While multi-generational workforces present some obstacles to employers, operations could arguably be more productive and experience less employee turnover than those without generational diversity, said TravelCenters of America Vice President of Truck Service Homer Hogg during a virtual session on leadership development at the ATA Technology & Maintenance Council’s spring meeting.
During the session, four panelists from the trucking industry spoke on the challenges they've faced in developing the next generation of leaders in their operations.
The rapid pace of technology development in this ever-changing industry means companies need to constantly learn, adapt and adjust to their environment more than ever. That also means having to rethink what leadership may look like in the future, said Tim Foley, director of performance and learning at Navistar.
On top of that, the challenge of the “changing of the guard,” as Evan Erdmann, fleet service manager at Clarke Power Services, put it, can often mean the loss of a wealth of tribal knowledge if you’re not investing the time it takes to train the new generation.
“How do you get all this tribal knowledge from somebody that has been around this industry, or this company, for 20-30-40-plus years?” Erdmann explained. “That breadth of experience, tribal knowledge that is gained … how do you pass that on to the new, up-and-coming leaders? The folks you’ve identified that you do want to groom into those leadership roles?"
The panelists shared these tips for preparing new leaders, all centered around the sentiment of embracing change.
1. Identify Employees with Leadership Ambition
First and foremost, leaders need to identify the people in their operation would want to advance into leadership roles. And it all starts with a conversation, Erdmann said.
“It’s really having those personal one-on-one conversation with folks within your organization, and figuring out what their goals and aspirations are. I think that’s critical,” Erdmann said. “ I found that I think some people be a great leader, and you talk to them, and it’s not what they want to do.” It's important to know their personal aspirations and goals.
2. Give Employees a Chance to Try
But once you do identify them, begin training right away, recommended Anthony Marshall, vice president of transportation fleet maintenance and engineering for UPS.
“The sooner we get people into certain roles, and give them exposure, that allows you to help develop those folks,” he said.
Using a baseball analogy, Marshall explained that sometimes the people on the bench need to get a swing at the bat to get a feel for how things could be. Giving those folks that “swing” not only helps the company as far as future talent acquisitions, but it also helps ensure you have the right people in the right position, he said.
Erdmann echoed the sentiment, saying it’s all about putting people in different roles and situations in order for them to gain valuable experience and learn as much as possible from their mentors.
3. Create Space for Failure
With the industry constantly changing and growing more complex, there’s not a compass or roadmap to leadership development. More than ever, leaders need to be more comfortable with experimenting, testing new ways of doing things and make space for failure and growth, explained Foley.
“We’re looking to help people learn how to tolerate ambiguity, because most of what we’re facing is brand new,” Foley said.
Leaders who are curious, resilient and optimistic will be able to stand the test of time as the “usual way of doing things” inches out of the conversation.
To create an environment that makes space for failure, and allows leaders to develop their skills of resilience, organizations should focus on their values from the top down, said J.B. Swanson, director of continuous improvement at Empire Truck Sales and Stribling Equipment.
“You need an environment where you can fail, and where you can learn, and where you can develop,” he said.