Young or Minority Leaders

Young Leaders and the Challenges They Face

What difference does age make? You could argue that experience and the years required to rack up that experience are invaluable and worth as much, if not more than, incredible vision or traditional education. In the past, the age structure in the workplace was predictable. Young people generally started at the bottom and worked their way up to the top. It took decades to reach the top, by which time they were no longer young. In the past few decades, however, the business world has been undergoing a change in philosophy in relation to age-appropriate roles.

It is probably no coincidence that younger leaders have become more common as technology and computers have become the second Industrial Revolution. Young people tend to be more comfortable with technology than their older peers because most people under age 40 have been using computers since at least their early 20s. Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard in 1975 to found Microsoft. Considered an upstart by established computer companies such as IBM, he went on to build the most successful software company in the world. At the time this book was written, Gates was the richest man in the world, with an amassed fortune of $80 billion.

Young leaders can often be successful because they aren't held back by traditional business practices, certain ways of working in the system that are learned over time. Since young leaders often lack the years of experience, they forge new and different ways to get things done. Often these methods are more streamlined and quicker than traditional ways, which gives them an advantage over the competition.

 

Plain English : traditional business practices refers to the time-tested, set way of doing things. Traditional business practices are often ignored by young leaders in favor of finding a newer, quicker way of meeting the same goal.

Although all of the previous examples of young leadership have been positive, there are still some special challenges inherent to being a young leader. The biggest challenge to a young person in a position of power is the very lack of experience that gives him or her the ability to ignore the old way of doing things. For example, Cindy was a newly minted vice president at a large advertising agency. Her group was in charge of several accounts related to products for infants. One ad campaign in particular was failing and in need of a complete overhaul.

Cindy had some great ideas for the new campaign and was eager to set things in motion to take her ideas through to actual advertisements. As a VP she knew she didn't have to wait for anyone to okay her plan. Cindy thought that one member of her staff in particular was incredibly resourceful, so she put him in charge of the project. He, too, was new to the company, so they felt a bit of camaraderie. Cindy and the employee in charge of the project pushed the project through to completion, only to find that it did not measure up to certain standards required by the ad agency. Where did Cindy go wrong? Her first mistake was in assuming that she didn't need to bounce her ideas off of anyone else. Although approval wasn't required, Cindy should have presented her ideas to her staff and opened up discussion on what worked and did not work in the campaign.

Several of Cindy's employees had been with the agency for years and were well-versed in what passed muster according to the agency's standards. Those same senior employees were also turned off by the fact that Cindy turned the project over to the newest member of the staff—someone who didn't know the proper channels to go through to bring a project to completion. If Cindy had paired the junior employee with another, more senior employee, the project might have been more successful.

So, specifically, Cindy's problems were the following:

  • Inexperience. 
    Cindy was not aware of the traditional business practices in place at the ad agency. Before defying convention, it's a good idea to find out what the conventional methods are.

  • Lack of respect for seniority. 
    Cindy should have relied on some of the more senior employees to help her in the first few months of her job. By asking their opinion and enlisting their help, she would have made allies rather than enemies.

Regardless of how good of a young leader you are and how good your decisions are, there will always be a bit of friction from subordinates who are in the same age range or older than you. The best thing you can do in this situation is ignore it. Just continue to lead, making good decisions and relying on your group as normal. If you are a good and ethical leader, your age will cease to be the first thing your employees think about.

Win over your staff by giving them confidence, delegating, and giving feedback and rewards. Solid management practices should work for any leader, regardless of his or her age.

 

Caution : Don't get flustered! If a subordinate or peer challenges you solely because of your age, avoid confrontation. The other party is trying to draw you into a situation in which you lose your cool. If you lose your head and get involved in an argument, he is likely to say it's because you're young and can't handle pressure.

Try to seek out membership in an association tied to your line of work. You will meet other leaders there, young and old, who can give valuable advice. You could also seek out a mentor to help you negotiate your first few years of management.

Minority Leaders and the Challenges They Face

Minority leaders still face some of the problems faced by women in positions of power. Until the last few decades, women and minorities were a rarity in public office and in the boardroom. The best advice remains to let your track record, expertise, and successes speak for themselves. If you find yourself confronted by an unfortunate situation in which you feel discriminated against simply on the basis of your minority status, first keep a detailed written account of the problem. Then contact your boss and the human resources or legal department to file a formal complaint. If this is no help, turn to resources outside your company. A family member or friend could provide valuable advice and support. You may also want to contact a lawyer who specializes in discrimination cases. If you are unsure how to find one, you can contact the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for a list of lawyers in your area. Also, even if you don't experience a huge problem, it's a good idea to seek out a mentor in your company—someone who will help guide you through some of the stickier situations you may encounter.