Career-stalling behaviors to avoid and the leadership challenges ahead

What are the career-stalling behaviors that might impede your ability to lead? I put that question to two human resource executives who recently visited Vanderbilt – International Paper’s Tom Plath and P&G’s Rich Postler.

Both noted that with four generations in the current workforce, leadership is all the more challenging. Leaders need to meld together the working attributes of each generation, finding ways to inspire teams to collaborate while compensating for differences. As boomers exit, they also need to replace skills while embracing diversity, which will bring the best new talent into the organization. The demographic shifts, work styles, and lifestyle needs require firms to think creatively about assembling and managing talent. Add to that the pace of change, and leaders need to be more agile than ever.

Tom Plath, International Paper’s human resource chief, pointed to three key behaviors that trip leaders up – listening, learning, and restraint. With rapid change, leaders must make learning an iterative daily process. That means resisting the urge to rely on old knowledge, admitting you don’t have all the answers, and actively listening.

Successful leaders move out of their comfort zone, to a place where they are forced to learn and rely on others. They also carefully manage themselves to maintain objectivity, balancing authenticity and restraint.

P&G’s Rich Postler struck a similar chord, noting that today’s managers face bigger leadership challenges from the growing need of firms to recruit talent from the outside. For companies like P&G that historically developed talent from within, leaders are now managing teams of long-time employees, recent experienced hires, and contractors. Layered on top of that is new urgency for speed, where teams no longer have the luxury of analyzing every angle of a new product before bringing it to market. “Done is better than perfect” Rich quipped, which means leaders must abandon prolonged analysis. Rapidly testing, learning, and moving ahead is critical to leadership success.

For more on the leadership challenges ahead and the Workforce of 2025, see my interviews with:

Thomas Plath, Senior Vice President, Human Resources and Global Citizenship, International Paper

Richard Postler, VP of HR for Global Business Services & Global Information Technology, Procter & Gamble

For more on Richard Postler’s visit as a Leader-in-Residence, read the feature story in the Vanderbilt Business newsroom.

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