Where do future leaders come from?

All great leaders have a few things in common.

One is that long before they were referred to as “great leaders”, they were referred to as “future leaders“.

We all have to start somewhere, right?  Despite the 140-character, sound-byte world we live in, leaders don’t just eat a bowl of magic cereal to become great.  They build their competency one skill, one experience and one hardship at a time.

Yesterday’s “future leaders” become today’s “great leaders”.

So where are these future leaders coming from?

A popular answer might be university MBA programs, or other educational based environments.  And while not wrong, that’s far from a complete answer.

Future Leaders

Here are some startling statistics (reported recently by Forbes):

Question: “Are students being effectively prepared for the workforce?”

  • 96% of university academic officers said yes.
  • Only 33% of business leaders said yes.

Ponder that for a moment.  After years of time and money invested in higher education, only 1 out of 3 graduates are considered viable, future leaders right out of college.

When nearly every ‘producer’ believes they are producing a great product but only a 1/3rd of their ‘end users’ agree, we’ve clearly defined a ‘gap in coverage’!

Perhaps these traditional leadership development system are failing to produce a higher percentage of ‘future leaders’ because they’ve lost perspective of what is required of today’s ‘great leaders’?

Sadly, it get’s worse.  Read on …

In a test reported by the Wall Street Journal only 4 in 10 students “graduate without the complex reasoning skills to manage white-collar work”.  Yikes.

So again, think of a committee made up of 10 recent college graduates tasked with solving a work-related problem.  Only 40% of them will add value to the solution.

  • If we were coaching a soccer team, how successful would we be if more than half of the team just sat in the field watching the butterflies during the game instead of helping out on offense and defense?  How competitive would we be?

I know.  Stats like these are seldom so black and white … but they do illustrate an alarming trend.  And that trend does not bode well for the long term success of our organizations as long as we continue to only drink out of the same, diminishing well.


All of this got me thinking more about the great leaders I know and where they came from.  Like the stats reflect, not very many of these tried and true leaders got that way from earning an advanced degree.

  • Many developed and honed their leadership skills from experiences and education in public service (military, law enforcement, fire service, etc.).
  • Some from the volunteer sector as part of a successful non-profit (charitable, service, etc.).
  • And others from grinding it out in the private sector, rising through the ranks only to have their advancement stunted by rules requiring an advanced degree.
  • And increasingly, more and more future leaders are gaining valuable insight, education and experience via online learning.  That’s a big reason why I’m investing more of my time and money into programs to support these ‘non-traditional’ leadership development outlets.

The world needs a more consistent pipeline full of “future leaders” so we can reap the rewards when they become “great leaders”.

Are you part of that future?

Who else needs to know?
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