You did everything right. You led this club or that team in high school and college. You took your studies seriously enough to be a good student. Once you graduated, the “real world” snatched you almost immediately. You got a great job and moved up fast and maybe you were promoted or shuffled to a couple different jobs. Now, you’re trying to balance work with family and friends while working 60+ hours a week and serving in some sort of leadership capacity at the office.
If this sounds like you, you may be part of what I call the “leadership brain drain.” This is a problem, and I’d like to ask you to help solve it. Let me explain.
I often write about leadership because I think it’s such a critical layer in society. Recent world events ranging from ISIS to Ferguson to Ebola all underscore the importance of effective leadership at all levels. To be clear, I am not referring to just elected leaders in government. I am referring to community leaders of all kinds – clubs, nonprofits, teams, businesses, religious organizations, unions, schools, etc. Leadership matters, and, in this ultra-connected age, accountable, responsive, democratic leadership matters even more so. It is also a heck of a lot different than management, but that is another post.
Nothing would happen in our world without leadership of some kind. Formal or informal, positional or organic, it is a force in society and in our communities which channels and coordinates to influence, mobilize, organize and act. There are plenty of examples of where movements or organizations have crumbled due to the absence of effective leadership
So, what is this leadership brain drain?
The leadership brain drain occurs when great leaders no longer have the time to lead once they start working in great jobs that demand long hours.
Leaders are in-demand. Our most talented leaders in college and the workplace are the ones who get hired at the most competitive companies and promoted the fastest. These great jobs more often than not come with not-so-great hours that only allow chores, errands and the occasional social outing beyond work.
That does not leave much time for community leadership.
Yet, we need great leaders to be active in their communities, or the very stability and progress of society is put at risk. Is that a bit dramatic? Well, perhaps, but, if you turn on the news, it will prove the point. Remember: just because there are people in leadership positions currently does not mean they shouldn’t be replaced or supported by someone with talent and qualification.
Here are a few ways once and future leaders can get re-engaged and lead again:
- volunteer for citizen advisory boards, panels or commissions;
- serve in an elected or appointed office (town council, parent-teacher organization, board of education, etc.);
- join the board of a local nonprofit or even a local activist group;
- help lead town, church or club events for an organization in which you are a member; or
- attend town or group meetings.
This is a call for action and, indeed, a call for help. Our world needs qualified, talented leaders to make time outside of work to be involved in the “real world.” We cannot ignore our current reality. So many of today’s problems could be better addressed if we had more leaders involved, especially those individuals who are practiced in the art of democratic leadership. Too often, these leaders dedicate all of their time and energy toward a company’s objectives and forgo the “extracurricular” involvement that once defined them.
If you are one of these qualified, talented people, I strongly urge you to find a way to get involved again in a way that benefits your local community. I know you didn’t intend to abandon your service when you got that well-deserved job and started your family, but the world needs you now more than ever. If no one is asking you, I will be the first – will you lead once again?
Jesse Chen is a member of the Omicron Delta Kappa Society Board of Directors. He is an experienced leader, technology strategist, and the co-founder and CEO of Powerline, an exciting mobile app and web platform that helps leaders and communities interact in meaningful ways (now in private beta). In addition to his work with Omicron Delta Kappa, he is active in global civil society causes.
Image courtesy of zurconicusso at Freedigitalphotos.net.