Select Page

Are You Making Room for New Leaders?

by | Sep 15, 2010 | Industry News & Trends

In the past, board leadership was saved for big donors; recently retired, long-time industry devotees; or those owed favors. They functioned as figure heads making decisions because that’s how things had been done since the dawn of time (and they would’ve known because many of the board members were actually present for it). But all kidding aside, leadership was something that came to those that had “put in their time.” Young whippersnappers would have to wait their turns.

Associations, educational institutions, nonprofits/charities are seeing a benefit to making your board more inclusive and opening up leadership positions to the rank-and-file. Pre-Boomers understand the need to find replacements but are sometimes hesitant to relinquish the leadership roles. And with good reason…they have paid their dues, weathered the storm, they’ve been hungry (if only from a career standpoint), they have a historical perspective that youth lacks. The Millenials, on the other hand, are eager to assume leadership positions the first day on the job. And just as I won’t let my three-year olds drive, no matter how much they beg, some members of the board want a little industry experience in their replacements.  So how do you begin to transition to this younger group with confidence?

Recognize the differences: As a leader of your organization (whether a board member or leading from the community ranks), your first step is to recognize that there are differences between generations. A lot of people begin rolling their eyes when you speak of generational generalizations (say that three times fast). Millenials, as a collective, vary greatly from the Gen Xers preceding them. They share the same optimism as the Boomers but generally don’t have the patience to wait until their supervisor retires to try and take on his or her role. The first step to embracing the differences is to learn a little about them. Check out this article, particularly the summation boxes.  This one or this great post, complete with generation summaries. There are entire blogs devoted to the study and discourse surrounding multiple generations in the workforce. The Hourglass Blog is one worth checking out and if you have a particular interest in GenX (full disclosure: I am biased) Tammy Erickson write the book, literally. Now that you’ve explored the stereotypical differences you can repeat this mantra in generation-induced, trying times, “Everyone’s perspective is their own reality.”

Promote the differences: You know what the differences are, now you must play up their positives. Harness Gen Ys ceaseless energy on a new project or task force. Give them a stake in some new direction, give them some freedom to explore possibilities or creative thinking that can bring new ideas to the forefront. Whether you ask or not, you’ll get their opinion so why not give it a directed focus and problem to solve? Gen Xers tend to be cynical when it comes to the loyalty of corporate America. They witnessed massive layoffs in the 80s and although they believe in hard work, they keep their networking connections ready just in case. They have a true entrepreneurial spirit, which can serve your organization well. Ask them their opinion and you might be surprised by the in-depth observations you’ll uncover. Boomers are probably already in the leadership roles within your organization. Their forward-thinking and optimism should easily lend itself to embracing the need for youthful energy. Plus their logical minds will understand that in sheer numbers Gen X cannot fill the many positions they will vacate upon retirement.

Appeal to their interests: Getting people involved is not only about posting a list of needs (although that is important, if people don’t know what needs to be done how will they do it?). You must also approach the right people to help and get them excited about participating. Some adventurous souls (and many Boomers) will offer on their own but how do you appeal to the others. Gen Xers are trying to find a work/home life balance right now. They are torn between trying to be the best employee, associate or member they can but find themselves pulled into too many different directions. To appeal to many of them, find quick projects and be upfront about the amount of time they’ll need to invest in accomplishing it. Make them realize that you came to them because they can get things done. Gen Ys like the spotlight. Give them projects where they can take on leadership roles around things like social networking and technology. Communicate your expectations clearly and give them the leeway to take on the challenges of solving the problem. 

Create cross-generational activities:  From networking opportunities to task forces to volunteer opportunities get your group working together. Boomers will eventually retire. Xers may decide they want to fill the vacant leadership roles or they may not. Millenials need some guidance in directing their youthful enthusiasm. If you wait until your organization faces mass retirements or leadership vacancies, it will be too late.

What are you doing now to assist tomorrow’s leaders? How are you using the creativity behind these younger generations to power your group’s future, while ensuring that your institutional knowledge is not lost?

We’d love to hear your ideas.


Follow YM

Blog Subscribe

Bottom of page subscribe button

This will close in 0 seconds