Young, Restless and Eager to Lead
I have spent a couple months into my new role as a Professor at Trinity International University, TIU. Working with both graduate students and freshmen every week is a refreshing change. There is a great interplay between rigorous study and practical engagement. Many are more than students – they are rising young leaders in business, the arts, education, the sciences and in churches.
And they are restless. I think I understand why.
Few seasoned or senior leaders are providing significant opportunities to young leaders, emerging leaders. Some of us are concerned with job security, while others have intolerably large egos and cannot imagine our company, school or church without us. We are filled with fear – of failing, giving away power and authority to less experienced people, or just of an unpredictable personal future. So we tighten our grip in an era when we should be letting go.
I spoke with a young leader yesterday. Thankfully, his work environment is free from the oppressive hierarchy that strangles the creativity and risk-taking potential of many organizations. He works in a flatter environment where young leaders have real responsibility, make strategic decisions, take accountability seriously and have the freedom to fail. His CEO continues to put real leadership into the hands of an emerging generation.
Sadly, this is more rare than a warm February in Chicago.
Granted, many younger leaders need mentoring, instruction and input. Others need basic skills for self-leadership and better work habits.
But young leaders have heart, ideas and skills. If we will simply empower and equip them, instead of just delegating work to them, or treating them as mere implementers of the senior leader’s strategy, perhaps there is hope.
If you are over 55, it’s time to move on. No, not time to move out…time to move on. I was part of an organization that does not understand the difference. The senior leader is forcing older leaders to move out in order to cut save on salaries and make room for younger, inexpensive staff.
I am watching decades of experience, wisdom, insight and leadership savvy go out the door. A younger generation is taking over – which is the right outcome. But it is the wrong process. Many young leaders need the guidance, mentoring, and partnership of older, wiser leaders. But they are few to be found.
The senior leader is in his 60’s and cannot imagine not removing himself from leadership for at least another 5-10 years. How ironic. It is a sad and fascinating study in the hoarding of power, the wasting of needed experience, and the devaluing of wise, faithful people. The organization is getting weaker at almost every level.
If you are in your 50’s it is time to re-invent yourself and re-invest your leadership. It’s time to share the risk-taking, involve young leaders in the strategizing, empower them to administrate, share the speaking platform, open some seats on the board, and put some real money into young hands so they can build the future together.
It is time to step aside – but not away.
It is counter-intuitive because this requires you to begin secession planning at your peak (50-55-ish), not 10 years or 20 years later. If you wait too long the younger leaders move on to real leadership opportunities. They tire of watching from the sidelines and of getting in the game with only 1:30 left to play.
It’s time for older players to hang up their cleats and do some coaching because we need great coaches. But that means older players will have to walk over to the sidelines and change uniforms—at half time, not when the game is almost over.
Truth is, you either move aside or you fade away.
Young leaders are amazing – I see them, teach them, learn from them, and long to empower them every week. I have focused my new work on sharing my expertise and time with younger leaders. And I get energized from them.
Oh, I am still very much in the game. But I am more of a player-coach now, and moving rapidly into a permanent coaching role.
And I am having a blast!