Leadership Lessons: Mentoring and Passing the Baton

June 14, 2018

Deke Copenhaver

Leadership Focus is written by Deke Copenhaver, Principal with Copenhaver Consulting LLC. The former mayor of Augusta, a triathlete, writer and runner, Deke is focused on transforming great ideas into great actions.
It’s certainly not news to anyone reading this that we live in a fast changing world with the pace of change growing exponentially with each passing day. When we scan the horizon, we’ll see no small number of anxiety filled individuals and organizations seeking to stop change, or go back to what they perceive to be a simpler time, by clinging to the status quo as a safety net. A “but we’ve always done it this way” mindset is futile in a world where the reality is if we don’t embrace and adjust to change, as scary as it may be, we get run over by it. The businesses where we work and the communities we live in are either moving forward or moving backwards as the world around us simply doesn’t sit still.

Part of adjusting to change for leaders means coming to grips with the reality that we must pass the baton of leadership willingly as opposed to holding onto it with a clinched fist. In order for our cities and our businesses to be sustainable, new leadership over time isn’t just a nicety, it’s a necessity. Having the ability to recruit and retain the best and brightest young minds possible is ultimately the lifeblood of any organization. To keep this lifeblood flowing, the next generation of leaders must not simply be analyzed and categorized, they must be engaged.

I’ve often found myself in board meetings or on task forces where one particular question seems to come up again and again: how do we engage millenials?  Ironically, nine times out of ten there’s no one under the age of forty sitting in the room. In speaking to my younger friends about this situation, there seems to be a consensus that their voices aren’t being heard because they’re generally not included in these discussions, and if they are, they're talked over and not to.

Growing up and during my young adult life, I was blessed to have many mentors, with my father chief among them. I remember being taught life lessons by men and women who shared them willingly, which has benefited me in every role I’ve occupied as an adult. Through this experience I learned the power of mentoring which has given me a great passion for engaging the younger generation of Augusta’s citizens. Exchanging ideas and points of view with a group of millennial entrepreneurs, artists and business owners on a regular basis keeps me energized about the future of our city and inspires me to continue to work towards fulfilling its vast potential. For my younger friends, I provide a sounding board and am able to share some of my own lessons learned through my time in business as well as in the public sector. At the end of the day, it’s simply a win/win situation.

A recent study showed that 79% of millennials believe “mentorship programs are crucial to their career success”. When you consider that by the year 2025 75% of the workforce will be millennials, this is a statistic we should all keep in mind as we seek to grow our businesses as well as our communities. Fostering new leadership through the mentoring process isn’t just some warm fuzzy idea, it’s a key principle in ensuring that our work places and the places we call home are able to recruit and retain the lifeblood of the best and brightest young minds.

Change can be a scary thing and realizing that it’s time to pass the baton of leadership to the generation behind us is not an easy idea to confront. However, taking the time to engage, mentor, and teach a new generation of leaders can be an extraordinarily inspiring experience, benefiting all generations involved in the process. Learning across generations is simply one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced and I’ve found that every generation has something to teach us.

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