Friday, February 15, 2008

Why Developing Young Leaders Is Like Forestry

The Austin Leadership Forum (NOT to be confused with Leadership Austin) was treated this morning to an inspirational presentation by Austin attorney, philanthropist and community leader James Parsons. James is a staff attorney for a local judge, and has always been an active supporter of all things Austin. He is a leader in our community, and his imagery filled talk was titled: "Why Developing Young Leaders Is Like Forestry".

I would like to summarize some of James Parson's thoughts for the readers of this blog:

A young tree does not have the stature or power of a century old oak, but that does not make the sapling less important. The fact is that no matter how tall a Redwood grows, it started off small and green. Sometimes community leaders forget this analogy when surveying people. Too often those who lead organizations, companies and cities forget that tomorrow's leaders are the youths that surround them, and that they need to be cultivated and nourished in order to excel.

When thinking of leadership one must have a long term focus. Five or ten years is not enough time for a tree to reach its potential, but with time and proper care a tree will flourish. James showed photos of the mighty oaks that surround the beautiful Texas Capitol building in downtown Austin that were not present in a picture from 1890. Somebody looked beyond the capitol grounds of that era and envisioned the majesty that would be there over a century later if young trees were planted. The same is true with the leaders of tomorrow.... someone has to take the time to let them take root.

Too often the up-and-coming leaders feel that they are not allowed to have a seat at the big kids table. This can be discouraging and derail the future of the individual and the organization. Established leaders must look for those who can be the leaders for tomorrow and give them the mentorship necessary to thrive. Exceptional leaders are not being "tapped" by those at the top, and this needs to change.

Our cowboy-centric society admires the lone-ranger leader who makes it on his own to blaze new trails. However, the reality is not a leader who is an island. A forest is not just a single tree (Eli Manning did not win the Superbowl by himself, it took his team to get the victory) and real success comes from having multiple leaders who can work together toward a goal. People have different strengths and weaknesses, knowing this is what makes a team soar.

Regardless of your community (a company, city, non-profit, etc....) you need to look around at who is running the show today and who is on deck for tomorrow. Does your group embrace age diversity and welcome new faces? If not, why not? Do you have a mentor and do you mentor others?

Make sure that your leadership (and your personal leadership style) is about more than the individual. Plant the seeds today that can be the forest of tomorrow.

Have A Great Day.



Anonymous said...

Great post, Thom!

I couldn't agree more with this in that the companies and leaders that take the time to invest in the young leaders of tomorrow will be the companies that flourish in the present and future. That's what I love about my company in that while I'm only 26 I have a voice and I'm empowered to lead well.

Anonymous said...

Wish I would have been there to hear James’s speech. Austin like the rest of America has many new challenges as we move toward service and knowledge based economies. Now more than ever we need to cultivate leadership to compete globally. In order to do that, bright young enthusiastic talent should be cultivated and empowered. Great post Thom.

Tom Magness said...

James Parsons is a great friend and leader and I have no doubt that he did a terrific job in his remarks. No one understands better than James that networking is about helping others. James is definitely a guy who sits at the "big kids table." And he works hard every day to help others to join him. Thanks for the summary. I wish I could have heard my good friend make his remarks. Hooah!