An online discussion this weekend brought me back almost 3 decades, to my first job out of college. With my brand new political science degree in hand, I became the first ever legislative aide for the maverick city council member in the city where I lived.
My research skills a given, the attribute that had placed me at the top of the heap of qualified job candidates was my inexperience with city politics. That’s right – INexperience. My boss was eager to receive recommendations based on pure research, not on whether the recommendation might “fly” politically. Being young and fresh with no political baggage, I was the perfect candidate!
Pretty cool, eh? Not really. The problem was that my boss second-guessed everything I brought him, based on his experience of what might “fly” politically.
After three years of researching innovative approaches to issues as critical to our city as rape-prevention and cross-city transportation of hazardous materials, the ONLY piece of legislation I had any impact on was the strengthening our city’s noise ordinance. The total result of three years of my life was that people who lived near a bar would be able to sleep a little more soundly.
What should have been the job of my dreams sucked the spirit right out of me.
I was reminded of this when a question was raised in an online discussion this weekend. The premise that preceded the question was this:
“We all recognize that there is a significant leadership gap in the coming generations.”
To say that statement unsettled me would be a huge understatement. My guess is the person who asked the question didn’t mean this assumption to sound as harsh as it sounds, but in truth, it is not that different from the ongoing drumbeat we hear across the sector these days.
The Leadership Gap. Headline after headline, ED networking group after networking group, conference after conference – everyone is bemoaning the Leadership Gap.
I have a confession to make about the Leadership Gap. I don’t see it.
Here is what I DO see:
I see a lot of hand-wringing by baby boomers about the need for new leadership to take over the reins as my age-peers retire. And I see a lot of activity by young people, seeking to be acknowledged for the very real and very passionate and very skilled leadership they are already evidencing.
In that disconnect, I see a lot of chauvinism (on the part of baby boomers) and a lot impatience (on the part of younger people).
I see baby boomers looking to establish leadership programs for their younger counterparts that a) they themselves never had to take to qualify for their jobs (having learned from mentors and by just doing it) and b) that are not in any way attractive to younger people on their way up.
As a baby boomer myself, if there is anything I have NOT seen it is a lack of leadership in up and coming generations – just the opposite.
So is the Leadership Gap really a gap in the ability of my own generation to see beyond the way we’ve always done things? Is it a gap of control? A gap of communications, openness to new ideas, new ways of being in the world?
I remember how it felt to be in my late 20’s, eager to move a different agenda into the realm of social change. Oddly enough, it is that very agenda that has grown up, all these years later, to become the core of the Community-Driven Institute and the Pollyanna Principles.
As I think back to the city councilman I worked for all those years ago, and I watch the actions and listen to the complaints of my age peers as they bemoan the Leadership Gap, I cannot help but wonder.
Is it really the young people coming up behind us who need that leadership training? Or is it those of us who inadvertently stifle their leadership?
The generation that is coming of age and stepping onto the world stage is skilled and schooled. They are passionate. They are tech-savvy and connected to each other and the world in ways we could never dream is possible.
My generation has before it a unique opportunity. We can choose to open the space for this amazing group of people to step into – giving them the freedom to grow into the skills they are already showing they have in abundance. We can give them the freedom and encouragement to make the mistakes that they will not only learn from, but that will make them stronger leaders. We can give them the encouragement and show them we believe in them.
As generations before them have done, they will step into that space in their own way, which is likely to be very different than how we would do it.
And that will be totally ok.
Photo credit: My front door. This post has me singing Shining Star.