Over the last 18 months, each of us has experienced a whirlwind of change due to the global pandemic. It has forced us to look directly in the mirror and deal with issues that, in the past, we might have been able to evade. In the business world, there are several realities that the pandemic has made us face.

There are thousands of articles available where contributors offer their stance on what this “new” world looks like and how to deal with our current environment—especially with the technology and engagement related to the virtual workforce.  

“One of the big insights from our work has been that, just because you went to the meeting doesn’t mean you know what happened,” explains HBS researcher Leslie Perlow in a recent article. “The more senior people assume that the more junior people understood the meeting because they were there.”

We at Solutions 21 have seen this as a huge issue that organizations have had to navigate during the pandemic. As the rules of the game have changed, we need to adapt our approach in preparing the folks who will be “playing the game” by these new rules. Following the old rules and expecting everyone to learn exactly how to move forward simply because they’re at the company is not enough.

Operating in this new environment requires leaders who are dynamic, strategic thinkers and capable of navigating technology in both hybrid and virtual workplaces. The old ways of leading that have long been sufficient are no longer enough. Failure to adapt leads to extinction.

Throughout the history of mankind, we have survived largely due to our ability to adapt to our environment. This sort of adaptation must happen again, as we are facing an extreme shift in the workplace. 10,000 Baby Boomers—the generation largely responsible for leading many companies today—turn 65 each and every day until the end of the decade. The institutional capital held by Boomers is being handed over to the next generation of leaders at an astronomical rate.

As these highly-experienced leaders march toward retirement, there is a huge gap in game-ready leaders to fill those roles. Younger and younger generations of leaders are being asked to fill the open spaces left by retiring leaders. Not only do these leaders need to work to gather the experiences their predecessors had, but they also must focus on understanding the human behaviors, communication styles, and motivations of the five generations surrounding them in the workplace. No longer can companies and leaders rest on what worked for them in the past—the world is changing too quickly.

According to a recent study conducted by an HR consulting firm, the number one issue facing CEOs by an incredible margin is that they don’t feel comfortable with their next generation of leaders. There just aren’t enough people to fill the roles with all the experiences and skills modern leadership asks of them.

The root cause of this problem? The people in line to step into these roles aren’t being developed proactively and practically. The tactical, reactive, “let’s just do what we’ve always done” approach to training next leaders doesn’t do enough to fully prepare leaders in the new work environment.

I’m not saying we need to recreate the wheel. The foundational principles of leadership are still important, but as the rules of the workplace game are changing at an exhaustive pace, it will be necessary for us to adapt to the times or risk extinction.

Leaders are made, not born, and in most cases, organizations need people to champion the change that is happening and lead teams, people, and projects. If we throw new leaders into a constantly-changing landscape without investing in the tools they will need to succeed, what message does that convey to them?

We’ve experienced enough situations in this lifetime where data has time and time again proven that we are putting ourselves at risk if we refuse to pay attention to the numbers. The numbers are pretty clear:

  1. CEOs are not confident in their succession plans
  2. New leaders are not confident in the current development plans
  3. Generational gaps are forcing younger employees to step into higher roles quicker

At the end of the day, people want results. The “Just do it” Nike motto sounds good, but at what cost? I’ve had firsthand views of it both in the NFL and in the business world: in the long run, the most prepared team always wins.