Developing the New Wave of Leadership

May 29, 2019
Hannah Copenheaver, MA & Jason McCartney, PE &

It goes without saying that new blood brings new life into an organization. When millennials, like us, entered the workforce, we were eager to get involved and make a difference. Now well into our careers by an average of 10 years, there is a new junior generation, Generation Z, who brings a different perspective to the table. Research has found that by the end of the year, this generation will make up 24% of today’s global workforce.

How can AEC firms capitalize on this growing talent and energy? We have outlined three steps to ensure your younger professionals flourish into the next wave of leadership.

  1. Internal Groups are a Tool, not a Competition
    By taking the risk to place your younger rising star in a leadership position on an internal committee, it gives him or her an opportunity to further establish and hone leadership skills. As an added bonus, it also will expose the worker to senior leaders of the firm, creating a relationship with top members of the company, while reducing the workload of those senior leaders who often have so much on their plates. Cycling committee members is smart to begin with, but when you cycle with younger, emerging professionals, diverse discussions begin to happen that shake up conversations and lead to results. Also, internal opportunities are a starting point for external, client-facing applications. Remember, most companies have easy options for internal involvement, but it is up to supervisors to make the intentional decision to take advantage of them.
  2. Provide a Clear Career Progression
    While developing new skills is critical to a younger professional’s career growth, the light at the end of the tunnel is obstructed without clear career progression. A more junior employee may think to themselves, “sitting on this committee is great and I am learning so much, but where is this leading?”. By communicating with your direct reports on their career options inside the firm, the individuals will be able to envision their future at the company. This will decrease the likelihood that they jump ship to a competing firm. Millennials are often characterized as wanting advancement before they’ve earned it. We see it differently. Millennials just want to be able to clearly see the path forward.
  3. From Mentor to Supervisor
    One of the best ways to establish strong supervisors is to cultivate their supervising skills early. It’s clear that the best training is experience—being intentional about how we develop experiences in young professionals is a great way to prepare them. As millennials begin transitioning to mid-career professionals, there is a great opportunity to capture their knowledge and enthusiasm by providing them the ability to supervise an intern or an entry-level employee, instead of acting solely as a mentor.

In sum, the best way to develop the future leaders of any company is to provide the tools and support that enable success !

Hannah Copenheaver, MA, is a marketing strategist based in Chicago. She is the current chair of the Future Generations at Gannett Fleming, an employee resource group dedicated to amplifying the voice of early career professionals. Jason McCartney, PE, is a project manager based in Philadelphia. He is the immediate past chair of the committee.