Hope for the Future: Connecting with the Next Generation of Leaders

Let’s face it, having the courage to lead with a willingness to be tolerant of other’s views while focusing on reconciliation at all levels seems to be in short supply these days. I would submit to you that blindly following any one ideology in business or politics will never lead to innovation and is certainly not the cure for political polarization. Sometimes it’s easy for me to see why a great many people now doubt that real change is possible in the world as a whole and have adopted the old “it is what it is” mentality.

Believe me, I get it. I’ve gone out on plenty of limbs in my endeavors to challenge the status quo just to have them sawed out from under me and I’ve got the scars to prove it. However, I honestly believe positive change for the better in our nation and in others is not only possible; it’s inevitable. I say this because I’ve listened to the voices of a new generation of up and coming leaders who are simply fed up with the status quo and are willing to work together to change it. Whether it be addressing toxic global political polarization or a win-at-all-costs mindset of some in the business world, this generation is not only ready for positive change but also willing to roll their sleeves, get their hands dirty, and initiate it.

This past fall, I learned that the University of Texas El Paso’s Student Engagement and Leadership Center had found my book and incorporated it into their “Powerful Pages” program for the semester. Having this happen organically and seeing students begin to post pictures on Instagram of themselves reading the book simply touched my heart. After reaching out to the UTEP SELC’s Coordinator for Student Leadership and Inclusion, Jules Flores, I learned that an intern of hers named Victoria Badillo had discovered the book after being asked to find a current and relevant book on leadership to use for the program. Last November I had the opportunity to video conference in with some of the students for their last meeting. The conversation was extremely positive and encouraging. As we closed a young lady from Vietnam named Yiyu Liao told me “I have a tear in my eye. You have given me hope in politics again.” Next month, I’ve been invited to speak at UTEP and needless to say I’m extremely excited to share a message of hope and inspiration with students and faculty alike.

Several weeks ago, I came across an opinion piece in USA Today by a young lady named Amanda Shafer entitled “’Fake governance’ has plagued my generation. Here’s how we rise above it”. I was fascinated by how Amanda’s views of political polarization mirror my own. However, more so than that, I was encouraged to learn of a non-profit Amanda is a part of called BridgeUSA which currently has chapters on seventeen college campuses in the United States and more in Europe through their affiliate BridgeEurope. The organization seeks to work with “America’s future leaders on college campuses to foster spaces wherein a diverse range of ideas can engage one another through the practice of responsible discourse.” After reading the article and researching the tremendously necessary initiative BridgeUSA is undertaking, I reached out to Amanda to applaud the work that the organization is doing as well as to offer my help with their efforts in whatever way they see fit.

When speaking to a Political Science class at Augusta University recently I was asked by a young lady if hope and change were possible given the climate of the world we’re living in these days. My reply was that no endeavor or enterprise built around anger, greed, or seeking power is ever truly sustainable. I then shared with her that it is her generation, a generation not yet completely jaded by the world around them, that gives me hope and inspiration that over time positive change will come and that brighter days lie ahead. I said this with no irony nor doubt. I said it simply because I believe it based on my experiences I’ve highlighted above and many more I’ll continue to document and share as I firmly believe the world can always use a little more hope.

First featured on Forbesbooks.com

Millenials looking at phones

The One Thing You Should Understand About Millennials (and Yourself)

“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love to chatter in place of exercise.”

Man, these millennials are really something!  They’re entitled, they want to be coddled, and their incessant use of portable devices can just drive you up the wall! This above quote really says it all about them, doesn’t it? It would, if it hadn’t been attributed to Socrates in the 5th Century BC. The more things change, the more it seems they stay the same, particularly as it relates to cross-generational issues.

For many years now I’ve been fascinated by cross-generational relationships in businesses and communities. During my career, I’ve gone from being a young partner in a successful real estate firm in my twenties to a young mayor in my thirties and forties and now find myself as a business owner again in my early fifties.  For me, it’s actually been a strange but wonderful transition to go from being the guy who was told I was “too young” to do certain things, to now serving as a mentor to the younger generation of leaders here in Augusta, Georgia who are often told the same thing.

The quote from Socrates points to the fact that older generations throughout history have often viewed their younger counterparts with disdain and mistrust, and it’s definitely a two-way street. However, I’ve found that when these walls between generations are broken down within businesses and communities the results are very beneficial to all involved.

One of my strong focuses while in office and for the past four years back in the private sector with my consulting business has been to engage next generation leadership. There are some observations I’ve made along the way.  So often I’ve sat in board meetings where the question has been asked: “how do we engage millennials?”.  More times than not, I’ve pointed out that there hasn’t been anyone under the age of forty sitting in the room. I’ve come to the conclusion this would be akin to asking a room full of older, Caucasian men to come up with creative ways to address race relations. Probably not a good idea if you want a positive and impactful outcome.

A recent study showed that 79% of millennials believe “mentorship programs are crucial to their career success”.  Although it often seems that older generations perceive upcoming generations as a threat to take their jobs, this statistic underscores for me the key to unlocking the potential of our businesses and our communities: focusing on pairing the wisdom and life experience of older generations with the energy, ideas, and enthusiasm of the next generation.

We live in a fast-changing world where the pace of change picks up exponentially each day and the younger generation, a generation raised while constantly adjusting to and embracing these changes, has much to give. The more we provide them with mentorship and encouragement across generational lines, the more likely they are to do the same thing for the generation coming behind them.