When young and daring U.S. Senator Barack Obama (51) announced his candidacy for president of the United States, many of the old guard in Michigan felt he was too young and inexperienced and unable to compete against the well established and dominant Clinton machine. But, in fact, the then 47 year-‐old and soon-‐to-‐be-‐elected leader of the free world would change the political landscape for generations to come.
Detroit is hemorrhaging from a lack of youthful, educated, experienced, ethical, visionary, and innovative professionals. Detroit’s leadership has essentially remained the same since the Coleman A. Young Administration, and there is no plan in place to introduce fresh leadership. Community, elected, and private and public sector leaders in senior or executive level positions/roles in other major cities across the country, such as Chicago, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Houston, Charlotte, Miami, Nashville, Denver, Cleveland, range between the ages of 25 and 35. Detroit‘s leaders, on the other hand, are, on average, between 55 and 75, an age range at which leaders should retire and pass the torch to a new generation of leaders, not sideways or forward to another, older, recycled name. Can we say retirement and advisory age? Not to be disrespectful to seasoned leaders, who I am sure have achieved much success and helped many people, but I am a leader today because someone wiser and older took me under his wing when I was 19, placed me in the fire, and did not take me out of the heat until I was cooked and ready to be served, metaphorically speaking. He took the back seat from his very powerful position and asked me to assume the role, even though I did not completely understand my new tasks or have enough experience for my new role. That mindset prepared me and many other young leaders for the world and our contribution to it.
Detroit needs to focus on recruiting, retaining, and reclaiming talent and hire that talent into leadership roles that will lead to President Barack Obama-‐like innovation, creativity, effectiveness, and understanding of a knowledge-‐based economy, technology-‐driven society, and the need for leadership. Other major cities are successful because they recruit, retain, and reclaim youthful and experienced talent. Detroit has failed miserably in its leadership succession.
People forget that Dr. Martin Luther King, Dr. Huey P. Newton, Dr. Malcolm X, Dr. Langston Hughes, Dr. W.E.B Dubois, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, U.S. Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, Dr. Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey, Medgar Evers, Dr. Mary Mcleod-‐Bethune, Dr. Ronald McNair, Madamn C.J. Walker, and others were in their early 20s 30s, and 40s when they rose to national prominence. It is time for Detroit’s old guard to let go to make room for young experienced, trained, and educated leaders. Things cannot get any worse; we cannot lose more than we have already lost. It is a hard pill for some people to swallow, but it is an absolute necessity because we are in leadership crisis mode. Wisdom and youth can work together, but remember the revolution was always enforced and won by the youth without compromise.
“Projections indicate that in the near future, and even well past the 2030s, the US is likely to see a mass exodus of upper level management and at the C-‐suite as the Baby Boom generation journeys into retirement. Because of this, there will be a drastic increase in the number of executive-‐level management positions, creating vast opportunity for the remaining Gen X and Y-‐ers while presenting vacancies at both mid and entry-‐level level positions. Without a robust bench of candidates with strong potential, most organizations will be left unable to fill these crucial positions.” -‐ Solving the Talent Drain
Problem by Building a Bench of High Potentials by John Nimesheim
Detroit has exported its talent all over the country because of a lack of opportunities and its failure to embrace young talent in major leadership roles, and in community, nonprofit, and public and private sector openings. In some cases, Detroit needs to completely clean house of all the old, routine, and recycled leadership in roles of opportunity that a talented young leader could fill. If we do not embrace succession, the younger generation will get sick and tired of being sick and tired of mediocrity, blatant failure, lack of vision, and technological deficiency, which will force the youth to rise and take it from those who could not handle the responsibility in the first. Just look at how history repeats itself. The entitlement age is over. We need tireless, innovative, creative, and fearless leadership that produces results through trial and error. No one is perfect, a fact made obvious by Detroit’s current leadership, both elected and hired. Identifying, cultivating, and selecting future leaders are critical to Detroit’s long-‐term growth and success.
Generation X and Y, it is your turn to lead and you do not need permission; it should be handed to you and supported. We must lift as we climb. A successful man or woman will not want to die in his or her office, but rather build it up so that future generations can have a foundation to build upon the successes of visionary leaders. If its not handed to you or supported through a plan for succession, take it, run for it, duplicate it, apply it, reinvent it, or develop your own. It is your time. Rise up and claim your birthright. Tear down the gates of the gatekeepers. They cannot keep the walls standing anyway without you leaders. Question any older or wiser leader over 45 who does not have a younger leader with talent being prepared for the future, and ask why no one is waiting in the wing being primed for the future. If their answer is not clear, spread the word and place them on the targeted replacement list.
Young leaders, do not let Detroit die by settling for its inability to prepare the city for prosperity and to provide a plan for succession. Wiser, seasoned, and established leadership, prepare to pass the baton and make sure your succession plan is in place and clearly executed. Wisdom and youth can join to change Detroit for the next 100 years. Together, we can find answers, but we must work collectively toward the same goal.