I remember when 30 under 30 articles about young leaders making waves left many of us with our mouths hanging open with respect for what people achieved at such early ages. Now of course it’s all about the 20 under 20’s as highlighted by Business Insiders 20 Under 21 Most Influential Social Media Influencers or Flickr’s 20 Under 20 for Artists. Regardless of industry, one thing remains clear – the younger lot are on the rise.
The question is what are the trade-offs when it comes to age and leadership? Are companies better off hiring young, “more current” leaders or should they place their faith in older, more experienced ones? Before I come to the diplomatic solution of moderation being key, lets look at some key traits that define the difference between these two very different creatures and see if either one trumps the other.
Once upon a time innovation wasn’t a major factor when it came to finding a good leader. Then again, this was probably right around the time where managers and leaders were used interchangeably. The need for having entrepreneurs within your organization is only equaled by setting up an environment in which they can thrive in. This is where younger leaders come in. Their ability to innovate, be it products or the culture of the company is generally far stronger than traditional leaders.
Generally people would be quick to say that the younger lot would be more flexible than the rest of the company. But think of any animal whose environment is changing. Almost all living creatures know their existence will be threatened unless they’re able to adapt to the changing times. Of course there are reports out there which state that young leaders are more flexible and there’s some data to prove it. I just think we’re underestimating the power of seasoned leaders to know that times are changing and they’ve got to change with them.
Now this is a tricky one. I’m tempted to just start off by saying that they’re both equally reliable, but that would be the easy way out wouldn’t it? There are of course strong points to both types of leaders. The experienced leaders have already proven their reliability through many years of experience. But the younger leaders have a lot to prove and are less likely to take their position for granted. If they’re in a leadership position, they’ve probably earned it. This one’s the tie – if they’re a good leader, age doesn’t matter…they’re going to be reliable.
Of course young leaders aren’t as experienced as their more senior counterparts – that’s a no brainer. There will always be work where experience in the ability to successfully lead a team will be more important than all the other elements put together. So as you grow older and wiser (and this applies to the young leaders as well), never underestimate the value the journey you’ve taken to get to where you are.
So the result of the age and leadership battle? Which leader is more valuable to your organization? Young leaders 2, experienced ones 1 and a tie for reliability. And then there’s the fact that experience probably out weighs the other factors so it’s an overall tie. Even though I did say that a tie would be the easy way out, it is the truth and there’s solid reasoning behind it.