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Pipeline Pipe Dream?


Baby Boomers are turning 65. A survey of New North CEOs opines there are not sufficient leaders to replace them.

Story by Michael Bina

The Leadership Pipeline is half empty – but maybe even more than that.

As the first-born Baby Boomers started turning 65 on Jan. 1 this year, CEOs and business owners in the New North are asking timely questions: Are there sufficient numbers of emerging leaders in the pipeline to replace retiring Boomers? In a word – no.

For the better part of a year, the Nicolet Bank Business Pulse has focused the attention of New North CEOs and business leaders on issues associated with leadership. More particularly, those of future leadership. The Nicolet Pulse quarterly survey includes 500 CEOs and business owners who provide their insight on a variety of timely business issues.

Leaders who responded to the questions of leadership said they weren’t terribly confident their pipeline is overflowing with energetic, emerging Leaders to replace those rapidly retiring Boomers. Beginning back on Jan. 1, 2011, a total of 10,000 Baby Boomers will turn 65 everyday – and they will do that every day for the next 19 years, according to Pew Research.

“In front of our eyes, we’re witnessing a generation of leaders leave the market,” reported David Wegge, president of Green Bay-based IntellectualMarketing and director of St. Norbert College Survey Center. “It’s important to take an inventory, and our leadership studies are providing a good accounting not only for sponsors like Nicolet Bank, but for the entire New North community. It’s good to know where we’re at; more importantly, it’s good to know where we’re going!”

Where we’re at

The leadership survey conducted during the fourth quarter 2010 indicated 44 percent of CEOs responded “there’s a shortage of leaders in the pipeline.


Additionally, 16 percent indicated “they’re not sure.” Translation: If a CEO said s/he’s not sure about something, you can be pretty sure they know no emerging leaders in their pipeline, and probably, no emerging leaders in anyone else’s pipeline, either.

So, some 60 percent of CEOs in the New North might be looking for an emerging leader?

The good news is 40 percent thought they had something to work with – that their pipeline had sufficient supply. The next logical question – “How much confidence do you have in the leaders in the pipeline?”

A total of 59 percent of the CEOs responding to the survey said they have a ‘moderate’ level of confidence; 20 percent said they have ‘some’ confidence; 4 percent have ‘none’ but…17 percent indicated they have a ‘great’ deal of confidence.

Mike Daniels, president and chief operating officer of Green Bay-based Nicolet Bank, said, “It’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it’s not that bad, either.”

Opportunity Knocking

Mike Scott was the founding president of Propel, Oshkosh’s young professional group. He’s also a partner at Independence Financial, LLC in Oshkosh, and believes such perceptions from any era of leaders about their emerging replacements are relative to their place in time.

“I see a tremendous opportunity for young professionals who are driven to commit the time and energy required to earn their way into those management positions, or buying out current business owners,” Scott said.

“I don’t know what CEOs thought about emerging leaders in previous generations, but I think we have a history of stepping up to the plate when opportunities present themselves. And there will be many as Boomers continue to retire,” he said.

How does a CEO measure confidence in a generation that, probably, they barely know? How do they recognize a lack of emerging leadership in a pipeline? When the Baby Boomer generation was young and knocking on The Leadership Door, there was probably little CEO confidence in that demographic.

Nevertheless, what’s in the pipeline is in the pipeline. That’s it. It won’t suddenly overflow with a bunch of new, emerging leaders. The New North Pipeline is a little like Green Bay Packer cornerback Tyrone Williams. When asked if he was tall enough to be a leader in a big game, Williams said, “5 feet 9 inches…that’s all God gave me.


Regardless of what’s been “given” to The New North Leadership Pipeline, it behooves CEOs to try to identify, and develop, whatever talent is there.

Packers Coach Mike McCarthy is into it as well.

“I’m always looking for opportunities to develop leadership – whether it’s an assistant coach or player,” McCarthy said during a post-Super Bowl news conference. “And there was a positive response that came from that.


Yeah, like, you won the Super Bowl, for crying out loud!

As a separate component of this study, the Nicolet Bank Business Pulse also asked young professionals in the New North, “What is the most important thing they need to further their development as a leader?” The most popular, affinity-grouped answer was ‘opportunity,’ according to Nicolet Bank’s Daniels.

