Bring Out the Young Guns
Over the last decade, I’ve had the pleasure of working with a lot of really bright creatives and strategists at dozens of companies. Some of these folks have a remarkable depth and breadth of experience, as well as the perspective that comes from age. But others that come to mind—and probably in equal number—are remarkable because of how they embrace their youth and bring a fresh voice to their work.
I think many firms underutilize their young talent, leaving them to noncritical assignments. There’s an underlying stigma or fear that they’ll make mistakes. That aforementioned perspective tells me that, contrary to my wishes, I’ll never be finished with making mistakes myself—that’s part of life. So why are we afraid to give that same grace that we give ourselves to our younger, less experienced colleagues?
I’m currently building our business alongside some very talented young marketers. We were speaking about this subject during a strategy meeting the other day, and I shared with them that we had grown to the point where I thought it was riskier to not include them on the most critical work than to exclude them. Thankfully, I’d seen this coming, mainly through my work with other leaders more visionary than I am, namely Ty Hagler of Trig Innovation and Kevin Jones of Celero Commerce.
Ty and I go way back to 2007, when he was first having ideas for building his own industrial design agency. I watched with wonder as he built one of the most reputable ID firms in the Carolinas, with a global client roster, by mining young talent not too far removed from stints at leading design schools like Virginia Tech, NC State, and Georgia Tech. Time after time, he would heap responsibility, along with equal measures of coaching and equipping, on people who most would say had “raw” talent. Often within months, the kids were more than alright—taking leadership roles on projects and more permanent roles for the company itself. The few that moved on to other companies became executives and had great success due to their time at Trig, and I know Ty is just as proud of them as the ones who stayed to build the business with him.
While Ty has had a stellar track record in a boutique agency setting, I’ve seen my old friend of more than two decades, Kevin Jones, actually scale this practice of emboldening young talent in the world of fintech. He’s done it so often and for so long (I’ve seen it since the late 90s), that there are folks spread across the banking and payments tree in a variety of executive roles. It resembles one of those coaching trees from guys like Dean Smith or Bill Belichick.
What I’ve learned over time, through watching leaders like Ty and Kevin and trying to replicate their ways of leadership myself, is that it’s not about whether young talent can succeed or not. That’s been proven over and over again. It’s really a question of whether you and I, the older, more experienced people, are able to get out of our own heads and empathize with our young colleagues. We are the ones that need to prove ourselves, through focusing on coaching and equipping them with tools and wisdom we’ve acquired through our own peaks and valleys in business. The better we do our jobs—and sometimes that’s just getting out of the way (!) and letting that young talent take over the game—the better off we all will be, and more importantly, the more likely we win through delivering great work to our clients. Harnessing young talent means pushing the boundaries of our creativity and quality, as well as setting the stage for more—and better—growth.
I can attest to this growth from first-hand experience, and I have Suzette Feller and Diana Pressey to thank. I appreciate both of you for bringing out my best direction and pairing that with your combination of talent and effort. Our clients are very fortunate to have a team that really cares.