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Coro Fellows
Young Leaders

Coro Fellows

As part of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs, these 12 Southern California fellows are engaged in a full-time, nine-month, graduate-level leadership training program that prepares individuals for public-affairs leadership.

Age of the millennial

Q: How can a senior leader encourage junior leaders to act and make decisions when they find themselves without specific guidance? How can a junior leader know when it's right to take charge?

I recently discovered I am part of a strange American phenomenon: the millennial generation. Actually, anyone born in the dizzying haze of the 1980's and mid-1990's can be described as a millennial. Now, emerging from the technological cocoon of the past decade, we are poised to take on leadership roles soon to be vacated by the old guard.

With so much dependent on our leadership, numerous scholars are beginning to study the complexity of this generation. In general, millennials have better access to technology than any generation in history. We were born into a world of change and dynamism; we thrive in the routine chaos of political and economic events. We're more able, and more willing, to adopt new ideas, resources, and opportunities. We effortlessly juggle tasks, moving fluidly between work and play.

Millennial culture is also sudden. There are dozens of millionaires and CEO under the age of 25 and thousands more millennials dream of joining their ranks. As a generation, we are empowered like no other before us. The Internet has democratized how we receive information and made us wary of experts, pundits, and authority figures. Nothing stands between us and our soon to be realized destinies. We are an awesome generation, indeed.

Apparently, the millennial generation's awareness of its own brilliance has caused a stir in the professional world. Like any good thing, these new opportunities also have the potential to be a handicap. A culture of empowerment often breeds entitlement and the idea that we deserve more responsibility and recognition, even without the track record to justify it. The suddenness of our society gives us reason to believe that our ascent to success will move just as quickly. Climbing the corporate ladder is silly when the elevator to the top seems more sensible. For many millenials, its always the right time to "take charge."

Our increased sense of self importance, combined with a lack of sensitivity to the culture we live in, can lead to constant misunderstandings between senior and junior leaders. Two years ago a 60 Minutes piece decried how ill prepared millenials were for the work place. However, the piece also highlighted how ill prepared many workplaces are for a new economy and labor force. For all the dynamism our culture has, the idea of a leader "taking charge" has remained painfully stagnant.

Taking charge does not have to be an individual action, spawned and advanced by one charismatic leader. Instead, taking charge can be the impetus for collective action. In a BusinessWeek essay last year, leadership guru Warren Bennis notes that our new age requires that leaders increasingly rely on collaboration. The complexity of our world is often times too much for any one person to handle. In this new context, taking charge means creating environments where ideas, opinions, and actions are collaboratively constructed and accomplished. Welcome to the age of the millennial. -- Lanre Akinsiku

Fostering failure

Senior leaders need to encourage junior leaders to be confident by fostering an environment conducive and receptive to failure. As an aspiring leader, exposure to failure and recognizing failure as an opportunity to grow has given me more inclination to take charge and to move forward confidently.

Nonetheless, recognizing when it's right to take charge is different than taking charge. I am still unlearning behaviors that have become habits and that have hindered my ability to take action. I am quick to identify when it's right to take charge, but hesitant to do so; however, that is slowly changing. When I was 12 years old, my younger brother got into a fight with an older teenage boy. In fear, I failed to come to his rescue or to even help. Afterward I was ashamed and realized that I had failed my little brother.

However, less than two months ago, as I was walking home a group of girls were beating up another girl. I jumped in, unhesitatingly doing my best to break up the fight. Unfortunately, an uncle of one of the girls, under the assumption that I was initially involved in the ruckus, blindsided me and punched me in the face.

In the past seven months, an environment of failing has allowed me to better cope with such failures -- which were at one point incomprehensible. This is instilling in me the ability to jump in -- to take charge -- even if it means I'll fail or come out of it with a mountain of a bruise.

Senior leaders who effectively foster an environment of failure equip junior leaders with the ability to identify risk and in this risk, become more self-aware: they are allowed to learn about how they think, learn and process information. Self-awareness has helped me construct a positive self-image where I am more confident in who I am. This confidence, a product of self-awareness, gives me a greater ability to take charge. And in order to take charge, my generation of leaders needs to understand that failure is not the enemy of success. -- Clayton Rosa

An issue of faith

There can be numerous ways to tell when the moment of leadership is ripe. Many times the ability to have complete control over the variables of humanity within leaders, followers, and fortune is painstakingly hard. For both seniors and junior leaders, the moment of truth, when a junior leader takes on a more defined leadership role, must be born out of trust from both the senior and junior leader.

The most effective way to build trust between the senior leader and junior leader is to have both share an experience where they are able to devote themselves to a cause greater than themselves. For example, a battlefield platoon consists of soldiers that take orders from a commanding officer, such as a lieutenant. In this case, both senior leader and junior leaders charge the battlefield together, sharing the risks, and are required to trust each other in order to survive. Such an experience builds trust, and if something happens to that commanding officer, the squadron has greater faith in passing command to the next leader in line regardless of whether that new leader can excel.

For the junior leaders in such a situation, the only way they can thrive is to believe in themselves. While training and guidance by a senior leader or mentor can help prepare a junior leader for future leadership, it cannot replace the moment of choice that defines a leader. David Gergen noted that in the Normandy invasion, one element that gave the allies the edge was the leadership exhibited by American soldiers. On that battlefield many commanding officers died, but each time that occurred, the next in the chain of command was willing to take on the role of leader and lead their unit immediately.

The best junior leaders embrace the learning opportunities they have before the moment they need their courage to push them and those they lead to excellence. -- Jimmy Duong

By Coro Fellows

 |  April 22, 2010; 12:01 PM ET
Category:  Leadership development Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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