Dan Tobin, MPA ’74, MS ’76, PhD ’77:
Grooming the Next Generation of Leaders
According to Dan Tobin, many American companies are experiencing the beginning of a minor succession crisis. “All of these baby boomers are retiring,” Tobin explains, “and in many companies, there aren’t people ready to fill in the gaps.” Too often when top management leaves, he says, CEOs promote young stars to managerial positions, only to discover they aren’t yet up to the task. “They come in with all the answers before they ask any questions, and then the business goes off a cliff.”
Huge corporations like GE have the luxury of spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year on employee development. But what are smaller companies to do? A corporate learning strategist with more than thirty years’ experience, Tobin recently laid out his answers to that question in a book published this September — Feeding Your Leadership Pipeline: How to Develop the Next Generation of Leaders in Small to Mid-Size Companies.
While his program can be easily adjusted for any situation, the ideal program, Tobin says, would run for one or two years, involve selected employees (what Tobin calls “hi-pos,” short for “high potentials”) as well as senior managers, and have four components: formal education sessions every quarter; action projects that allow participants to implement new skills immediately; frequent assessments; and one-on-one mentoring that would allow for instruction tailored to the individual. Participation would mean roughly a ten percent bump in workload, but Tobin says most ambitious “hi-pos” consider that a small price to pay for a chance at jumpstarting their career, and developing a network of other like-minded employees in their company.
By being savvy about spending, Tobin says he’s able to keep the cost of his program to $5,000 per participant, a price that’s comparable to many week-long programs that focus on only one topic. Don’t have money for an elite speaker? Tobin suggests approaching a junior faculty member at a nearby college with an interest in executive education. Big-name hotel chains charging too much for meeting space? Look into conference centers or university facilities during the summer.
Tobin spent many years training workers directly before shifting his focus to teaching others how to design and implement their own programs. It’s a change he’s glad he made. Though he’s a baby boomer himself, he isn’t leaving the work world anytime soon.
“I’m having too much fun,” he says. “I love what I do.”