It’s no secret that on Jan. 1, 2011 (just about 13 months ago to the day), the oldest members of the Baby Boomer generation celebrated their 65th birthday. Since that historic day, it’s estimated that more than 10,000 Baby Boomers have reached the age of 65 each and every day (and, believe it or not, this trend is expected to continue for 19 straight years). Staggering, right?
Undoubtedly, many of these Baby Boomers serve—or have served—the association community in top leadership positions, including that of president and CEO or executive director (not to mention a multitude of other C-suite, executive-level and director-level positions). And although not all are immediately retiring upon their 65th birthday, many have at least begun making plans for the future.
And we’re not talking about a few dozen organizations and a handful of retirements here. In 2000, it was estimated that the United States alone had more than 23,000 national associations. And that number only grows when you consider the 115,000 state, local and regional associations, as well as the 1,300 international organizations.
Enter the millennial generation (approximately 80 million strong).
Millennials want to make a difference in the world, be heard, feel like they are contributing, innovate and know they are succeeding. They live in a generation that moves at an extremely fast pace and are often left wondering why everyone in the workplace is not moving as fast as them. By and large, millennials also work well on teams. They know how to delegate efficiently and choose the person best suited for a task based on skill, not hierarchy or seniority.
Millennials also bring to the workforce a unique proclivity for technology. They utilize social media tools daily and tend to remain connected long after the traditional workday has ended. They are more ethnically and racially diverse than older adults. They’re also less religious, less likely to have served in the military and are on track to become the most educated generation in American history.
But are they ready to lead our associations in light of this anticipated exodus from top leadership positions nationwide? (Better yet, are they willing to do so?)
Hear me out for a moment before you get crazy. (I know you want to; I had a similar conversation with a seasoned association executive and a room full of young association and supplier professionals just last week.) My question is not about the skills and expertise of the millennial generation (either now or in the future). I know they are great leaders and I know they are up to the challenge.
The question is really about interest. Is the millennial generation interested in the generalist lifestyle (or would they prefer to be experts in a particular field)? Are their feelings about hierarchy, governance and authority in competition with the present ideologies that form the backbone of our associations? Are they willing to fight the good fight and make the necessary changes to keep our organizations nimble, competitive and solvent?
Consider, for a moment, the unofficial (but widely offered) advice given to each new CAE candidate studying to sit for the exam: Plan to answer each question as a seasoned chief staff executive (presumably, Caucasian) from a national professional society. This, alone, implies that our leaders and, in turn, our organizations are to some extent predictable, conventional and unimaginative. Who’s to say the millennial generation is interested in investing their time and energy into changing this paradigm?
Certainly, some are eager to meet this challenge head-on (as was evidenced by my conversation last week); however, a majority of my colleagues seemed undecided. Perhaps the entrepreneurial spirit implicit in this generation is just too enticing. Most assuredly, opportunities abound. My peers are—by their own admission—interested in establishing association management firms of their own, serving as industry consultants and hitting the speaker circuit.
So, my question to you is this (and it’s an important one this week): What are you doing to attract young professionals to leadership positions within your organization? Is your organization committed to breaking the proverbial mold (especially as it relates to long-standing organizational behavior) and celebrating diversity (including diversity of staff, board and member composition, as well as diversity of skills, values and opinions)? What else are you doing to ensure the millennial generation will want to lead your organization long after your Baby Boomer executives have retired?