The following is a guest article written by Katy White. Katy serves as the director of Goer Experience with GoCorps, where she coaches Gen Z college graduates who are considering how to use their skills to serve globally.
In my work with Generation Z students, I’ve become more and more convinced that Gen Z is poised to make a significant impact on the world. They are innovative thinkers with a desire to usher in change. Yet they face many challenges within themselves and their world. How do we as leaders and mentors help them grow into the world changers God has appointed them to be?
Over the years, I’ve discovered a few best practices to help lead this emerging generation. One of the most important is to engage your students from a coaching mentality. Commonly, mentorship involves the mentor imparting information to the mentee. This is a “download” approach, which involves the mentor spending the majority of the time communicating and the mentee spending the majority of the time listening.
However the coaching mentality flips this script. In a coaching relationship, the communicating primarily comes from the coachee. In a sense, this is an “upload” approach, allowing the student to process with their coach what is going on internally.
Your role as the coach is to create the welcoming space for the coachee to share, guide the conversation to draw out thoughts and ideas, ask questions that lead to opportunities for reflection and realization, actively listen to what is being shared, and reflect back insights the coachee was able to discover and conclusions they were able to reach themselves through the conversation. Practically, as a mentor this should look like spending 30% of the time talking and 70% of the time listening.
Why is this important? The desire to feel understood, I believe, is in all of our natures. Yet in particular, Gen Z has a deep desire to be seen and heard and is strongly motivated by individualization and personalization. When a student feels that you understand who they are, where they are coming from, and what is unique about them, you have earned the trust and authority to challenge, exhort, and encourage them. You are also then able to paint a picture of how God purposes to use them for His kingdom.
How can you accomplish this? First, seek to understand their interests, skills, doubts, fears, dreams, desires, future plans, etc. Then, use reflective words - their language of how they are describing themselves - and connect it to Biblical principles and kingdom purposes.
Learn to be a master at asking questions. Jesus was! Many times Jesus would even answer someone’s question by asking another question. Jesus asked questions to reveal the root of the issue, expose a heart condition, illustrate a kingdom concept, or create a relationship and communicate care.
Do you need help becoming a master questioner? Think of questions as a branch. Start with an easier, straightforward question that then has related questions that branch off to reveal more breadth and depth to an answer. For example, an easy question to begin exploring what a student’s interests is “What is your major?” Branch questions include, “Why did you choose that major? Did you start with that major, or did you switch into it? Why did you switch? Have you enjoyed the degree program? Why or why not? What has been your favorite and least favorite class and why?”
Another example of a starter question is “What has been challenging this week?” Branch questions include “Why was this challenging? Have you faced a similar challenge before? How did you respond? Are you happy with that response? How do you wish you could have responded? What can you do to help you respond in this way next time you face a challenge like this?”
Become a curator of good questions and you will be able to empower this generation to understand more of who they were created to be, recognize and address their fears and challenges, listen the Holy Spirit, and take steps towards fulfilling God unique call on their lives.
Ed Stetzer recently stated that “the coronavirus crisis will be the most significant historical event of our lifetime. It will be bigger than 9/11.” As a generational researcher, I agree; especially critical will be its impact on Generation Z (b. 1996-2010). Living through this global pandemic, and more importantly, watching the adults around them live and lead during this time, will undoubtedly influence the next generation for life. So, how can we—as leaders, mentors, and parents—ensure that there are positive takeaways for the next generation during this time?
In asking this question, I have found myself drawn to the story of Jochebed. She was a mother during an incredible season of crisis for the Hebrew people. In Exodus 1:22 we read, “Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: ‘Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.’” During this period, Jochebed gave birth to her third child, a boy, Moses. Her two older children, Miriam and Aaron, got a front row seat to watching their parents navigate this crisis.
