College aged people and 20 something leaders have a bit of a bad rap. If you listen to leaders over 40, the complaints come quickly:
They don’t work hard enough.
They seem to want it all, now.
They have a hard time distinguishing between work and play.
They have an entitlement attitude.
What on earth happened to grammar, spelling and etiquette?
I’ve seen a few leaders that fit that description for sure, but many who are so different than that. Half of our staff is under 30, and I have to disagree with the assessment of the upcoming generation. Sure, there are slackers out there. But I know some 50 year olds who should get it together at some point. (And besides, you can train people to spell. Quickly.)
Here’s why I think having a good representation of next generation leaders in your organization is essential:
They bring enthusiasm and optimism to their work. They just don’t have the weight of the world on their shoulders yet, and often the problems of life haven’t surfaced the way they do to those of us in our thirties and beyond.
They understand next generation trends. I try to stay current, and for a person with 17 years in leadership, I think I do all right. But I’m not 22. Younger leaders see things differently. They grew in a culture that I didn’t. Having their voice around the table gives me a much better sense of what resonates and what doesn’t. If you want to connect with the emerging generation, having the emerging generation around your table is irreplacable.
They challenge assumptions. Because they are trying to figure out how the world works, they ask great questions and challenge assumptions. They haven’t made peace with the status quo. As a result, some of the best insights and solutions for problems will come from next generation leaders because they see things differently.
They learn fast. A 23 year old can go from good to great in a few years. And many are motivated to do it.
They are technologically smart. My friends think I’m tech-savvy, even a bit a tech-obsessed. But put me around an 18 year old or 25 year old and I feel like the person who can’t figure out why their VCR keeps blinking 12:00. I have no proof, but I think somehow they are capable of learning things faster than previous generations were. They were raised in a fast moving world, and it shows. Leverage that.
They are your succession plan. Senior leaders often like to run with their peers. I get that. So do I. And you need wisdom and maturity in any organization. But if you are not stacking your team with leaders 10, 20 and in some cases 30 years younger than you, you are not positioning your organization for future relevance or success.
They’re fun to work with. They love fun. And who wants to work in a boring workplace?
They are passionate about mission. They don’t want their job to just be a job. If you lead a church or a non-profit, chances are your young leaders will own your mission, vision and values deeply. They want to make a difference in the world, and they are passionate promoters of causes they believe in – which can turn out to be great for your organization.
That’s what I see in the young leaders I work with. What are you seeing? And how have you made young leaders an essential part of your organization?