Calling All Leaders, Young and Old


[bctt tweet=”A title doesn’t make you a leader any more than a bedazzled jumpsuit makes you Elvis. #leadership”]

You know how some people talk about going to a mall or airport to “people watch” or whatever they call it? Know my favorite place to do that? You guessed it. Workplaces. There are so many interesting dynamics at play.

One of them is the infusion of young talent into the workforce that’s already entrenched within any given organization. This isn’t uncommon, of course, and it’s a necessary and healthy part of organizational life.

But we’d be naive if we didn’t also acknowledge that it can — and often does — cause tension, and even friction, even though it really doesn’t need to. One situation within which this seems to occur is when younger folks are slotted into any sort of leadership role, be it a formal or informal one.

A quick word here on how I’m using these words. When I say “younger,” don’t get too hung up on trying to nail down an exact age range. I’m not necessarily trying to do that, and I’m also not big on all the slicing and dicing of people into neat little categories anyway. I’m using “younger” simply to differentiate a group of folks who are younger and less experienced relative to others who…well…are older and have more tenure at an organization. So it’s very general, and that’s on purpose for the intent of this discussion.

(A quick aside: if you want some really phenomenal insight into the issue of generations in the workplace, you’ve absolutely got to check out Jon Mertz over at Thin Difference. In fact, his latest book, Activate Leadership, deals specifically with empowering millennial leaders. But be sure to check out the whole site, because it’s full of awesome stuff about creativity, generations, millennials, leadership, and inspiration.)

I’d like to think I’m a bit of a realist as it relates to workplace dynamics, and as such, I don’t think it’s always going to be rainbows and unicorns. When humans are involved, it’s always going to be at least a little messy. (That’s why one of the talks I give is about Messy Teamwork.)

But just because it’s messy, doesn’t mean it’s not also potentially awesome. That’s certainly true with this particular issue.

I think it’s a bit unfortunate that this scenario — younger folks and older folks, Gen Y and Gen Whatever, Millenials and WhoeverElseials, or whatever — is often framed the way it is. Too often, it’s framed as almost being this dynamic that’s inherently bad unless we do something to fix it.

I see it the other way around. I think this dynamic — the one where we have a diversity of age, styles, and experience — is an inherently good one that we need to figure out how to better understand and leverage.

What I mean is that when framed appropriately and understood correctly, we should be so grateful that we have these different dynamics within our organizations. But I think sometimes we just need to take a deep breath and talk ourselves through a few things.

So if you don’t mind, that’s how I’m going to tackle this post. Think of it as a couple of memos.

First, to young leaders,

There’s much to-do about being a young leader, and I get it. I really, really do. I was promoted pretty quickly early on, and was a young-ish executive at a couple different financial institutions.

But there are advantages and disadvantages to being a young leader. (Or Gen Y, or a Millennial, or Gen Z, or whatever)

If you’ll allow me to speak in what I acknowledge are generalities, younger folks, you often have a measure of boldness and passion, which is great. A lot of times, there’s a sort of creative streak that will come out from time time, or perhaps it’s one that’s permanently on display. You have ideas that matter, and energy (read: caffeine) to make them happen. While you see some around you accepting things the way they are, you’re not inclined to do so yourself. You want to make things better. Don’t change that.

[bctt tweet=”Young leaders should be encouraged to remain bold & passionate. #leadership #companyculture”]

It’s also very easy for young leaders — as it was for me — to almost unwittingly transition from being passionate, motivated, and driven; to being ranting, holier-than-thou, pontificators who quickly become frustrated when others — especially the more experienced folks — don’t respond or react the way you’d like them to to your passionate pontification. (Geez, what is it with me and alliteration?)

In a different context, you don’t even like that person. Think back to high school and/or college. There was usually that one guy at parties who always had a story or accomplishment or joke or anecdote that could one-up everyone else’s stuff. There was that one guy who was thoroughly convinced that he was the best player on whatever team he played on. Or that he was the most amazing…oh, I don’t know…yodeler. [ <<< That will either be the greatest or most terrible three minutes of your day.]

If you’re not careful, you can become that person, or at least the equivalent on your team.

Fight that urge. Fight that thing inside you that starts to rise up and make you become that person.

[bctt tweet=”Fight ego. It cripples your ability to lead. #leadership #companyculture #servantleadership”]

Here’s something to help with that. Consider this: These organizations in which we all find ourselves? Yeah, they all existed and survived without us for years. Some of us were still soiling our respective underpants when some of our more experienced colleagues were kicking butt and moving their organizations forward.

What organizations need, and frankly what the world needs, are young leaders whose hunger is matched by their humility. We need young leaders who are humble enough to admit they don’t know everything, don’t have all the answers, and do need tons of help and mentoring from others who have more experience, perspective, and wisdom.

[bctt tweet=”The world needs leaders whose hunger is matched by their humility. #leadership #companyculture”]

We need young leaders who have the guts and humility to ask themselves tough questions. Questions like “Do I get more excited about my name in bright lights or actually propelling my organization forward?” Or, “What am I doing right now to learn from others outside my own generation?” Or even, “Do I spend more time talking about how no one else has it figured out like I do than I do actually working selflessly toward solutions?”

To more experienced leaders,

Thank you. Thanks for your tireless work. I hope my generation and the ones to come run our races as well as you’ve run yours.

But young leaders need your help. They need you to be patient with them and give them opportunities to lead, knowing full well they’re going to mess up just like we all do when we’re learning. We need you to come alongside them and coach them when they’re getting arrogant rather than casting stones from afar. When it’s appropriate, we need you to give them space to try new approaches and test new ideas. We need you to continue to show them what leadership looks like, but understand that they may not always do it just like you would.

[bctt tweet=”Young leaders need more experienced leaders to guide & mentor them. #leadership #companyculture”]

You’re battle-tested; they’re battle-hungry. You’ve earned your stripes. Now it’s time for you to help them earn theirs.

Just think…

Can you imagine the amazing impact it would have on organizations if younger leaders and more experienced leaders locked arms and tackled challenges together?

Young leaders, keep and fuel your drive and passion, but also embrace humility and accountability.

More experienced leaders, come alongside them. Coach them. Mentor them. Help them mold and harness their positive attributes into tools that will better equip them to lead and serve.

Let’s do this. Together.

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