In Micah 6:4, God says to His people, “I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.” I am struck by the significance of three siblings being used so powerfully by God during such a critical time in a nation’s history. What prepared them for such an important role? I think Jochebed’s parenting and mentoring of her children was one strong influence. There are four things that stand out to me from her story.
The classic tale by Hans Christian Anderson of the emperor without any clothes illustrates a powerful lesson on the need for honest feedback in the life of a leader. The emperor in the story is duped by two garment makers who claim to make him a robe that is invisible to those who are stupid or unfit to rule. Of course, the robe does not exist. The garment makers simply go through the motions of dressing the emperor and he, along with his subjects, are too insecure or embarrassed to admit they do not see it. Not until a young child, unencumbered by his ego or social pressures, calls out that the emperor is naked does anyone acknowledge the fact.
As leaders, especially in intergenerational contexts, it is critical that we remain honest and transparent with our teams and colleagues. Just as the emperor’s nakedness was apparent to his subjects, our weaknesses or faults are evident to those who follow us. Even in cases where we may think we are hiding certain flaws or fears, our teams experience the consequences of these buried secrets through our actions and interactions with them. Effective leadership does not require perfection, but rather humility and honesty on the part of the leader to acknowledge areas for growth, solicit feedback, and request help and support from others. Had the emperor asked several trusted subjects for honest input on his robe, he may have discovered his nakedness before parading before a large, public crowd.
Whether you are a young leader with experienced individuals around you, or an experienced leader with younger colleagues, respect is earned and retained when others see you are willing to humbly and gratefully accept constructive feedback. Leaders with courage to make changes, or engage team members, to help mitigate harm that could occur from their own lack of knowledge or skill in a particular area earn the trust of those around them.
Soliciting and receiving feedback as a leader can be uncomfortable and difficult. An initial step might be to ask one or two trusted individuals in your life for honest and constructive criticism regarding how you engage with others. When you receive feedback, it is essential to listen carefully and accept it without excuses. Take time to reflect on what is said, ask clarifying questions if needed, and express appreciation to the individual sharing with you. It may be that the other person’s perception of something that happened is inaccurate, but the fact that they perceived it that way may be indication of the need to improve communication or bring clarity to a process or expectation. As a leader, it is necessary to communicate regularly that you welcome constructive feedback and provide an opportunity for people to give it...either through an open door policy, availability for meetings, conducting a 360 review, or responding promptly to emails or phone calls providing feedback.
Currently, as many of us are working virtually, in some cases for the first time, it can be helpful to actively seek out feedback from those on your team to find out what about your leadership is working well in the virtual context, and what might need to be changed. What contributes to effective in-person teamwork may need to be adjusted for this season. Eliciting the power of feedback is a great way to find leadership success amid change and crisis.
The following is a guest post from Josiah Cassellius, a Millennial writer and producer. --Jolene Erlacher
Humanity has always compartmentalized the different aspects of life; let’s call them our different faces for different occasions. This is the idea that we treat our mothers differently than we treat our fathers. We say things to our friends that our grandmother would chastise us for repeating to her. For most of us, only a handful of people ever get to see our vulnerable side. We are good at it, you see, very good at adapting to our surroundings. So good, it seems, that we have decided to enter ourselves into the next level of competition.
In the past we fragmented across our home lives, friendships, and work. Generally, it was a very small community, but that has changed. Today, thanks to technology, we interface with people everywhere, and the fragmentation of our identity has expanded. This reality can make it hard to prioritize our focus.
One could be forgiven for being uncertain in what order to place the dozens of fragments of our lives, it is, after all, a very complicated question. It used to go something like this: faith, family, friends, work, then everything else. Such a simple, yet elegant, system. Except that now work has been sub-divided even further for most, and friends and family are more spread out than ever.
