Picture this. A father had three children. When his oldest child, a daughter, turned 12, he took her with him to the auto dealership. He told her, “I want you to pick out the car that you think I should buy.” Puzzled, his daughter looked at her father and asked, “Why me, Dad?” “Because, this is the car that I’ll be driving for the next four years. When you turn 16 and get your driver’s license, I’m going to hand the keys over to you.”
He repeated this offer with his other two children, and over the next 16 years drove a bright red Volkswagen Beetle, a yellow Honda Civic (for his second daughter), and a red Jeep Wrangler (for his son.)
“I have to admit,” the father said, “when my son asked for a Wrangler, I hesitated.” It was outside of my comfort zone. I had always driven cars, we’d always lived in the city, and I couldn’t see myself driving a Wrangler for the next four years. But, I had made a commitment, and couldn’t break it now.”
“What’s funny,” the father said, “is that I actually started enjoying the Wrangler. By the time my son got old enough to drive it, I found myself thinking about buying another one for myself. If my son hadn’t convinced me to change what I’d gotten used to driving all of my life, I never would have gotten out of my comfort zone.”
What this father knew intuitively serves as a model for passing on the leadership keys in the 21st century. Three themes emerge.
1. Trust. Any worthwhile transition is based on mutual trust. Future leaders need to trust the wisdom and experience of current leaders. Current leaders need to trust the potential of the next generation, their innovative approach, and the ability to handle the responsibility for the future. When there is an absence of trust, the process of a healthy and fruitful transition breaks down, and the passing on of the leadership keys stalls. Breaking down the trust barriers starts with building mutual respect and appreciation for what we each bring to the table. Here’s a short, compelling video that shows how quickly we can start to break down the barriers and build trust.
2. Teamwork. Once we establish trust for one another, we can begin to work together as a team toward the future success of our organization. The father in the example above didn’t arbitrarily decide what cars would be best for each of his children. He included them in the process and let them voice their opinions. When we include future leaders in the decision-making process, they move from obliged to empowered. That empowerment – knowing that the keys to the future are in their hands – gives them a greater sense of responsibility for making good choices to show that your trust was well placed.
3. Transition. One of the most significant lessons from car-buying father is how he adapted to the Wrangler chosen by his youngest child. Most of today’s leaders grew up in a time when decisions and influence came from the top and rippled down. But, the rapid pace of technological change is having an impact on generational influence. Research by the Center for Generational Kinetics (CGK) finds that influence is rippling up, rather than down. “The greatest predictor of older generations,” says James Dorsey, CGK’s Chief Strategy Officer in this TEDx talk, “is what the younger generations are doing today.” They influence how every other generation uses technology. Need more convincing? Think Facebook.
Are you holding onto the leadership keys with a white-knuckled grip? It may be time to shift your view about future generations. When you can break down the trust barriers, give them true ownership and responsibility, and be open to their influence, you’ll be inspired by some of the most hard-working, eager-to-learn, and motivated people in the world today.
Question: What is your view about handing over the leadership keys?