A Generation Turnover is Happening — Are You Investing in Your Young Leaders?

by | Jun 30, 2022 | Business, Features, Seed Speaks

We all know that a generational shift is coming. According to the United States Census Bureau, by 2030, all baby boomers will be age 65 or older — which accounts for 73 million people in the U.S. That means, in less than eight years, a new generation will be stepping up to the plate to fill the gap left by retirees.

As a business, there’s an important question to ask yourself… Are your young leaders ready to lead?

“That generational transition we’ve been talking about is actually happening right now,” says Jim Schweigert, president of Gro Alliance and upcoming chair of the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA), noting that from 2007-2019, every ASTA chair was born either in the 1950s or 1960s, with two born in the late 1940s. John Latham was born in the 1970s and was chair from 2020-2021 — and Schweigert himself will be the first elected chair born in the 1980s.

“It’s at this moment that companies need to decide where they go in the future and what their path is to long term success for the next generation,” he says. “It’s certainly not going to be by running the same plays they ran before — they need a new playbook and new ideas.”

By investing in young leaders now, you ensure a smooth transition between generations — but the key is starting that investment as soon as possible.

That’s the motivation behind changing the ASTA summer meeting to the ASTA Leadership Summit.

“This conference isn’t moving away from policy — it’s just enhancing leadership,” says Jake Ware, business manager for HM.CLAUSE and chair of ASTA’s LEAD committee. “We see leadership as a catalyst to all of our goals, and we can help build great leaders within our industry.”

Not only that, but Ware says building up new leaders is imperative for the seed industry to be able to feed the planet.

“When you’re able to build leaders with purpose, they can bring success not only to each of the companies, but to the industry as a whole,” he says.

To achieve that, companies need to listen to the needs of their employees, says Brad May.

“Companies really need to understand what their young leaders need and help them improve on their skills,” May, current chair of ASTA and vice president of Global Strategic Marketing Seed Treatments at BASF, says. “We need to teach strategic thinking, how to embrace change and how to become problem solvers.”

There are plenty of ways to get knowledge to these aspiring young leaders, including many free or inexpensive solutions such as podcasts and audiobooks. Sending aspiring leaders to industry meetings always helps better their skills — even if it seems expensive to do so.

“The inflationary pressure right now on travel, hotels, airlines, gas has got some people thinking about budgets and asking the question: ‘What can I really invest to send somebody to a meeting?’” Schweigert says. “But, the ROI looks good when your employees improve. If you can send them to the Leadership Summit or other leadership activities and they come home with new improvements, those are real dollars that offset those costs.”

Conferences, like the ASTA Leadership Summit, can help develop different skills within aspiring leaders that might go undeveloped in a day-to-day office setting. But, the key to learning at meetings is being completely engaged.

“Commit to be engaged fully and immerse yourself into the trainings,” May says, noting that this is the best advice he could give to a young leader hoping to better their skills.

But, when it comes down to it — investing in young leaders is something that never depreciates.

“If you invest in your employee base and they get better, they’ll make the people around them better — and that improves your overall company performance,” Schweigert says. “It all starts with investing in your talent so they can get better and improve.”

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