In the midst of such fragmentation, we often resort to tribalization. It is a phenomenon that helped people survive harsh environments and threats. While it worked for hunter/gatherers, in an increasingly interconnected world, one that overwhelms us, it may not be effective. Much the same way that there is a sense of peace and security in our homes during a storm, we enter into our sacred bubble and push the world out, and when we do come out to see what is happening, it can seem like we are entering a war zone. The outrage, the accusations, the controversy we see around us all lead to alienation. We run to our tribe, what feels familiar and friendly, and we label anyone not in our bunker as the enemy and reconciliation becomes nearly impossible.
The reality, though, is that the circumstances do not merit such distress. People are becoming more self-aware as to biases and opinions that are destructive. However, we no longer sit down and read the news and digest and discuss it rationally with friends and family whom we trust. Instead, we read headlines and tweets and use them to reinforce our narratives and we scream out into the void, and if we are unfortunate enough to receive an answer that contradicts us, we lash out.
So, what can we do? When we read something online that we disagree with, we need to not assume ill-intent, that only breeds more anger. Give the benefit of the doubt to a person, and maybe we will see them, and their ideas, in a new light. A positive approach may even open the door for healthy dialogue. Let’s turn our online spaces into the homes and meeting-places of old, where we come together to express ideas, and to help each other understand the true meaning of what a community can be. Be open to hearing dissenting views, and be prepared to admit fault, and potentially, we may just escape unscathed.
As a toddler who is overwhelmed by emotions cries out in frustration, so also adults who are stretched too thin react poorly to push-back. When we feel ourselves becoming overwhelmed, we need to reconnect with our fragmented selves, identify what is truly important, and remember that reality is not online.
As we all watch the unfolding COVID-19 situation, I am struck by the fact that it will undoubtedly be a significant period effect, especially for Generation Z (b. 1996-2012). Period effects are events or circumstances that significantly influence aging cohorts at a point in time. I have been considering how we, as leaders, mentors, teachers, and parents can seize some of the opportunities that it presents for equipping and encouraging the young people in our lives to thrive even amid difficulty.
While there are very real threats and cause for concern with this global pandemic, I am convinced that there are also opportunities that come with adversity and uncertainty. As we consider what they might look like for those of us who engage Gen Z students and young adults, I think there are several important skills that we can focus on modeling and instilling in the young people around us in the days ahead:
Coping with stress, fear, and anxiety
Often we do not fully experience the stress our kids feel, for example, with cyberbullying or the pressure to score well on tests. The COVID-19 situation, however, is one that we are all facing together. It provides a unique opportunity for us to walk alongside the young people in our lives through an uncertain time and model healthy coping strategies and behaviors. Here are a few ways we can do that:
o Talk about what we are feeling and do some fact-based research together to understand what is happening. Discuss how our faith and values help us navigate situations like these.
o Identify productive projects we can focus on if we have unexpected downtime, for example, learning a new skill (ie. playing an instrument, sewing, drawing, cooking), completing an unfinished project, cleaning, organizing, painting, or writing!
o Find ways to enjoy nature and get exercise. This might be discovering a new workout routine, going on a nature walk, riding a bike, or visiting a state park.
o Invest in important relationships and meaningful interactions. Call grandma, video chat with a sibling, or chat with your neighbor.
Guarding what we listen to, watch, and read
There is increasing research that correlates depression and mental distress with social media use. That was before the world found itself battling a pandemic. Scrolling social media and news feeds right now does provide some helpful information and connection, but it can also contribute to anxiety, fear, and frustration. This does not help our emotional and mental health during a crisis. As a result, it can be helpful to set healthy limits. For example, I am limiting my own checking of social media and news to once or twice a day right now. This allows me to catch up on important updates and messages from friends. I am prioritizing other things to read and listen to...my kids, podcasts, and books that have been on my list for a while. These give me valuable information and are feeding my heart and mind with creative ideas and hope. By modeling this, I can also help my kids create healthy guidelines for what to read, watch, and listen to in their extra downtime.
