I talk to pastors and leaders my age and older who want to see a new generation of leaders on their team. They claim to love investing in younger leaders. They recognize the huge need in churches and organizations. Our future depends upon doing so. But to do so we must attract and retain younger leaders.
People claim they don’t know how or can’t seem to find them. Or, when they do find them they can’t seem to keep them.
As a church planter, we hired several staff members into their first ministry position. We struck “gold” several times. I was frequently asked how we have managed to find so many talented young leaders. Much of the work God did at the church plant was done through the leadership efforts of people 10, 15, and 20 years younger than me.
In pastoring an established church, I falsely assumed, mostly because of what I’d been told, that younger leaders would not want to join our efforts. They only wanted hip and cool church plants.
Not true. At all. We have been surrounded by young leaders – some very sharp young leaders.
Along the way we’ve discovered a few things.
Here are 7 ways to attract and retain younger leaders:
Give them opportunities
That sounds simple, but it’s not. Many leaders are afraid to hand off real responsibility to people half their age. I understand, because I made some huge mistakes as a young leader, but at the same time, it’s how I learned. I learned best in my leadership journey through trying, failing and trying again.
Younger leaders want authority and a seat at the table now – not when they reach an expected age. They may not even be a fair expectation for them at times, but it’s a legitimate one. Is it risky? Of course, but it awesome has the potential for awesomeness to occur.
Young leaders are open to learning from a mature leader’s successes and failures. In fact, they crave it. This has been such a refreshing learning curve for me. Younger leaders enjoy hearing stories of what worked and what didn’t. This characteristic is actually one of the beauties of newer generations.
The young leaders on teams I’ve led actually seek out my personal experience. They will still want the chance to learn on their own, and they don’t want us to dwell in the past. They want us to think positively about the future, but they are ready to glean from the wisdom of those who have gone before them, especially in the context of relationships.
Allow for failure
People of all ages will make mistakes in leadership, regardless of their years of experience. It seems magnified for younger leaders, because they are doing many things the first time, which is one reason older leaders sometimes shy away from them. An atmosphere, however, which embraces failure as a part of the growth process, invites younger leaders to take chances, risking failure and exploring possible genius discoveries.
Be open to change
More than likely, younger leaders will do things differently than the older leaders did things. They want more flexible hours, different work environments, and opportunities to work as a team. It may seem unnatural at first, but let their process take shape and you’ll have a better chance of leadership development occurring.
And, some of us “old dogs” might “learn some new tricks”. Be ready for that also.
Set high expectations
Having different working methods shouldn’t lower standards or quality expectations. The good thing is the younger leaders, from my experience, aren’t looking for a free ride, just a seat on the bus.
Hold them accountable to clearly identified goals and objectives. Let them know what a win looks like to you. Applaud them for good work and challenge them to continually improve. It’s part of their growth process.
Younger leaders need feedback. They seem to want to know how they are doing far more often than the annual review system the past afforded. They are looking to meet the approval of senior leadership and the organization. Keep them encouraged and they’ll keep aiming higher.
Granted, this will take time and discipline to give frequent feedback. My generation did the work without much input into how we were doing at any given time. Unless we were meeting a sales quota or a deadline of sorts, we simply did our work and found out at the end of the year whether it was “raise worthy” or not. But that didn’t mean that was the right way or the best way. Again, let us learn from the newer generation where it can help us all get better.
Give constructive feedback. Younger leaders appear more interested in knowing they are meeting the expectations of senior leadership, so acknowledge that fact by helping them learn as they grow. Don’t simply share “good” or “bad” feedback. Rather, with the goal of helping them grow as leaders, give them concrete and constructive reviews of their performance. Help them understand not only what they did right or wrong, but practical ways they can get better in their work and leadership abilities.
Celebrate along the way
Most younger leaders I’ve worked with see the value in the celebration far more than my generation did. They like “hanging out” and reflecting. They enjoy team-spirited fun. Some of the “coolest” places I’ve seen do this are in offices designed differently than our block-walled 1960’s established church building will allow. They enjoy shared workspaces and like the walls being removed from being barriers to interaction with teammates.
This is a challenge for those of us accustomed to sitting in an office by ourselves with four walls. As stated, it is a simply a space challenge in some of our buildings. I have found creating an atmosphere and culture where it’s okay to work from coffee shops helps with this. Also, we have tried to carve out “cooler” spaces within our building, where there is more comfortable furniture and a more relaxing feel to them. The key is to create a culture where community is welcomed and encouraged.
Raising up younger leaders is crucial to a growing and maintaining healthy organizations and churches. We must be intentional and diligent about investing in the next generation, understanding their differences, and working within their culture to grow new leaders.