Are we facing a lack of leaders in the coming years?

We have plenty of leaders, or do we? If we look at numbers from the interest group Lederne, Denmark had 12.045 leaders under 35 in 2008. That number had dropped to 9.152 in 2018, despite a 15% increase in the total number of leaders.

This is puzzling, how it is possible that the number of leaders is increasing, but the young people are not part of this development. An analysis from the employer- and business organisation Dansk Industri shows that the number of leaders, over 50 years, has increased from 35% in 2010 to 44% in 2019. The leadership-scene in Denmark is dominated by a large amount of older leaders. What will happen in the next 10 years, where a large part of the leadership resources are ready for retirement?

In the research paper “Ledelse af unge II” from the business academy Cphbusiness it is clear, that especially the young leaders can have a hard time stepping in to the leadership-role. Amongst other things, because they do not feel, they have the right tools for the job.

Herein lies some of the answers, as to why there are not more leaders under the age of 35. There is plenty of research into the topic of leadership, but not enough focus on the young leader and the tools they need to undertake such a demanding role.

We are potentially facing a shortage in qualified leaders, if we do not try to accommodate the challenges of the new young leaders.

How to help the young leaders

Together with Lederne, Cphbusiness has launched a new research project with a focus on the well-being of young leaders. The research will look into how the organisations can help support the young leaders in developing the skills needed to become a great leader. So far all the results indicate the young people with an interest in leadership, needs encouragement in order to develop in that direction.

The research also shows that not all young people with leadership-potential, identifies with role of a leader. The road to a leadership-position can be long. Young people expect the job to be complex and non-flexible, which makes it unappealing. This attitude amongst the young potential leaders, can be due to the lack of role models in the workplace, in external professional networks or their own personal networks.

The research into the well-being of young leaders also focuses on the challenge, that the premises which leaders today work under, don’t correspond with their wishes of being a leader.

This is where the organisations can help plant a seed and continuously water it through dialogue, development plans and courses. For example, a dialogue with the young potential leader can be initiated, where the future possibility of leadership roles within the workplace, can be discussed.

The feedback from young potential leaders and new young leaders, is that they need mentoring and counselling, which not many workplaces focus on.

Young leaders as part of the strategy

All companies need to work on their leadership-pipeline.

From a strategic level, they need to develop a more holistic process, so that young new leaders will receive the support, counselling and knowledge they need. Furthermore, the young people need to be included, so that the premises of being a leader is taken in to reconsideration.

We need to look at how companies and organisations encourage young talents to strive for a leadership position, to ensure that there will be no lack of great leaders in the future.

Questions for further reflection

Ask yourself or your organisation:

  • What is your company’s plan for leadership in the future?
  • How will you recruit leadership talents?
  • How do you support young employees with a desire to become leaders one day?

If you want to know more about the research which has been referred to in this article, you can read the research report "Ledelse af unge II" (in danish). You could also profit from reading the book "Ledelse af unge" (in danish) from Dansk Psykologisk Forlag.

Karen Spuur, associate professor, Cphbusiness