I have some hard advice for young leaders.
Before I share , I feel the need to be clear — in case you’re a new reader — to assure you I’m a supporter of young leaders. Ask anyone I work with, or look at decisions we’ve made as a church, or the personal investments of my time into young leaders and you can clearly see I believe in the next generation of leaders. I only build my case of support, because this may be a hard word to receive.
To illustrate this principle, let me begin with a story:
When out oldest son Jeremy was in high school he was on the wrestling team. It was intense training. I loved the discipline and confidence it gave him and I loved the wrestling matches.
When Jeremy would come home from a hard day of practice he wanted to bring what he learned in training into our family time. I had always enjoyed wrestling with my boys, but now he wanted to take our play time to a whole new level. We would start wrestling in the “assumed position” he had been taught, but then I would use my extra 70 pounds as an advantage and quickly pin him to the ground. He would often yell, “No, you’re doing it wrong! That’s not the rules!”
To which I would always reply, “No buddy, you’re on my turf now, you play by my rules…and I say there are no rules.”
And in that illustration lies a principle younger leaders need to learn as they enter the field of leadership.
Here’s the principle:
If you’re gonna play with the big boys and girls — you’ve gotta bring your big boy and girl game.
Let’s face it. Many entering the field of leadership today have lived as a generation where they were given much of what they wanted but had few demands placed on them personally. They played multiple sports, for example — which they enjoyed — but it meant they didn’t have “chores” when they were home. Of course, there are exceptions, but this is often the case. By the way, this was also more the case for my generation than for my father’s generation.
I’m not being completely critical of this — it was mostly true for our boys also, but because of this, I often see young leaders enter the field of leadership these days with some unrealistic expectations. They sometimes expect to receive equal reward without paying their equal dues.
I should also point out I see some incredible young leaders. Hard-working. Conscientious. Dedicated. Loyal. So this is an “if the shoe fits” post.
What disturbs me most is when young leaders fail to live up to their full potential.
Here are 10 ways I see that occurring:
- Making excuses for poor performance rather than attempting to improve
- Pretending to have answers to problems they’ve never experienced
- Refusing to learn from other people — especially older people — discounting anything which isn’t from your generation
- Demanding more than they are willing to give — maybe especially in regards to respect
- Expecting a reward they haven’t yet earned
- Depending on step-by-step instructions instead of learning by trial and error
- Refuting another generation for content when technique is the real difference
- Being cynical towards anything opposite of the way they think it should be
- Remaining fearful of taking risks or making a mistake
- Treating loyalty as if it is a strange idea from the past
Wow! I told you — hard words. They only sting if they’re true.
And, granted, all of these were probably true to some extent of every generation. They seem very common today among younger leaders.
Young leaders be patient, teachable, humble, grateful and mold-able as your enter positions of authority and as you are given responsibility. Don’t fail to learn all you can from those who went before you or to grow from your mistakes. Expect to work hard to achieve the things you want from life and realize things may not always be as you would want them to be. There are a few stories of people who stumbled into instant success, but those are rare.
Over time, as you are diligent, you will likely change some of the rules. I hope you do. Some of the rules of my generation need changing. I’m not afraid for you to teach this old dog new tricks. I want to learn from you. I want you to have responsibility and authority. I want you to be fully rewarded and recognized for your contribution to society. I also want you to realize, however, that most things of lasting value take time and discipline to achieve.
The “big boy and girl” world can be tough, but you can make a huge contribution if you are willing to pay the price.
By the way, I gave this same advice to my sons as they have entered adulthood and the workplace.