April 23, 2013

Don't Cut Off the Caring

"The time has come. The young generation always comes up and beats the older generation. It's how life is."

Marta Karolyi, head of the United States women's gymnastic team

Despite the fact that the elders may be able to extend their athletic prowess and dominance longer, at some point they will be defeated. Records will fall. Champions will retire. Legends will become memories.

It is the way.

Now if only everyone involved in volunteer leadership positions could understand that this circle of life also applies to them, things might run a bit more smoothly.

In the past few weeks, I have found myself facilitating several strategic conversations about how organizations can help people "let go" of their positions when their term of office has concluded. Rightly so, the new leadership sometimes sees the "old guard" clinging to their past power and responsibilities as potential interference. And without a doubt, some individuals do not know how to exit the stage gracefully.

But I'm beginning to think the more powerful question is not one focused on letting go, but one that explores leveraging and redirecting: How can we now leverage and redirect the talent, knowledge, caring, and commitment of individuals no longer holding significant leadership positions in our organization? Instead of talking about how to rid ourselves of these people, we spend our energy discussing how to retain the best of what they can bring to our community. It yields a much richer and more respectful conversation.

While one's capacity to compete might diminish over time, one's capacity to care does not necessarily decline. It is why we see former champions now serving as coaches and commentators. They still believe in and care about their sport, but they have selected news ways to contribute to it and to grow with it.

It is time we rethink and reconfigure our organizations and communities to allow opportunities for as many individuals as possible to act on their caring. Doing so will strengthen our capacity to do good things, as well as strengthen individuals' connections to each other and the work of the organization. How can that be a bad thing?

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