Recently I ran a pilot leadership program for the School of Government at the University of North Carolina. The group was made up of local public officials from all around the state. Titles ran the gamut: Town Planner, County Manager, Public Works Supervisor, Sr. Community Improvement Specialist, Director of Information Technology, etc.. The participants were as varied as the titles they held, a mix of gender, race and generation. At the beginning of the workshop as we introduced ourselves, one of the youngest members responded to the inquiry about why they were attending the class with "there are a lot of older people in my town who are getting ready to retire…or at least I hope they are." This raised an "ohhhhhhh!" response from the other participants and relentless teasing for the rest of the day. The issue of generational differences had entered the room with no chance of disappearing quietly. This same young woman approached me about her "Vision" assignment after class that day. She talked about her frustration with her town not being able to see beyond their current pains to a future that could be bright for the community. "Why can't we think about a beautification program even though we have areas of poverty? Why can't we dream of producing top notch students from our schools, even though we have problems with gangs?" she said. That was the heart of her vision. Now the task was to refine it and make it accessible.
The next day the participants presented their visions. My young friend delivered a simple, sincere presentation incorporating technologies that felt familiar to her. She had the room with her first "I say 'Why not?'". Being part of the older generation, I found myself thinking back to Robert Kennedy's inspirational speech when he asked "Some people see things as they are and ask why. I see things as they might be and ask 'Why not?'" I felt 20 again. Hopeful, inspired, energized.
The next day I checked in with the group and asked what had resonated for people from the previous days. Several participants, baby boomers I will add, said they had been touched and inspired by the young leaders words. Her authenticity and her enthusiasm had them reflecting on their own state of mind. They found themselves committing to a new level of openness and positive thinking. It had even moved one member to craft small rope knots, "Y-Knots" as a symbol of the vision of positive change she articulated for all of us.
Each of us is a unique leader. Our situation, race, gender, and absolutely our age all contribute to that special formula that drives our perspective, our vision. There is unique wisdom to be gathered from these perspectives if we can stay open to receiving it. As leaders, there is so much to be gained by cultivating an open mind/open heart culture that lets the generations learn from each other. There is so little to be lost and so much to be gained, so….Y Knot.
Posted by Beth High