If the Next Generation of Leaders is Ready to Learn, are Today’s Leaders Willing to Teach?

Over the past month, I encountered four different young people ranging from 19 to 26 who made such a favorable impression on me that I feel compelled to write about the experiences. I was struck by the consistent positive behaviors they all exhibited, despite their diverse backgrounds and the various reasons they had for wanting to speak with me. Each of them demonstrated sincere courtesy, curiosity, gratitude and they all followed up with me in a timely manner based on the different subjects we had discussed. As an added bonus, each of them sent me a hand-written thank you note (I have always been a fan of the hand-written thank you note!). Why do these behaviors stand out? In today’s world, I am likely to observe one, possibly two at most, of these behaviors I value so highly from people of any age.  Rarely do I encounter all four behaviors at once. To say the least, I was intrigued and wanted to understand why these four young adults were different.

I reached out to each of them last week to specifically ask where they had learned these behaviors and who had taught them. Again, there was remarkable consistency from these four very different young adults as they answered my questions. Each of them described the positive influence of their parents growing up and later the influence of helpful mentors in college. The three who were out of college and in the workplace described a caring boss or senior level mentor who had taken them under their wing and taught (and modeled) the value of courtesy, curiosity, gratitude and follow up. I suspected this would be the case, but it was affirming to hear it straight from these remarkable young people.

Why does this matter?  I am truly grateful to have had the opportunity to speak on college campuses and mentor young professionals over the last two decades. I have heard for years the criticism leveled at this emerging generation of future leaders by older professionals who bemoan what they perceive to be a lack of interest in practicing the positive behaviors I shared in this post. At times, I have been critical as well. Maybe, if the lessons from these four young adults means anything, we should point the finger of blame at ourselves and not them. Maybe, the students were ready all along and the teachers were nowhere to be found…

For those of us who are parents, we have a wonderful opportunity to teach our children the lessons and values that will make them successful in life and in the professional world. Do we make the most of this opportunity and the short amount of time we have them under our roofs to achieve this goal? For those of us who are leaders, do we look at our younger colleagues with a jaundiced eye and level unfair criticism at them or do we embrace our clear responsibility to teach them what we have learned and prepare them to lead? Do we actively give time to students in our old schools? How many younger colleagues at work are we mentoring right now? How much time do we invest in sharing lessons and stories from our career with junior members of our company to illuminate keys to our successes and help them learn from our failures? By the way, I would suggest that we not wait on the perfect company program to act, but instead treat mentorship as the urgent and ongoing responsibility of every leader.

I hope that whoever reads this post will not feel offended, but encouraged and inspired to be the positive mentor that young adults will identify one day in the future as someone who helped, guided, taught and coached them to success. I know my own 20-year old son has benefited tremendously from the generous mentors who have helped influence his life. With the demands of my business and the challenges of Covid, I know I sometimes fall short in this area and you may be feeling the same. Regardless, I know most of us can do better. Surely, we can find time to invest in the future. Even if we start with mentoring just one young adult in the weeks ahead, that will be a start. Don’t let uncertainty or self-doubt get in the way: I believe everyone has something of value to share with others.

If you are already an encouraging and helpful mentor to the next generation of leaders, then I would like to share my sincere gratitude. If you have gifts, wisdom and lessons to share and are willing to find time to share them, please take on this challenge without delay. Finally, I have a surprise to share that good mentors already know: as we spend time mentoring younger colleagues, they are typically inspiring and teaching us valuable lessons as well.

Thanks and good luck.

*Looking for helpful resources on how to be a great mentor? Check out these posts:


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