The Kids’ Table

February 17, 2021

I remember it like it was yesterday. Maybe you do, too.

Time to sit down to dinner for the family holiday. So many of your favorite people all in one place. So much interesting catching up to do.

And there you are, stuck.

Stuck at the kids’ table. Stuck where you’ll miss hearing all the big news, won’t get a chance to weigh in on the plans for upcoming celebrations, and where your latest accomplishment won’t get the attention it deserves.

 

Do you remember thinking to yourself, “They don’t know what they’re missing. I deserve to be at the big table. When will it be my turn?”

I was so excited the year my older cousin got sick and couldn’t come to Thanksgiving dinner. I was next in line and I was so proud to take my place at the big table.

You may not remember the conversation that took place the first time you graduated from the kids’ table, but I’m sure you remember the feeling of accomplishment, of belonging, of feeling that you finally were being seen and heard…that you mattered.

Do you have a “kids’ table” in your business? A place where the next generation of leaders is just waiting to be invited to sit with the grown-ups?

Maybe you’re waiting for someone to step up, to claim their right to sit at the big table. There’s some wisdom in that, but it won’t happen unless you make it clear that there will be space at the table.

A month ago, we witnessed an incredible example of what can happen when space is made at the table. Amanda Gorman, just 21 years old, delivered a soul-stirring, heart-stopping, breath-taking poem on Inauguration Day.

Her inspiring words combined with the grace and elegance of her delivery gave powerful presence to the next generation. While there were many more famous and established poets who could have been invited to that podium, none of them would have had the same impact.

So, what are you doing in your business to elevate the next generation? It’s important to be intentional about making space.. Your business won’t survive you unless you do.

 

Here are a few things you can do to foster the next generation of leaders in your business.

Don’t just be a boss, be a mentor – Invite participation and new ideas, listen receptively and be respectful with your feedback. Coach future leadership and find ways to create a bridge between what has been, what is now, and what can be in the future.

Keep the pipeline active – When you are thinking about leadership development and training, don’t just concentrate on the people already sitting at the big table. Create opportunities for aspiring leaders to contribute and participate. Make the path to leadership clear and make sure that there is movement in the pipeline. A sure way to lose good talent is to keep them waiting in the wings too long.

Create ownership – Don’t just make aspiring leaders aware of the vision, give them a role in creating it. Be willing to let go and take some risks to try new things. Allow for stretch opportunities where people can try out new roles and ideas without fear of failure. People invest more when they have an ownership in the outcome.

Honor diversity – Have you created an organization that basically looks just like you? That doesn’t leave much room at the table for a next generation. Do you have conscious or unconscious biases about race, gender, age, disability, sexuality, or leadership style that make it hard for someone to see themselves as a leader in your business? If people don’t see others who look like them at the “grown-up table,” they will never imagine that there will be a seat for them at the table.

Plan for succession – No matter how young or old you are, someday your business will need to survive without you. Make sure it will thrive by being intentional about succession planning, both with people and with systems. Keeping your eye on the future is as important as focusing on the present or honoring the past.

Remember that moment of pride the first time you graduated from the kids’ table? When you create the opportunity for the next generation of leaders in your business to feel that pride, you’ll have exactly what you need to make sure there’s plenty on the table for everyone.

Go forth and do great things,

Martha and Chris