3 Reasons Young Leaders Don't Stay On Your Team

I am nearing 40.  

Sometimes I am reminded of this more clearly than others.

Recently I was sharing in our staff meeting about something that happened to me in high school.  When I referenced the year this took place, 1991, one of our younger staffers spoke up and said, "Wow!  I wasn't even born then!"

Everyone laughed.  I fake laughed and died a little on the inside.

Later, as I was eating dinner at 4:30 in the afternoon and considering going to bed at 6:00 pm along with all the other senior adults, it hit me: I am no longer a young gun on my team.  Joking aside, this didn't upset me, it challenged me.  My relevance is no longer in my age, it is in my ability to effectively lead those much younger than me.

Some of the greatest opportunities for your leadership and organization are not found in the wisdom of age but hidden in the passion of youth.

I just finished a great book for all levels of leadership within the church and business.  In a chapter subtitled “Why Young Eagles Don’t Stay” senior leaders are encouraged to identify young emerging leaders, invite them onto the team, and let them fly.

Here are three points, followed by critical questions, all exposing a reason why young leaders often don't stick around on teams for the long-haul.

Lack of a voice.

Critical Question:  Are young eagles empowered or platformed?

Platformed means we give them face time on the “platform” or stage, and not only when we’re out of town and need a fill-in.  Let young eagles fly by "platforming" them with titles and roles that usually only senior leaders get to do.  If church leaders do not do this, they will suffer the inevitable 20-year cycle of growth and decline.

What would happen if you invited a 25 year old onto your leadership team?  Would it be messy?  Sure.  But let's be real, it is already messy.  Leadership is messy.  Invite talented, passionate people to help create more mess.  It may not be better today, but your team could be revolutionized in a year.

No seat at the table.

Critical Question:  Are young eagles in the loop or at the meeting?

Young leaders need to be included in the meetings, not simply waiting outside to hear what decisions were made (i.e., “in the loop”). Make sure a couple of young eagles are not just “in the loop” but actually “in the meeting.”

One method of accomplishing this, and something my team will be implementing soon, is found in Ed Catmull's book Creativity, Inc.  He talks about a strategic group inside of Pixar that has helped them tap young talent called "The Braintrust."  This is not a new leadership team but a group that meets to expose and solve specific problems in the organization.  The seats at the table revolve and people float in and out, but everyone has equal voice.  The goal:  Tell us what we are missing, give us your angle and help us improve.

When tenure determines value.

Critical Question:  Who gets to ride shotgun?

Leadership in key roles can’t simply be on a first-come, first-served basis.  If it is, we’ll never make room for new, and often younger, leaders.  “Shotgun churches are easy to recognize. Just look for a church where all the good and influential seats on the leadership bus are filled by old-timers… When tenure is the primary determiner of who sits where on the leadership bus, a church is headed for trouble” (p. 121).  

You have to make room at the head leadership table.  Others won’t like it, likely they’ll be hurt and may even leave your team.  Love them, but let them go.  Keeping long-term team members emotionally pacified keeps the peace today but jeopardizes effectiveness tomorrow.  

You are an effective leader.  Your organization or church needs to remain relevant.  You also need to realize that your effectiveness and relevance is only going to happen when you make room at the top for younger leaders.  Swallow your pride.  Let young eagles soar.  

Thanks for reading.  Now I am off to pick up some new tennis balls to use on my walker.