Age doesn't necessarily sit at the head of the table, success does. This reality is ever more apparent to us at Spencer Stuart, as we conclude the fifth edition of the 40 Under Forty awards as study partners. Observing the journeys of the awardees, as well as other senior leaders across industries in our work as a leadership advisory firm, we know that the '"top" is not a destination but a shifting milestone. The ones who succeed are not only those who work hard and overcome adversities, but those who constantly seek to evolve and develop themselves.
In this year's survey, we explored the most significant challenges the young leaders faced in their careers. When reflecting on their transitions into bigger more than half of them felt it was fundamentally challenging to manage the multiple, often competing demands and expectations that come with senior roles — balancing delivering short-term results with driving longer-term strategies, change and sustainability. This necessitates prioritization and focus in the most critical aspects, while delegating many other aspects to peers and subordinates. Giving up what one does best, trusting and empowering others to take charge and realigning one's focus to more strategic considerations requires a mindset change. "It is tough to suddenly let go, especially when you come from operational roles where you are used to being in charge of execution. Delegation needs to be done in a phased manner, after identifying the right candidates to take over your roles," says Abhishek Rege, CEO, Endemol India.
Another challenge faced by these under-40s related to making decisions in areas where they don't have prior experience. Executive courage is not an issue — in fact, strong comfort with taking charge is seen to play a key role in early success of these leaders. Yet, what could feel unnerving is the magnitude and scale of impact that each decision has the potential to create. Vivek Vikram Singh, Group COO and president, Sona Group echoes this: "Coming straight from the abstract world of consulting into manufacturing, where decisions impact hundreds of employees, felt quite daunting."
Interestingly, very few saw managing colleagues who were previously peers to be challenging. In fact, a large proportion of the young leaders leverage them as sounding boards in working through new challenges. Many invest in building this support network within and outside of their organizations, demonstrating intellectual humility in order to harness the knowledge, ideas, experiences and learnings of others who have been or are in similar boats. "Someone has already faced the challenge you're facing," says Vikram Vaidyanathan, managing director, Matrix Partners. "Find them in a book, a video, or a meeting and learn."
These executives found mentoring by senior industry leaders — often past bosses — to be more helpful in perspective-building than working with executive coaches. Our survey showed less than 15% of the 40 Under Forty leaders found executive education or coaching to be relevant to their development needs. Engaging with peers and industry veterans through industry forums enables idea and information sharing, and simultaneously helps them feel less lonely at the top.
There is an opportunity here for companies to do more when it comes to supporting more well-rounded and holistic leadership development through enabling wider peer learning, networking and mentorship. Providing leaders with the bandwidth they need for self-driven learning, growth and recharging, coupled with offering them support in building their teams and other support structures, are equally critical for the joint success of the leader and the organization.
Special thanks to Anupriya Jain for her contribution to this piece, originally published in the Economic Times. Read the full list of the 40 Under Forty leaders here.