Caring for others
It is easy amid a crisis to get consumed with our own well-being. I don’t know what my children may face in their lifetime, but I want them to be thoughtful, compassionate, and generous regardless of the circumstances. The COVID-19 situation provides many opportunities for us to model and teach these characteristics through our own responses and behaviors.
With the young people in our lives, we can find ways to consider what others need in this difficult time. For example, making cards and gifts for friends in a senior care facility, doing yard work for neighbor, or taking a meal to a shut in. There are many people working hard right now to serve their communities. Find ways to express appreciation; maybe that is simply smiling at the store associate who is working on their day off to stock shelves.
Amid difficult circumstances, it is usually normal people doing selfless and generous acts that helps everyone navigate the adversity. May we equip the young people around us to make that kind of contribution!
Most of us are interested in ways to decrease stress, improve sleep, and stimulate brain growth and memory. And yet, research shows that silence does all of this and more. In a world where we carry our favorite music in our back pocket; engage in long-distance conversations anywhere, anytime; and listen to podcasts, audio books or funny Youtube videos on demand, silence is often elusive.
A recent study indicates that not only is silence difficult to find, but we actively avoid it. In an experiment where individuals were given the choice of sitting in silence with their thoughts, or inflicting an electrical shock upon themselves, the results were surprising. Even though participants had previously stated that they would pay money to avoid being shocked, 67% of the men and 25% of women chose to inflict it on themselves rather than sit quietly and think for 15 minutes.
While it can be difficult to carve out or choose time for silence, solitude and reflection, there are a few key reasons for us as leaders to do so:
1. Healthy Relationships
Relationships are critical to our health and wellbeing. In today’s busy, digitally-driven world, our longing for deep relationships is greater than ever. Often we substitute noise and a sense of connectedness for true relationships. Writer Johnathan Franzen describes that “our infatuation with technology provides an easy alternative to love.” Ironically, it is often silence and solitude that allow us the understanding and peace to engage in deep, caring, healthy relationships more regularly. Thomas Merton, in No Man Is an Island, explains: “The man who fears to be alone will never be anything but lonely, no matter how much he may surround himself with people. But the man who learns, in solitude and recollection, to be at peace with his own loneliness, and to prefer its reality to the illusion of merely natural companionship, comes to know the invisible companionship of God. Such a one is alone with God in all places, and he alone truly enjoys the companionship of other men, because he loves them in God.”
2. Effective Leadership
Leaders today are confronting increasingly complex problems in ever-changing environments. More than ever, we need time and space to clear the clutter from our minds and focus on the challenges we confront. Author and speaker, Sarah Ban Breathnach, explains, “Usually, when the distractions of daily life deplete our energy, the first thing we eliminate is the thing we need the most: quiet, reflective time. Time to dream, time to contemplate what's working and what's not, so that we can make changes for the better.” Kate Murphy, in her article, No Time to Think says, “You can’t solve or let go of problems if you don’t allow yourself time to think about them. It’s an imperative ignored by our culture, which values doing more than thinking and believes answers are in the palm of your hand rather than in your own head.” I would add that sometimes the answers are whispered in our heart. When we fail to listen, in silence and solitude, we may miss the best answers to issues we are facing.
3. Identity and Purpose
In a study by anthropologist Emily Martin, an eleven-year-old girl from a broken home, who bounces between three households, explains that in each of these households the rules are different and so is she. Her identity, like that of many of us today, is defined by an external context. This translates easily into the virtual world, where our identities can be fluid and adaptable. Unfortunately, this also makes us vulnerable to confusion, depression, and a lack of confidence. Silence and reflection is the space where we can listen to our own heart and identify our identity and purpose. Carl Sandburg describes this beautifully when he says the following: “A man must find time for himself. Time is what we spend our lives with. If we are not careful we find others spending it for us. . . It is necessary now and then to go away and experience loneliness; to sit on a rock in the forest and to ask, 'Who am I, and where have I been, and where am I going?' If one is not careful, one allows diversions to take up one's time—the stuff of life.”
As leaders, may we prioritize silence and reflection, benefiting from the rest and understanding that come from these disciplines. More importantly, may we model these critical practices for those younger than us who are in danger of living lives full of noise and distraction, without understanding the beauty and healing of silence and solitude.
For the next generation,
This past month, I had the opportunity to do several parent seminars on one of my favorite topics, tech-smart parenting. Social media is always a critical part of those discussions. Whether you love it or hate it, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are a part of relationships in our society today. The impact of social media is significant not only for youth, but adults as well. I am a writer and researcher, and part of my job is considering the implications of these forms of communication on how we think and interact. However, that does not mean I am exempt from their effects. Recently, I have found myself reflecting on how my social media use influences my thoughts, perspectives, and emotions…and, I must admit, I don’t always like my realizations.
While I enjoy social media for its ability to keep me connected to friends and family around the world, inform me of the joys and sorrows of those I love, and provide perspectives from real people, I find myself struggling against some of its influences. It is often difficult to avoid comparing my life to others, being frustrated or disappointed in some posts that I see, being distracted checking updates, and thinking of activities around me for their “postable” value, rather than just completely enjoying moments and interactions. I must admit, there are days that social media takes more from my relationships than it gives.
One of the weaknesses of social media is its ability to distance us from real people and their emotions and needs. In a face-to-face conversation, a pregnant friend would be cautious to narrate her pregnancy experiences to a friend who was struggling with infertility or who had recently experienced a miscarriage. We would not celebrate our child’s academic success to a loved one whose child was experiencing severe learning disabilities. Likewise, we wouldn’t brag about new purchases or expensive vacations to a neighbor who had just lost his or her job, or our weight loss and workout routine to a friend who was struggling with health issues. Such behavior is self-centered, insensitive and hurtful. Nonetheless, innocent posts on social media can have the same effect. Of course, the broad audience we interact with via social media makes it hard to always consider individual perspectives and needs, but I think most of us can admit we need to consider others more when we share information.
Too often, I post something because it is a point I want to make, something I want to celebrate, or a moment I want to share. While that is not necessarily bad, if my considerations when posting are primarily about me…what I want or how I feel…then perhaps my motives need to be reexamined. Consistently putting my desires or needs first is destructive in any relational interaction, including those on social media. I must ask myself, am I choosing to consider the needs, perspectives and feelings of others? When I share something on social media, what are my goals and who am I thinking of first?
While social media is truly a wonderful tool, like any tool, it has to be used well or it can become destructive. We need to be thoughtful regarding the effect social media is having on us and relationships in our lives. Sometimes changes in our habits or perspectives are needed, for ourselves, as well as those young people who are watching us as they learn to navigate healthy relationships and communication with technology.
The following guest article was written by Josiah Cassellius, a Millennial manager and co-host of The Leading Tomorrow Podcast.
If you have ever looked into retirement investing you have likely come across a term called compounding interest. The earlier you put money into investments, the more you will have over the course of time as the interest compounds and grows your initial investment. If you keep putting money into a good fund, check in on it from time to time to make sure everything is still on course, compounding interest will be a significant reason you have a comfortable retirement.
Unfortunately, many people continually put off beginning those investments, believing they can better utilize the money themselves, and they miss out on those long-term gains. In much the same way, leaders feel the same pressure to simply plug holes today and kick the can of future gains down the road. They see a project that needs to be done quickly and, instead of teaching someone how to do the job, they simply do it themselves, or delegate to an experienced worker. When the same type of problem arises again, and it always does, it requires attention, and the leader again needs to take care of it themselves, taking up their valuable time. If they had followed the early investment strategy, they would have taken short-term losses, but the long-term gains would have increased.
There are promising young people entering organizations every day, talented individuals who simply need a guiding hand to show them the ropes and give them a chance. Unfortunately for many of these young people, there are not enough experienced leaders who are able or willing to sacrifice time in the present to teach them.
When I got my first full-time job, I had the good fortune of finding favor with my manager, and he took time to train me on a handful of tasks, and then he left me to accomplish them. When he returned I had done the work, and had some follow-up questions. This happened over and over until I had a good grasp of most of my area. After that, my manager simply needed to ask me to do something, and a task was accomplished without him needing to be involved, because he had invested in the short-term, he was able to see gains in the long-term.
As leaders we sometimes struggle to believe that someone will be able to learn what we already know, or we believe that we can do it better or faster ourselves, and that it’s not worth the effort to train someone else. When we go this route, we miss something very important: compounding interest. A good leader, like a good investor, will put in some work, and then allow the investment to grow.
While it is important to not interfere with an investments’ growth, it is critical to check in on it from time to time to make sure it is still working as efficiently as possible. Good leaders employ this approach with their followers: they invest in good people and allow them to work unimpeded. They check in with them from time to time and offer appropriate direction and affirmation, make sure they are still on track to meet the stated goals, and encourage them to pass on their knowledge to even newer workers. Using this approach, a good leader can multiply themselves, and find they are doing less work, while getting more results. Their employees or volunteers will be happy because the organization is operating smoothly, and everyone is growing and expanding their skillsets. The earlier the investment into younger leaders begins, the more time they will have to grow, and the greater the return on investment will be.
In his short story, A Christmas Tree, Charles Dickens writes: “I have been looking on, this evening, at a merry company of children assembled round that pretty German toy, a Christmas tree.” He describes the wonder of the children as they looked at the ornaments. “This motley collection of odd objects, clustering on the tree like magic fruit—some of the diamond eyes admiring it were hardly on level with the table, and a few were languishing in timid wonder on the bosoms of pretty mothers, aunts, and nurses—made a lively realization of the fancies of childhood.”
Our children today do not have the same experiences as the children Dickens describes. Lights on a tree hardly hold the same wonder when they compete with high definition screens. Imaginations are not ignited with wonder, sitting and staring at twinkling ornaments, when they are stimulated instead by continuous noise from handheld devices. Furthermore, innocent ponderings are interrupted by mature content, flowing into our homes and lives via technology.
Tim Elmore, in his book, Marching Off the Map, describes, “We have now begun to experience a strange paradox in our young: The extinction of childlikeness; the extension of childishness.” He explains that the “infectious flow of information” is exposing our kids to adult topics. As a result, they can “lose (1) their sense of innocence, (2) their sense of wonder and (3) their sense of trust.”
Not only are we losing our child-like wonder today, but also our ability to connect with our environment, the way people used to engage the beauty of simple things like Christmas decorations. Kirsten Weir wrote a fascinating article, “Never a Dull Moment.” She explains how in today's technological world, it's unusual to be stuck with absolutely nothing to do. “Most of us are bombarded by near-constant stimuli such as tweets, texts and a seemingly limitless supply of cat videos right at our fingertips. But all those diversions don't seem to have alleviated society's collective boredom.” She cites Psychologist John Eastman who says the reverse may be true. "These might distract you in the short run, but I think it makes you more susceptible to boredom in the long run, and less able to find ways to engage yourself," he says.
Weir reports that several researchers concluded boredom is best described in terms of attention. “A bored person doesn't just have nothing to do. He or she wants to be stimulated, but is unable, for whatever reason, to connect with his or her environment.” Connecting, and helping others connect, with the environment around us is critical as we seek to develop meaningful moments and lasting memories this Christmas. Most of us are used to our environment stimulating us, and if we are bored, we reach for a device. We have lost some of our ability to connect with each other. When we get together for holiday parties, and family gatherings, we often struggle to stay engaged with the people or activities around us and can be tempted to seek stimulation in our social media feed, text messages, or email notifications.
Creating meaningful memories may require some discipline and planning. We can start by being aware of when we are tempted to pull out our device, instead of engaging with someone who is in the room with us. We have to be intentional in creating focused time for interaction. For example, designing a fun box for phones and encouraging people to drop theirs in during family dinner. Planning some interactive activities (games, discussion questions, collaborative project) can give people tools to engage with each other rather than turning on video games or a movie. We must practice good emotional intelligence by asking questions, engaging others in conversation, and modeling for kids how to build relationships.
In her article, Weir cites researcher Van Tilburg. "We saw that boredom actually increased people's tendency to recall these very nostalgic memories and actually made them feel that life in general was more meaningful." Some boredom is essential to the wonder that Dickens described! It creates room for the most nostalgic and memorable moments to occur and be remembered. So, this Christmas, don’t just hand the kids a device, rather sit down with them to play a board game, decorate cookies, or share stories by the fire. When they complain about being bored, just smile!
A couple of years ago, Millennials (b. 1980-1995) officially surpassed Baby Boomers (b. 1946-1964) as the largest component of the workforce in America. As Generation Z (b. 1996-2012) now starts to graduate from college, Millennials are taking more leadership roles, and Boomers are continuing to retire. The influence of younger generations working in our companies, organizations, and churches continues to grow. While young leaders bring many beneficial perspectives and needed skills to the workplace, they sometimes lack other essential leadership skills that are becoming less common in our culture today.
One of my favorite movies is The Intern, a film starring Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway. It beautifully depicts the value and necessity of inter-generational relationships, and why we desperately need older leaders and mentors who refuse to fully retire. Hathaway plays the role of a young, highly successful Millennial entrepreneur who struggles to find balance between her demanding, evolving role and her young family. De Niro, a widower, is a retired professional whose old job in printing is all but obsolete. As a retiree, he does it all...learns Mandarin, tries yoga, and travels extensively. He becomes dissatisfied, however, with this lifestyle and applies for an internship at Hathaway’s company.
As an older intern, working for a Millennial entrepreneur, De Niro’s character represents what mature,
wise, and sacrificial leaders have to offer to the younger generations. First, he was present. Ignored by
his Millennial boss at first, he spent his days sitting in front of a computer with nothing to do. So, he
engaged with the young interns to his right and left. He got to know the employees. He helped with
various tasks and was just there: available and consistent. He wore a suit and carried his old-school
briefcase. His calm and thoughtful presence became a gift to young, frazzled professionals around him.
Second, he was observant. Years as a professional had taught him to notice and appreciate skills and
dynamics often lost on younger people. As a result, he was able to ask questions, provide assistance, or
give counsel and affirmation that others overlooked. His input changed the lives of those he interacted
Third, he was patient. The young people around him often failed to acknowledge his contribution and
wisdom. He remained constant, patiently doing his work and just being himself. Eventually, he found
his boss asking him for help and advice, fellow employees recognizing and celebrating his significant
contributions that changed the organizational culture, and his fellow interns wearing suits and buying
briefcases. He had earned the right to be heard, followed, and imitated. His example and presence
proved influential to young professionals who were learning and forming habits that would follow them
for the rest of their careers.
Mentoring young leaders is not a task for the faint of heart. It requires personal sacrifice and humility.
Often, experienced leaders find it easier to just withdraw or surround themselves with those in a similar
stage of life. Sadly, this often results in the wisdom and experience they possess failing to become a
legacy that will follow them for generations to come.
So, I propose that the talented, wise, and mature leaders in our midst shouldn’t retire, at least not
entirely. They may at some point retire from formal leadership roles or positions. In some cases, they
may allow others to take more prominent roles to gain experience and have influence. Nonetheless, we
desperately need them to stay engaged in the lives of those young leaders around them—in their families, churches, communities, and organizations—to never retire from the work of mentoring and
encouraging those who will lead us tomorrow.
Dr. Jolene Erlacher is a wife, mommy, author, speaker, college instructor and coffee drinker who is passionate about empowering the next generation of leaders for effective service!