Developing Young Leaders
Leadership development is so much more than a series of professional training opportunities targeting the needs of middle and executive level management. Checking the leadership development box as a right of passage for those working their way into the C-suite means missing real chances to grow and develop yourself and others. However, the opportunities themselves can be a Rubik’s Cube of resident academic programs, modular online exercises, psychometric assessments, motivational videos, podcasts and the latest popular books on leadership and success. Sorting through the maze and expense to find the right fit can be a challenge even for seasoned HR professionals.
At the Novak Leadership Institute, we view this generation and those to come as transformational leaders. They will be challenged like no other generation in addressing issues and problems that are global in scale and local in their impact.
More often than not, young people entering the workforce have experienced little or no leadership training in their post-secondary life. That leaves them left to their own devices in developing their leadership potential when they land their first job. If asked, most would offer a limited definition of leadership in the context of work instead of viewing it as a part of their overall personal growth and development. This is unfortunate for both the employer and employee because it represents lost opportunity.
David Novak, cofounder and former chairman and CEO of Yum! Brands, has made it his mission to change the way business develops young leaders. The Novak Leadership Institute (NLI) at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, founded by Novak and his family in 2016, is dedicated to training the next generation of leaders who will be will be managing our companies and non-profits, innovating and creating start-ups, advancing technology, running for elective office and teaching at all levels. “Leadership should be viewed as life-long goal and we now have more 200 Novak Scholars who have taken NLI Strategic Leadership courses and are well on their way to making big contributions in their careers and personal lives,” said Novak. “I am proud to say that we are reframing leadership in a way that helps students realize their potential early on and provides a roadmap for their development and success.”
As an educator, I have seen a shift in the way our Millennial and Gen Z students navigate and negotiate their worlds. It is important for us to take note because these young people constitute the largest combined generational cohort entering, managing and leading our world today. Psychologists and sociologists have devoted careers to defining the generational “cut-off” and what makes each tick. Most agree that Millennials and Gen Zers view themselves, their place in the world and their contribution to society differently. The Pew Research Center has conducted extensive survey research on both generations and found that they mirror each other on many key social and political issues. They are diverse, well-educated and seek work-life balance. And, they hate being labeled. Who doesn’t!
From my perspective, it’s a stereotype to define them as a lazy, stressed out, entitled group. Perhaps because many grew up during or were affected by the Great Recession, they want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. To get there they need to be valued, given important work and a degree of autonomy. Work-life balance is important to them. They respond to coaching, value relationships and are the most culturally diverse group to enter the workplace. From my teaching and research, I’ve observed that unlike the Boomers before them, they are more motivated by the process than the end result and are less aggressively competitive the way they conduct themselves. And, contrary to popular opinion, they appear to be quite engaged and to welcome change. After all, they are the quintessential early adopters of technology. The bottom line—they are critical thinkers and motivated to do good work. And, for industries that recognize the competitive advantages of teams, this generation is ready made to collaborate and cooperate to achieve big goals.
At NLI, we view this generation and those to come as transformational leaders. They will be challenged like no other generation in addressing issues and problems that are global in scale and local in their impact. They will face a myriad of decisions about the future of technology, global economies, the environment and many social issues. There is no time to waste in developing young leaders who are prepared to hit the ground running when they enter the workforce and in the early years of their careers.
NLI is unique in its approach because it is based on David Novak’s groundbreaking work in strategic communication and insight-driven leadership that he developed over the course of his career. His understanding of marketing—getting inside the minds of a target audience to really understand what they are thinking and why they are thinking that way—is one of our core tenants. We work with our top-notch students to help them develop the ability to identify the perceptions, habits and beliefs that they need to build, change or reinforce to reach their goals. It may sound easy, but it requires a lot of introspection, the development of authentic self-awareness and an understanding of the psychology of persuasion. We stress the importance of being an avid (or lifelong) learner and applying the power of recognition to motivate and appreciate those who produce excellent work. And, we don’t shy away from what is considered the “hard” stuff of managing. Novak is all about strategic thinking, gaining alignment, executing a plan that leverages resources and processes, and holding everyone accountable. Taken together, NLI is a rigorous training ground for young people.
True to the School of Journalism’s Missouri Method, NLI applies its curriculum to tackle real-world challenges. It was one of the reasons Novak decided to establish NLI at his alma mater. We are very attuned to taking what we know and applying it in various settings. Established businesses, entrepreneurs, non-profit organizations, schools and government entities have benefited from the knowledge, research skills and strategic leadership abilities of our Novak Scholars. In turn, they have benefited from the exposure and practical experience.
In the fall of 2019 we will start another semester at NLI and open our doors to a new group of emerging leaders. They represent Novak’s enduring legacy in developing leadership training that will produce the best and brightest future leaders. We welcome them and the opportunity to be a part of their future success.