emerging leaders

(Near Albuquerque, NM) I’m at a retreat with “emerging leaders” in the field of service-learning. The Kellogg Foundation is behind this initiative, which aims to develop more culturally and ethnically diverse young leaders for a field that has been dominated by older white people. Many of the students who do service-learning in our schools (in other words, those who perform community service connected to academic learning) are minority youth. But the gatekeepers, standard-setters, and researchers are white and middle class. Kellogg and its main grantees–The National Youth Leadership Council and the National Service-Learning Partnership–are addressing this problem in a really serious way. They have identified dozens of diverse younger people in responsible positions within organizations, such as CIRCLE, that work on service-learning. They have paired each of these “emerging leaders” with a mentor. At the end of a two-year process, the emerging leader should have “emerged.” I’m a mentor, which is why I’m here.

Two quick observations occur to me after the introductory session. First, this kind of retreat is the antithesis of the hiring process that I complained about the other day. Instead of selecting one or two competitors for a single position (which inevitably requires comparative judgments), here we are celebrating and supporting everyone and trying to expand the circle. Such an effort is easy to parody–but important to do well.

Second, I have tip for people who direct nonprofits. (I try to implement this advice within my own organization and as a member of various boards.) One of the major self-interested motivations in the nonprofit world is fame–public acknowledgment and recognition. I presume that most people in the business world do not feel that motive as strongly, because even rather senior and powerful businesspeople often have hardly any presence on the Web. You cannot even find their biographies and photos on their own corporate websites. But people who work for nonprofits very often want the opportunities to make speeches, talk to reporters, publish, or see their profiles on a website.

Thus my tip is simple: empower as many of your employees as you can to speak and write publicly. They may not always express themselves as you would, but sometimes their version is better; and in any case, they have to learn from experience. Public recognition will make them happier and more satisfied than they would be otherwise, and you can thereby help them to emerge as leaders.

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