Bringing the next generation into governance
28 March 2012 Leave a comment
When I ask association leaders (both volunteers and staff professionals) what their biggest long-term governance challenge is, the most frequent answer I hear back is the challenge of bringing the next generation of leaders on board.
“Young people don’t volunteer the way we used to.”
“They don’t have the time to devote to volunteering that we did.”
“Their needs and expectations are different than ours were when we came up through the ranks.”.
Each of those statements is probably true enough, although every one of them would do better for some deeper inquiry. When discussing generational issues, oversimplifications and broad generalizations appear to be the norm, and can do more damage than good.
But the underlying concern of current leaders about future leaders is real, serious and important:
“Who will come after us and ensure the association continues to fulfill its mission?”
And, “How can we engage the younger generation, particularly in the area of governance?”
Serious, selfless and leaderly intentions. I don’t for a moment doubt the sincerity.
But as I listen to the discussion that follows, there is one question that persistently occurs to me: exactly who or what are we trying to reform?
When current boards discuss this issue, do we actually focus on changing the governance system and culture to make them more likely to interest, engage, excite and be rewarding for the next generation of leaders?
More often, it seems to me, what actually happens is the established board, made up of more seasoned and experienced individuals, is looking for ways to get the next generation to change, not the system. They struggle to find ways to make the youngsters more fully understand and appreciate the current governance system just the way it is. In short, it’s all about trying to make the next generation leader more like we are ourselves, so that they will want to step into the leadership system and culture just as they are.
Are we trying to remake the next generation of leaders in our own image or are we trying to establish a governance model that will be sustainable and serve the membership into the future? Are we willing to design a governance model and culture to suit the needs and preferences of the next generation, even if the result is a system we would find uncomfortable ourselves?