Organisations need talent more than talent needs them. Mid-career professionals weigh this truism as they consider ways to align their desires with their future career aspirations. These professionals seek new opportunities through career change in order to meet personal goals and to increase the likelihood of advancement, and changing one’s career is closely associated with renewed career commitment and job satisfaction. So why are these professionals also likely to experience mid-career transition as mid-career crisis? Leadership intervention—or lack thereof—is to blame.
Proactive leadership plays a critical role in leveraging the commitment of mid-career talent. Too often mid-career employees are left to hit the ground running because they have enough knowledge to transfer from one job to another. Any mid-career professional will tell you that being left alone in a new organisation is the last thing that they want or need. Leaders need to actively demonstrate their leadership to transitioning professionals and show that the organisation needs them.
What can leaders do? Take a look at three key steps below.
Embody a personal and meaningful mission.
A colleague of mine still talks about the day he accidently ran into his CEO waiting to cross the street. Their short and informal conversation left a lasting impression that this CEO was a good guy trying to do good things. Why leave such impressions to chance? It is no secret that mid-career is often associated with crisis, break, and change. Mid-career employees are more likely to question the meaning of their work, the value of their company’s mission, their job autonomy, their contributions, and their relationships. Leaders mistakenly tend to leave mid-career personnel alone to work as they normally do. Instead, leaders should look toward forming closer alliances with the middle layers of the organisation. These alliances break down barriers and personalize the organisational structure, so that the organisation’s mission is embodied in the work of others and in the work of the leader. Through their interactions, leaders can make the mission meaningful for mid-career personnel.
Instigate long-term thinking and transparent career paths.
In his seminal text about leadership and workplace analysis, Dan C. Lortie revealed how cultural practices evolve in workplaces. He showed how the limited interactions of some workplaces tended to foster what he called presentism: short-term thinking orientated in the present that consolidated conservatism and inhibited innovation. Lortie concluded that presentism is created by short-term work goals, lack of enthusiasm about change and team work, and the employee not having a sense of full mastery of his or her work. Lortie surmised that leaders can counter presentism by interacting early on with mid-career personnel. Why wait until the performance review to talk about career goals? Creating an open dialogue around career goals and aspirations counters mid-career presentism. Further, personalise it. All leaders have a good story to tell about how they got to where they are, and these narratives can be powerful drivers for others. Hearing these stories personalises career strategies as long-term events.
Recognise and reward the next wave of talent.
Any good leader knows to surround themselves with talented people, but recognising the future leaders who will generate change and innovation is a task rarely considered. It is from mid-career employees that the next generation of leaders will emerge. Forming relationships with these employees will allow a leader to acknowledge and reward talent, as well as identify, train, and develop talent for the future of the organisation.
To enhance the value and commitment of mid-career talent, leaders need to work at building their relationships and commitments to these employees, which means more frequent and visible interactions that affirm the interdependency of organisational goals and individual career aspirations.
What other suggestions do you have for leaders to help their talent combat a mid-career crisis?
Athena is currently researching women in leadership and in 2013 published her new book Career Moves: Mentoring for Women Advancing Their Career and Leadership in Academia.