Part V: Young leaders give authority away

Young leaders give authority away. I’m not necessarily talking about delegation, but about how young leaders are less concerned with who gets the credit and more concerned with the accomplishments of a team.

They look for people who have a passion and a vision for a particular area and turn that area of responsibility over to them – to succeed or fail in glorious fashion. The result, with this wary but entrepreneurial generation, might be an incredibly creative idea that’s not ruined by top-down management. Or it might be a half-baked idea that falls flat. But a generation of students who have been told they can be anything they want to be and who have helped develop the technology to flatten the world wants an equal voice. They want a chance to speak into the process and try new things. The end product takes on the qualities of the team, and may look entirely different from anything the leader envisioned at the beginning.

My own observation is that young leaders get incredibly frustrated at the turf battles over who will get credit for the work. Let’s just get it done! The greed and selfishness that shows up in setting all the parameters up front has kept many a good idea from getting off the ground. For instance, April’s Wired magazine comments that the turf war over multitouch technology and gesture-based computing is “going to be ugly — and potentially fatal to the movement.” Group ownership of an idea and shared credit allows quicker response times and more creativity. Open sourcing almost always works better than closed.

Of course, this teamwork characteristic has big implications when it comes to interviews and resumes. A great accomplishment listed on a resume might require a follow-up question from the observant interviewer on what that person’s role was in the success of the team.

So, why can young leaders freely give away authority? (Am I not casting an idyllic view of the new generation of leaders? Probably, but not intentionally. I just think the new generations have different sins than their predecessors.) Young leaders are often simply not attracted to the trappings of power. No amount of money is incentive enough to offset the cost in time spent with friends and family. No perks can offset the long hours and increased stress. Money is not the idol it used to be. So when the goal is not consolidation of power, authority does not need to be hoarded.

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