Many baby boomers like to characterize the Facebook generation as entitled slackers. In reading the amazing stories of the leaders in Passion and Purpose, you quickly realize that nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that this new generation of leaders is committed to making a difference and is ready to lead—not tomorrow, but now.
The authors of this remarkable collection of twenty-six stories, all written by exceptional young leaders, were deeply impacted by the leadership failures of 2008 that led to the Great Recession. The three authors conclude, “We have faith in the young generations of leaders who have witnessed the lessons of the crisis and are now seeking to learn from the mistakes that were made and offer a new vision for the future.”
Anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt the power of a small group of people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Through their initiatives, young leaders are confirming Mead’s wisdom.
My generation started out just as idealistically as these young leaders. We were kids of the Kennedy era who flocked to Washington, D.C., Selma, and Watts to try to change the world. Somewhere along the way we lost sight of that idealism. Was it the futility of the Vietnam war and the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King, Jr., or were we seduced by flawed economic theories into believing that selfinterest should take precedence over the common good? Whatever the answers, the leadership failures of the last decade—from the fall of Enron through the economic meltdown of 2008—have vividly demonstrated the flaws in twentieth-century leadership and the need for a new generation of leaders to take charge.
The response of this new generation is to use their talents now to make a positive impact in helping others. As a professor of management practice at Harvard Business School the past eight years, I have had the privilege of working closely with several of these leaders and many more like them. I have learned just how committed these young leaders are about using their talents to have an impact. They are willing to work countless hours to realize their dreams, yet they also want to lead integrated lives. I have seen them fol- low their hearts to unite people around common causes, and the impact has often been stunning.
Their approach to leadership differs sharply from that of the baby boomer generation. Command-and-control is out. So is exerting power over others. They eschew bureaucracy, hierarchical organizations, and internal politics. That’s why many are opting to start their own organizations rather than joining established institutions.
The focus of their leadership is to build on their roots and align people around a common purpose and shared values. They recognize that they cannot accomplish their goals by using power to control others, as so many in my generation did. Instead, they amplify their limited power by empowering others to take on shared challenges.
Their leadership style is collaborative, not autocratic. Nor are they competitive with their peers. They seek to surround themselves with the most talented people representing a wide range of skills that can be helpful in achieving their aims. They care little who gets the credit, so long as their mutual goals are achieved. Most of all, these young leaders seek to serve, using their gifts and their leadership abilities.
One of the characteristics of this new generation of leaders is their ability to move easily between the for-profit, nonprofit, and government sectors. In fact, that’s because many of them have worked in all three sectors. They have firsthand knowledge of how people in each of these sectors think, how they measure success, and how they get things done. A number of the contributors to this book have joint master’s degrees in government and business, with a substantial dose of social enterprise courses and projects.
This broad perspective is increasingly important because developing workable solutions to the world’s intractable problems—global health, energy and the environment, education, poverty and jobs, and global peace—requires multisector approaches.
The Facebook generation may be the first that is genuinely color-blind, gender-blind, and sexual preference—blind. Writes former HBS LGBT president Josh Bronstein, “My call to action for our generation is simple: be authentic. That means bringing your whole self to work, not just those characteristics that you think your employer wants to see … A defining characteristic of our generation is that we want to be recognized as individuals—not anonymous cogs forced to think, act, and dress in the same way.”
In 1966, Robert F Kennedy, Jr., said prophetically, “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped.” The acts of these young leaders will write the history of this generation as they focus their talents on making the world a better place for everyone.
If these emerging leaders stay on course through the inevitable pitfalls, setbacks, and disappointments, l have confidence their accomplishments will exceed their greatest expectations. The time is ripe for the baby boomers to provide emerging leaders the opportunities to take charge. Their passion and dedication to their purpose gives all of us hope that our future is very bright indeed.
This is the foreword by Gill George, former CEO of Medtronic, Inc, of the book “Passion & Purpose” by Coleman, Gulati and Segovia. It’s a must-read for aspiring young leaders, full of stories written by inspiring young people all over the world. You can find the book on Amazon here.