I am a strong believer that everyone has the capability of being a “leader.” In everything a person does, he or she has the ability to create and manifest a vision and put action behind it to achieve a better result. From the clerk to the executive, from the analyst to the partner, we all have the capacity of leadership within our own realm of responsibility.
But for a majority of the population, the word “expectation” can strike fear in the heart. However, not to those who have earned the 20 Under 40 recognition. Expectations are not something these individuals simply meet, they tend to exceed and excel. They help their companies, communities and the greater Northwest Indiana region grow and prosper with vigor and enthusiasm. And continue to do so long after they cross the dreaded 40-year-old mile marker, like me.
The designation alone does not define young movers. Indeed, it is actions and leadership which define us and with us, the future of our region. We are expected to do something harder than we’re used to; dig in to our determination and motivation; and trust that the difficult will become easier with effort and hard work. They know that there is greater accomplishment achieved by not giving up at the very first hint of fatigue or failure.
Younger leaders tend to embed themselves with the mission and take on the strategy of the organization (that they own or work for), and build a clear, tangible vision. They know immediate action brings together the right resources, passion, and people to manifest the vision.
In Northwest Indiana, leadership and success seem to be two sides of the same coin. In younger leaders there is a burning desire to succeed. And that gets translated into ambition, execution and persistence. We are not easily dissuaded and take advantage of the great opportunities that present themselves.
The only limiting factor is our own ambition. However, I caution against "undying ambition" at the risk of upsetting other people. Working with a group of people today and having unbridled ambition is not conducive to the work environment. As young leaders interacting with different generations, be it customers, vendors, management or leaders, we do not want to destroy the ability to influence when ambition shows through a little sharper than necessary.
The real question is how does a young leader navigate the tricky generational waters and succeed? You have to love what you do and feel like you're making a positive contribution, and treat people and employees and colleagues with respect. Earn the respect and accolades of others. Even if you get scared, it’s OK, almost cathartic at times. That’s when you let your passion for what you do carry you through.
Young movers have a lot in common aside from a daunting degree of responsibility at an early age. Formidable confidence and intelligence, reservoirs of energy and an optimism not jaded by time and experience, for starters. Facing challenges unabashedly, we have the ability to recover from failure. The ability to rebound from failure and learn from it and come back is very important.
My sister and I have been fortunate to both receive the 20 Under 40 recognition, for very different reasons. My sister owns her own business, coaches high school sports, engages with community organizations and schools. I have the good fortune to represent and promote the region, working toward my organization’s goal of bringing quality jobs and capital investment to Northwest Indiana creating more opportunity for the good people of the region.
But something happened to me the other day that made me think that perhaps that though leaders are recognized for various successes, there is one main key to business and leadership success for the next generation of leaders.
I had Chinese take-out and finished with a fortune cookie. Usually, the fortunes are mundane bits of fluff, but this one was different. It read: “Business is a lot like playing tennis; if you don’t serve well, you lose.”
Never mind that ancient Chinese philosophers probably didn’t play a lot of tennis, but the idea of serving makes a lot of sense. In all businesses, overall prosperity revolves around quality service and goods. But the very best leaders also serve; they serve their stakeholders, their followers, their mission, their team’s objectives. That is the kind of “leadership” we want to spread.
This seems to describe all of us who have been recognized as 20 Under 40. We all began raising our hands early for leadership positions in student government, school bands and community organizations. All were endowed with ambition and passion, wedded to fierce work ethics. Little did we know one day we would be helping shape our world, serving the greater good of Northwest Indiana.