In a generation inclined to shrink away from leadership, can change and innovation take place? How can we help Millennials become the kind of authentic leaders that not only achieve results, but also build up others to multiply their influence?
Whether it was in the work that I have done in various organizations or as a consultant, my experience has been as a kind of “effectiveness engineer,” as one colleague called me. But at some point I realized that I wasn’t just performing a function inside an organization—my focus had shifted to developing others. Leadership development became the handmaiden of innovation. Helping people find new and better ways to access more of the influence that’s there for them to hold creates opportunities to fulfill what they’ve been called and gifted to do.
But there’s a problem.
Millennials are not only unprepared to take the reins, they are disinterested in being developed for leadership. They definitely don’t want to lead if it means following in the footsteps of their parents’ generation. There’s been real resistance: millennials in particular hesitate to jump into the so-called leadership pipeline.
Bridgespan, a major consulting group focused on the non-profit world, says the most important and fastest-growing challenge for non-profit organizations is finding that next generation of leaders. That’s coupled with the fact that those organizations are also having to change at a rapid rate. It’s not just about finding somebody who’s got potential. They need somebody who’s willing to work in an organization that hasn’t kept up with change and who is now going to be expected to step up and lead.
This is why I’m involved with Cardus*U. We can help meet that challenge.
I see this eight-month program as a platform within the bigger tent of Cardus to help raise up our next generation of leaders. This is critically important work that’s independent of the sectors they end up working in. At the same time, their experience is going to be closely tied to the work that Cardus does, including the adjacent spaces that tie in less directly. That’s because Cardus is unique in the work it does and how it does it.
The way Cardus works is unique—there’s a tremendous generosity in how people approach their jobs. Everyone is engaged and very focused, but there’s a sense of caring for each other. I think we can distill that into a curriculum that includes an element of what I’d call social and cultural entrepreneurship. Creating spaces and facilitating collaborative learning produces an opportunity for people to explore their own individual areas of interest, but look for ways that identify points for experimentation there.
When I think of authentic leaders, I think of people whose focus is on others and their results and alongside that, who are seeing others as people. Martin Buber wrote, “Persons appear by entering into relation to other persons.” We have a tendency as humans to see and treat others as objects, but an authentic leader has a certain concern for others and their results. Seeing potential in other people isn’t the same as just being a nice person. It’s seeing the person and their results.
Robert K. Greenleaf said, “Good leaders must first become good servants.” Sadly, I think the term “servant leadership” has been watered down a lot. One colleague describes the current working definition as ‘doormat leadership’, where leaders ‘serve’ by doing whatever it takes to make followers feel good. If we go back to Greenleaf’s work, he was a pretty tough-minded manager—he really cared about results—but he showed us how to serve people in ways that enabled them to deliver better results.
What if we helped individuals and organizations to find the freedom, the safety, and the tools to do more of what they were called to do? When you have authentic leaders who are doing just that, it enables people to try big things. When it’s safe for people to try things, then innovation and change happen.
My hope for this year’s Cardus*U cohort is that at the end, they’ll be able to say: “I see my handprints on some things that are already making a difference,” but more importantly: “I see clearly a direction for where to go with my work and my ongoing journey of becoming that effective, authentic leader.”
The investment that residents make will equip them with tools that they probably wouldn’t otherwise have a chance of acquiring, plus the experience of actually seeing them in use. It’s going to make it possible for them to be more influential leaders and make a bigger difference in the world.