One of the most visible workplace trends in industries across the board is the looming retirement of the Baby Boomer generation. Losing the boomers creates no shortage of obstacles that businesses must overcome, including:
But perhaps the hardest part of watching the Baby Boomers take their leave is the prospect of losing beloved and, in some cases, legendary leaders who emerged from the crowd and steered their businesses down the path to success. Sure, it's exciting when the next generation gets to step up and lead, but even potential successors to a great leader will admit that watching a revered leader go can be tough.
Filling those shoes can seem daunting, if not impossible. Truly great leaders differentiate themselves by becoming irreplaceable. When replacing these individuals, it's not just a matter of plugging in a new face. A great, even legendary, leader's influence permeates the entire business, leaving those who remain to fill that void as quickly as possible in hopes of avoiding a rocky transition for the next generation.
It may be cliché, but it's also true: You don't know what you have until it's gone. Very often, the remaining leaders in a business don't know what they're losing until it's too late.
What really gets lost when a great leader leaves is what is known as "deep smarts," according to an article in the Harvard Business Review. An established leader with many years under his or her belt not only has a wealth of technical skills, but also a breadth and depth of business and industry insight that can only be gained through extensive experience.
The loss of these deep skills can affect business relationships that were stewarded by a particular leader. It could lead to a reworking of key business processes as new leaders with different skillsets and views take the reins. Knowledge can be gained, but experience cannot be replaced, making a seamless transition difficult and perhaps improbable. This is why it's crucial for businesses to start thinking about who will fill the current leaders' shoes long before they go.
Fortunately, there are some ways to ease the transition between leadership generations, sometimes known as a succession plan: