I am a few months from 40 years old. To some that makes me “seasoned” and to others this makes me young. Because of my age, I feel a measure of authority to speak to younger leaders. However, I enter this blog with humility and honor in my heart. I don’t feel I have a lot to say to the 55 year old leader because I haven’t arrived at that season of my life. However, I can speak on behalf of a younger generation. Please read the following thoughts as the unspoken words of a younger generation of leaders. This is not a critique, it is an honest and straightforward statement of what younger leaders need in this hour.
1. Your affection and identification are more powerful than your advice.
We all enjoy being the expert. It is fun to share advice, especially when we have a greater degree of experience in an area than the listener of our advice. However, advice can either be heard and heeded, or ignored. A younger generation needs less advice and more affection, affirmation and identification. You can call out a younger generation for being “soft” for needing these things, but I would venture to guess, the last time someone affirmed you, it felt pretty good. A younger generation needs to hear they are loved, valued and they are on the right path. More than that, they need your voice to identify what they cannot themselves see. The role of a father is to identify who a kid is, call it forth and repeatedly affirm that identity. The most powerful thing you can do for a younger leader is not give them advice, or teach them a leadership lesson, but instead speak to their identity and their capability. You do this frequently enough, and you will have their ear. Your advice will become weighty to their hearts.
2. A father is better than a boss.
I have heard the adage frequently, “if you don’t want to be treated like a hireling, don’t act like a hireling.” However, I would offer the inverse of this sentiment as also being true, “If you don’t want hirelings, treat younger leaders like sons/daughters.” While a younger leader is definitely not absolved from responsibility, the nature of a relationship is primarily dictated by the older authority. Elijah put his cloak over Elisha and was the initiator of the relationship. While a young leader can certainly accentuate a positive relationship by his/her willingness to honor, the tone is always set by the “boss”. If you want a staff or a young leader to function as a son/daughter of the house and care deeply, he/she must be treated in that manner. Take them to meals, pause by their office and talk, pray with them when they have difficulty, correct with their growth in your thoughts, speak to their future, celebrate their gifts, dig into their story and unearth the “why” behind their actions, love on their kids and come along side them to help them thrive in their assignment. I will take it a step further as it pertains to the church world, a senior pastor is as responsible for pastoring his staff as he is the church. A staff member receiving a pay check does not lift this responsibility, nor does it make allowance for shifting more into the role of a boss than a spiritual head.
3. Your struggle is more endearing than your strengths.
People will follow you because of your title, talent and accomplishments. They will run with you because of your heart…your whole heart…not just the parts of your heart that you have figured out. When an older leader sits across from a younger leader and is willing to reveal some of his/her internal dialogue, hearts are knit together. When you are willing to say some version of, “this has been a personal challenge for me in my soul”, loyalty is engendered and the benefit of the doubt is more easily given. You will benefit a young leader more by humbly talking about your struggles and the dynamics surrounding them than by only allowing them to see your strengths.
4. Care enough to have difficult conversations. And have them sooner rather than later.
This one is difficult. No one likes those awkward conversations of correction. However, if you care about the person, you have the talk. If you have them early enough, growth can come rather than severance. While I would consider myself a young leader, I do operate in a world where I am often the “older leader” in the room. I have often said, “I care enough to risk losing you.” Meaning, I will not allow myself to be so intimidated by the awkwardness and discomfort of a conversation that I allow something to fester in you. Taking it further, I will risk you getting angry and walking away, in hopes that what is in you can be brought into submission to Christ. Part of the role of a father is to identify what is good in someone. However, part of the role of the father is to identify what is potentially harmful in someone, and help them extract it. Again, none of us want to have the conversation, but care enough to endure the difficulty. If you have done #1, #2 and #3 well enough, these conversations will likely be embraced and even craved by the younger leader.
5. Your real legacy is us, not your accomplishments.
I honor and celebrate every accomplishment in your life. Every building you have helped build…every attendance threshold you’ve crossed…every title you have owned…All of these, and more, are worthy of honor. However, buildings eventually become outdated, attendance changes and titles are passed on to the next person. Yet hearts have the capacity to receive an inheritance and pass it along to the next generation. Your legacy is carried in the hearts of those you sow your life into. Find a young leader and create a legacy.
6. Don’t allow generational tendencies to govern your theology and philosophy too heavily.
All of us have been born into a particular generation and with that generation comes particular tendencies and philosophies of life. Please understand, I am not talking about something as shallow as music style or fashion preferences. I am saying to frequently ask the question, “Was that more the ‘Boomer’ in me or the ‘Jesus’ in me?” I try and ask myself with regularity, “Am I operating more with a Gen-X thought process right now or a Jesus Way thought process?” It is a tricky question which requires a lot of dialogue with Holy Spirit, but a conversation worth maintaining.
7. Instead of critiquing a younger generation, consider your role in why they are the way they are.
I wrote a blog about this a few months ago that you can read HERE. There is no easy or nice way to say this…Younger generations of leaders are the way they are because older generations of leaders raised them to be that way. Period. Maybe that is why each generation looks to those below them with a degree of frustration? Without a doubt, the positive traits of a younger generation are because of what older generations instilled in them, but you have to take the good with the bad. I don’t say this to criticize the parenting or leading of older generations. Rather, I say it to hopefully compel a greater expression of compassion and a desire to engage them with a little ownership. It is cheap and lazy to paint with a broad brush of criticism over any generation. Whether that be the younger criticizing the older or vice versa. To own our role in the development of who they are, is to engage ourselves in the development of who they will become.
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