I think the most elusive form of diversity is age. You only have a limited window to capture the treasure of youth. If you wait to have all your doubts about a young leader’s maturity and experience resolved, he or she will not bring you the diversity you need. You’ll have to move to the next young candidate, who will likely bring the same concerns. The fact is that young leaders are high risk, high reward. Sure, they won’t be the most experienced candidate, but they have more room to grow. More upside, bigger dreams and fewer fears.

In his most recent book, George Barna points out that Jimmy Blanchard became CEO of Synovus Financial Corp when he was 29! How on earth could a company like that turn over their operation to such a young leader? You know he wasn’t the most experienced candidate they looked at. They obviously wanted the energy, ideas, passion for people and leadership potential that he and Synovus became known for. It paid off in big ways. Not only did he oversee the period of greatest growth, but they’ve been voted America’s #1 company to work for.

What are the things you look for in emerging leaders? While you may not get a long resume, there are signs of future success. I’m going to spend some time on that topic in the following months. I think it’s worth exploring, because as Boomers get closer to retirement, they’re going to have to turn over leadership to a generation that’s about half their size. Leadership is therefore going to be handed to two generations, meaning leaders are going to be younger.

One final thought. Eventually, every young leader risks becoming what they hate most: an established leader holding onto power too long. Therefore the most important trait to cultivate in young leaders if you want age diversity is the desire and ability to develop others. Maybe I’m biased, but I think if you want any kind of diversity in your organization, that’s the most important trait to have in all levels of leadership. Looking for that ability should be part of all hiring and promotion thought processes.

Development should never be an add-on. If you’ve put the right people in leadership positions, they do it naturally and organically. The next generation benefits, ethnic minorities benefit, the organization benefits. Everyone benefits when you have developers in your organization. Just ask Synovus.

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