Let me start negative. I’ve been helping a church recently. Their board got excited about “handing off the leadership baton to the next generation.” They did. As a result, their pastor, their worship leader, and their education director ended up being men in their thirties after an early handoff from men in their sixties. It proved too much for the younger men. Disaster resulted. Now I’m helping them rebuild.
A friend is advising a company along the same lines. They wanted youth and energy in the lead roles. They got it, but at the expense of experience, wisdom, character, and skill. Now, my friend is helping them regain lost ground.
It is a trend. Don’t grasp the controls too tightly, experienced leaders are told. We must push the younger generation to the fore. They are the tech savvy ones. They are cool. They will grow into the job quickly. Step back, please. Know your place. The next generation will show us the way.
Now, behind this thinking stands the fact that millennials are a huge market, numbering more than 85 million in the U.S. alone. The prevailing view is that it takes a millennial to understand a millennial and to make a millennial a customer. Maybe so. It is certain that this creative, magnificent tribe will indeed change the world and, I believe, make it better.
Yet please hear me on this: we damage young leaders when we hand them authority too early. We harm them when we over-promote and under prepare. What we need is a joining of the generations.
It is perfectly fine to push young leaders to the fore and expect great things of them. It is also fine to give them authority beyond their current reach so they have to strive for greater range.
Yet they need the hands of older leaders upon their shoulders as they do. They need fathers and mothers, mentors and guides, wise ones and coaches. They need field training under the watchful eyes of experienced commanders, to use my father’s military language. They need not to be promoted too early, pressured too heavily, left alone too quickly, and then abandoned angrily when they fail.
I am an advocate for millennials. I spend a lot of time with them on university campuses and military bases. I love them, believe in them, and expect great things from them. I have no hesitation in kicking their sometimes over-privileged backsides as we pursue excellence together. Yet I have also seen nothing crush them like being given position and authority too quickly without adequate training, coaching, and counsel.
Let’s not clumsily toss the baton to the next generation and then go play golf. Let’s launch the next generation skillfully and remain at their sides as long as they need us. This will produce great firms, great churches, great leadership cultures and, yes, even great nations.