference.

By choosing emerging leaders with unique perspectives, the company can demonstrate its vibrant and diverse culture. In return, more employees will feel seen and heard. 

Retention & Development

When rising stars share their industry expertise with the outside world, their words are ideally amplified by traditional corporate channels to aid visibility and confirm the connection with the company brand. This may require significant buy-in and support from internal comms teams, which are normally focused on the organization and not an individual. It may even require reassurances to senior leaders who green-lit the idea initially but balk at the idea of additional resources that support a team member’s professional brand.

It’s important to remember, however, the effect such support has on how that leader views your organization, how others view their potential career journey within your organization, and how prospective employees view what you and your leadership team stand for. In the face of the Great Resignation, retaining talent has become even more challenging. You don’t want someone whose ideas aren’t supported to cease to contribute or, worse, take their newfound recognition to the competition.

Finally, the right executive thought leadership program is extraordinarily helpful in developing future leaders within safe parameters. When collaborating with an experienced corporate ghostwriter, those leaders can really spend time thinking about their values, business philosophy, and industry expertise. They can also feel secure and protected as their words are crafted, edited and polished to deliver significantly on their emerging themes.

This confidence, in turn, will support them and benefit you as they lead teams and new initiatives in your organization. It can also carry over into other areas of visibility where, with media and speaker training, you have someone who has already built a reputation as a thought leader now ready to face the press, represent the organization, and fully represent themself when they reach the C-Suite – at last.

This post is the first in a series about the value proposition of executive thought leadership. Be sure to read the other posts in the series:

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