Real Leaders

My Heroes? Young Millennial Leaders

Smiling happy young adult friends arms around shoulder outdoors friendship and connection concept

I bet you’re asking yourself if I’m nuts. I am and I’m happily addicted to these kids too! The stereotype of Gen-Y/Millennials is one of entitlement. There certainly are those who fall into this category and I’d submit there are plenty of Baby Boomers too (hum… look at Washington DC’s problem openly discussing Medicare and Medicaid!). I see this all the time in corporations with people of all ages.

You may say my heroes are self-selecting and I’m limiting my scope. You may be right. That doesn’t diminish the hope and encouragement they provide for our future. My heroes experiment-learn-apply-iterate in ways that befuddle most of us yet create impact we wouldn’t dare try. They turn the definition of entitlement on its head. T

hese kids (yes, they are in their 20’s so they are ‘kids’) feel very entitled… to change the world. They feel they have a right to try to make this a better world and don’t take ‘no’ as an answer.

This is why they are my heroes: Their default focus is on others, not themselves. They see problems in the world-globally and locally-and strive to understand, learn and discover instead of impose a solution. This has a profound impact on creating meaningful, valuable and sustainable solutions for customers in their world and shifts the lens of success from only outputs to outputs and outcomes.

My heroes also apply this framework to how they recruit, retain and develop their employees. In addition to Runa, two of my heroes are Pierre Ivan Arreola & Emily Goldman who created Hip Hop 4, a social business using Hip Hop to cultivate leadership with disadvantaged youth (in Los Angeles, California and Providence, Rhode Island) by partnering with local artists and youth programs employing a multi-sided and revenue generating business model for sustainability.

They challenge orthodoxy.

Because of their youth and naivety, they question everything, including long-held assumptions. This leads to innovative business models, partnerships, collaborations, organizational structures, products and services. I learn so much from how they think about their businesses and their definition of leadership as it pertains to them personally and to their organizatiosn in its ecosystem.

Two college juniors, Han Sheng Chia & Jayson Marwaha, founded of my favorite examples, MED International. This NGO assesses the current equipment, clinical needs and infrastructure capacity of hospitals in Zanzibar and ships over the appropriate surplus/used equipment from the USA, such as incubators that are now saving lives. They created an inventory and maintenance workflow system with the Zanzibar Ministry of Health and have trained technicians to repair the equipment.

Their currencies are trust and learning.

While these kids obviously need to raise money for their ventures, their baseline currencies are how well they can trust the people they work with and what they can learn, in real time, from these partners. Since they take their leadership seriously because their works impact, their need to trust and continually learn-learn about their customers and circumstances-is paramount. Trust and learning are also tied together-we find it easier to learn from those we trust. Another hero, Kona Shen, epitomizes the need for trust and learning with her successful venture, GOALSHaiti.

Kona combined her passion for the Haitian people with her love of soccer. GOALSHaiti improves the education, health and sanitation of over 600 kids and their families (nearly 5,000 people in total) in the Leogane region of Haiti. The program uses soccer as a vehicle for academic learning, community service, and learning healthy living , resulting in leadership. I could list so many more heroes.

We have so much to learn from them if we are willing to open our eyes, suspend disbelief, and check our over-sized egos at the door. The lessons these kids have taught me are now benefitting my clients and colleagues as we strive to rush to understand our customers’ needs, challenge the status quo, and base our relationship on the currencies of trust and learning. It isn’t easy for us ‘older’ folks to do, so get to know a few of my heroes and let them help you.

This post first appeared on Switch and Shift. Deb’s other posts can be found on her website.

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