SEABROOK DAYS: Darcel Walker says “these relationships are what help bring new leaders to the table. Relationships build leaders.” Are you a relationship builder? Should you be? NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?
As someone categorized, simply by date of birth, as a millennial, I cringe at the thought that I may come off as pushy, challenging and one who constantly needs recognition. These are all terms that came to light at the recent Leadership Rising program that was sponsored by the Jaycees and Gaston Together. Instead, I want to be seen for my willingness to make change, my hunger for learning and my enthusiasm and motivation that comes simply from meaningful work. But in a world where millennial employees outnumber all other working generations, it’s interesting that the negative characteristics often outweigh the positive. Rather than using our powers for good, we tend to model the crab effect, pulling others down as we make our way to the top.
According to the Regional Indicator website, as of 2014, millennials made up approximately 22% of Gaston County’s population. This number is approximate, simply because since then, some residents have aged out and some residents have aged in. That means that 55,000 Gaston County residents are millennials. So why do we continue to ask where the leaders are? Where are the other 54,500 people who are classified as a part of this new aged working generation? Rather than attempting to speak for a whole generation of people, let me share my perception of the problem. This is simply the perception of an African American, 20..ish, female who seems to ooze the “not from here” scent.
The simple question that I would ask a future leader is, do you see yourself in the room? Do you see someone who looks like you at the table, making the decisions, playing the games, encouraging everyone to “drill down” to obtain the “low hanging fruit”? In Gaston County, only 38% of people of working age are male. So why, in a county where almost 60% of residents are female, do I not see myself at the table more often? I was once told that the majority of business transactions take place in the parking lot. But why? Why are these conversations taking place on the golf course, in the mens gambling room and in the parking lot? Do we need to hide out in the locker room to get to the table? I attended an all girls high school, so based on those four years of research, alone, I can absolutely answer my own question. Too often, women don’t support other women. Instead of seeing someone that can be a good leader, we tend to see someone who can be a threat. Eyes are rolled, judgements are made and before we can even get to the table, millennials, who grew up seeing Lindsey Lohen and her crew in Mean Girls, are over it.
I came across a quote the other day that stated that, “When women support other women, incredible things happen.” The golf course, the gambling room and the parking lot all have one thing in common — relationships. Men, whether they realize it or not, form relationships. You like golf? Me too! You like fast cars? Me too! Now, the relationships may not start over something so shallow, but those relationships are what get the checks written and the decisions made, quicker than it takes to walk to the car after the official meeting. These relationships are what help bring new leaders to the table. These decisions aren’t decided by who pushed someone else down to get the top, but instead by getting to know each other and understanding that relationships build leaders. Don’t get me wrong, both men and women gravitate to this dog eat dog mentality. And I hate to say it, but oftentimes, the negative characteristics that I mentioned earlier are what distinguish us as millennials. Those who try to be the big fish in a small pond deter the rest of us from pursuing leadership. It took our parents 30+ years to get to retirement and who we step on on the way up won’t help us get there much faster.
In a day in age where it’s not what you know, but who you know, the path to leadership is lined with mentors and lunch dates. Asking where the leaders are without reaching out and getting to know a millennial is like sitting in the boat asking where the fish are… without a fishing pole. If future leaders don’t see themselves in the room, it may take us longer to open the door. Instead of asking where the leaders are in Gaston County, let’s open our eyes. We’re right here! We’re ready and willing to walk through the door. There may not be 10,000 of us, but the 100 of us who are here have our sleeves rolled up, ready to work. Sometimes, we just need the invitation to join the team. Don’t assume that we have too much on our plate. We thrive for this.
Look around the table and see who is missing. Women, are you one few? If so, is that because you may have driven the others away? Start building those relationships, rather than seeing other leaders as stepping stones to the top. Whether or not we are invited, true leaders will find their way to the table, simply because of our passion and need to create positive change. Invite us in, form those relationships. When women support other women, incredible things happen.
Darcel Walker, MA
Program Manager, Gaston Together