Leaders are becoming scarce.

February 2022

Two years ago, no one would have dreamed the Swiss economy as a whole would pull through the pandemic in such stable condition. Many industrial companies told us they had decent annual results for the 2021 financial year and record orders. But they’ve also experienced bottlenecks in sourcing electronic components and finding good employees. The struggle for skilled workers and talent has come to a head. Leaders are also becoming scarce.

For some members of Generation X (1965 – 1980), a professional career was and is a life goal. There were clear pathways for this, such as a career as an officer or with a leading consulting firm after graduating. McKinsey and Goldman Sachs were guiding stars for many students, whether you reached them or not. Stellar exam results, 60-hour weeks and postings abroad were par for the course.

Now Generation Y (1981 – 1996) are set to take over the reins in business. Their career paths are through different: high-potentials found a start-up during their studies or immediately afterwards. They look for creative freedom, meaning and entrepreneurial growth. Then, later on they find integrating into the tight corset of a larger company almost impossible. Others are unwilling to swap their matrix function in a company with the option of remote working for a more senior line management position that regularly involves a significantly higher volume of work. Even with CEO positions, we repeatedly see candidates withdraw their applications as they think it would jeopardise their work-life balance.

We see several reasons for this more laid-back approach: the affluent society, the distribution of roles within families, the bad role models of CEOs blown up by the media and the declining social status of captains of industry. Often, they are put off by their Generation X and older parents, who are dedicated to their profession and have had little time for the family. The more academic the education, the more the “why” generation thinks about the question of meaning. So we, as executive search consultants, are increasingly confronted with very fundamental life questions.

And the pandemic with the widespread options of working from home has accentuated this trend. After all, it’s a pleasure to work from home on full pay, take care of pressing private and professional matters and spend the whole day with the family. So candidates are now weighing up whether they really want to put up with a 45-minute commute, which, as everyone knows, is part and parcel of being in a C-level position.

What’s the solution then? Hope for a Generation Z (1997 – 2010) countertrend to emerge? Run the business from home? Share the responsibility of CEOs among several people? Bring in more managers from abroad?

Success and half-heartedness are not good bedfellows – companies need leaders who are fully committed.

Of course, the role of a leader has changed in recent years. But demands on CEOs who are expected to have a cooperative leadership style, emotional intelligence, agile coordination skills and to input content have tended to increase. This requires complete commitment and an iron will to develop a company further. A 42-hour week working from home is not enough. Companies also need to undergo a rethink: the “why” generation is different – not worse, but different. The oft-quoted lifestyles of Generation X such as “Monday to Friday belongs to the company, weekends to the family” no longer apply. Work-life balance and the distribution of family roles are increasingly integral parts of recruitment interviews. Our executive search mandates are therefore becoming wider in scope. For sure, we need to discover the leaders of Generation Y and mentor them on their way to a C-level position – which includes coaching in leadership issues and counselling on how to organise family life. But companies must also be properly prepared for these new leaders.

Here are a few examples from our experience in executive searches:

  • Recruiting and successfully integrating an outstandingly qualified young woman as a CEO for a traditional family business. Her husband has taken a step back from his job and is taking care of the children. The company has adapted to the CEO working one or two days a week from home.
  • Discovering a young, talented head of a small business unit and developing her into the CEO of a medium-sized company with a turnover of over CHF 100 million. Providing careers advice for his wife, who also wants to fast-track her career. Weighing up the different options for the care of their young child. Onboarding coaching of the CEO with the chairman of the board closely involved.
  • Developing a young woman into the managing director of a multi-family office coupled with the family’s move from a big city to the countryside. Supporting her husband in finding a new managing director position at their new place of residence. Discussing the right mix of outside and family care for their young child. Employer drawing up specific rules for working from home.

Finding good, young Generation Y leaders is challenging. They need sparring partners at eye level – not just for professional issues, but also for their private lives. At the same time, companies must be properly prepared for managers of the “why” generation and their integration must be carefully supported. Simply placing a job advertisement is no longer enough to attract the best leaders of the next generation of managers.

“Business transformation”, “diversity” and “hiring for cultural fit” are our core topics: as a versatile, dynamic Swiss Executive Search Boutique, with added leadership consultancy, we want to take our share of responsibility for the successful development of companies in the digital age. Witena can be your sparring partner and has the enthusiasm and skills to support you in the further development of your company.