A total of 90 young professionals who are members of either Current in the Green Bay area or Pulse in the Fox Cities responded to Nicolet’s Leadership Study in January. Nearly all said they wanted more from their employer – more opportunity, more leadership development, and more mentorship.

Interestingly, 58 percent of young professional respondents said they had no mentor in their current position, and 53 percent said their organization did not offer leadership development programs.

The good news is more than 40 percent felt they do have a mentor. Nearly 50 percent do have a development program. 

That pipeline is half full.

Brian Johnson, who runs Current, the young professionals program of the Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, said young professionals want to spend their time building on successful foundations already created by previous generations rather than, “unnecessarily extending a learning curve.” Johnson said the right resources are “right in front of us.”

“We’re on the cusp of a transitioning leadership paradigm; asking people to assume responsibilities that many are unfamiliar with,” he said. “While most are ready for that challenge, there’s no question they’d prefer being mentored by existing leaders.”

Ahhh, Youth!

Young professionals do want to make a mark, and do want to assume leadership positions.

“When traditional establishments stand in the way, they’re not afraid to go around,” Johnson said. “Often times, they start their own businesses, nonprofits and other organizations that help them achieve their goals of making their larger footprint,” Johnson added.

Nicolet Bank Business Pulse asked CEOs how they’d rate themselves compared with other organizations in developing leaders, as well as in leadership.

About half, or 49 percent, said ‘about the same’ as everyone else in the New North, while 39 percent said they were ‘better than most.’

“If 39 percent believe they’re better than most at developing leaders, then why isn’t the confidence in the next generation much higher?” asked Nicolet’s Mike Daniels. “Is it because they may be better than most, but not yet where they need to be?”

Green Bay Packers Coach Mike McCarthy experimented quite a bit this past year with his instinctual ‘leadership development program.’

“No one is comfortable delegating leadership – especially when you are the leader,” McCarthy said. “You just have to trust your instincts.”

McCarthy’s considerable gut proved itself well this past season with the development of leaders in the locker room like quarterback Aaron Rogers and defensive back Charles Woodson.

Wally Hilliard, one of the co-founders of American Medical Security Group in Green Bay and a king of the gut-instinct thing, had his own approach to leadership development: “We hire ‘em in masses, we train ‘em in classes, and we fire ‘em on their asses!”

The Wally World view was that the pipeline’s always full of emerging leaders. He just had to find the right one or two, provide an opportunity, and get the heck out of their way. Hilliard wasn’t too picky; everyone had an opportunity to “show me whatcha’ got, kid,” or so it goes.

Opportunity oozed throughout his operation. Opportunity was the culture. Those who weren’t fired on their asses probably reaped rewards.

Which came first: Opportunity or Idea?

Hilliard and business partner Ron Weyers forged a national reputation for opportunity – after all, they were opportunists themselves. They were, however, more interested in idea development – and the business opportunities that naturally followed.

Leadership development was a long-term commitment that didn’t produce results fast enough for Hilliard. He may have had it backwards, but he wanted people with ideas – people who maybe had some leadership potential.

Gut instinct can’t be quantified, but it’s safe to say The Hilliard and Weyers’ Intuitive Leadership Development Formula went like this: employee recruitment and development with a little opportunistic propensity equals massive idea generation and tremendous financial success. From that perspective, “leadership” can be developed later.

If 80 percent of New North CEOs are moderately or only somewhat confident in the next generation, will the opportunity come for those emerging leaders? Even if they’re wildly confident, will opportunity just automatically appear one day when the boss walks in?

If young professionals are sitting around waiting for opportunity to come knocking, they’ll be disappointed. If, on the other hand, they seek it out, they’ll be in good shape.

Michael Bina is managing director of IntellectualMarketing, LLC – the firm that produces the quarterly Nicolet Bank Business Pulse. He also worked with Weyers and Hilliard at two of their most successful startups, including American Medical Security. If you’re interested in any of the business data collected by IntellectualMarketing and Nicolet Bank, contact Bina at 920.362.5757.