June 2009


Back to my reflections on why leaders are reluctant to step out. This one has confounded many in the Boomer generation who are mesmerized by the trappings of leadership: power, title and a corner office. Young people with leadership gifts have different motivations and priorities. For instance, family, friends and other relationships are the higher priority in the lives of Millennials and Xers. That’s not to say they don’t value their jobs and their advancement opportunities, but they want both/and, not either/or.

I heard Andy Stanley speak at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit a couple of years ago about his decision to put family first and limit his work hours to 45 a week. This personal decision, which he deemed his toughest as a leader, has now revolutionized his church, which attracts high-caliber young leaders who have the same priority. As we took a break immediately afterwards, there was a buzz among my friends. We were all grateful that someone finally gave legitimacy in that kind of setting to what we all wanted to know: could you be a leader without becoming a workaholic?

Imagine our surprise when we came back from break and heard a Boomer follow Andy’s talk by making a point about the long hard hours necessary for moving ahead in leadership. Had he even heard Andy’s message? Setting parameters on work is certainly not a popular message in upper echelons, and that creates a barrier to young people who are watching and deciding for themselves whether leadership is worth pursuing.

Let me share a personal example that goes a step beyond work-life balance. A twentysomething young man came to work for me. He was a quick worker, extroverted and full of energy and confidence. I could see the leadership gifts oozing out of him, so within three months of his arrival in Orlando, I asked him to take on a greater level of responsibility. He agreed, and he did a fantastic job. He was efficient, a real people person, and he made some great advances in his department. He had an incredible sense of work-life balance, seldom leaving the office as late as 5:01pm and often arranging his schedule to leave earlier so he could coach his boys in baseball.

While I had no qualms about the job he was doing, I could tell he was dying on the vine. It wasn’t long before he told me he wanted to find another job. The meetings and process of management were killing him. He was a people person but removed from people. He wanted to go back to a “doing job” rather than an administrative position. A year later, I’ve concluded that I moved him up too fast, and I lost him. I think I could have supported him better and framed the job around his desire to be around people. But the fact he did such a great job suggests that it wasn’t necessarily the wrong job for him. Previous generations probably would have sucked it up and worked through it on their road to “reach the top” one day; not so with this generation.

Titles and power are simply not worth the cost in health, relationships and time for important things that fall outside of work responsibilities. Bottom line: young leaders’ motivations are different. Life is more than the job you do. Titles are usually crutches to defend positional or political authority. And power is not necessarily the end goal.

At Leadership Rising, we talked about a life of integrity, and I was reminded of a quote I heard from C.S. Lewis:

Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life you are slowly turning this central thing into either a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature.

In other words, if you cut corners in a small thing, next time you are faced with a choice, it will be a little easier to cut corners again. If you discipline yourself to choose the right choice on the little things, it will be easier to choose to do the right thing on the bigger decisions you face. Integrity is the word we use to describe the sum of a lot of good choices.