In the next five to 10 years, due to retirement or scandal, we will experience significant turnover in private, public and quasi-public leadership. The new leaders will not look like the old, white men they will replace. As a country, and a city, we are not prepared for this leadership transition, but we can be.
After a stunning Golden Globes speech, Twitter lit up with #Oprah2020. The enthusiasm masks a bigger problem – Democrats don’t have a good sense of future leadership options. This problem isn’t limited to a political party feeling despondent. The world is changing faster than leadership is transitioning, and communities everywhere are increasingly intolerant of leadership musical chairs that perpetuate more of the same. As our institutions turn to external talent to guide us in new directions, we have a collective responsibility to cultivate, prepare and support that talent.
By 2020, it is expected that 50 percent of the work force will be independent contractors. Many in this gig economy could be the next generation of elected officials, non-profit executives and board members, but they will not have the benefit of corporate sponsorship, employment benefits or professional development that allows them to pursue and remain in civic leadership positions.
We can and must make short- and long-term adjustments to prepare for this impending wave of new leadership.
First, we should create a civic leadership fund that invests in the professional development of community leaders. We should be courageous enough to ask corporate sponsors to invest generally in community leadership, not pay for employees to participate in programs such as Leadership Charlotte and Community Building Initiative. These important programs need to prepare those who serve or will serve our community. There’s no guarantee that the employees selected will remain with the company. It is better to invest in broadly in community talent.
Second, we should create a civic fellowship to allow people to take a sabbatical from their careers to serve in elected office. If we truly want to diversify perspectives and change public policy, we must make the opportunity to serve a practical reality and not an empty promise. The stipend we offer local elected officials in exchange for 24-hour availability is unacceptable and discourages qualified, talented people from running for office. The fellowship would be a short-term fix. Long-term, we should increase the stipend and staff support.
Third, we should compensate volunteer members of task forces, leadership councils and public commissions for their time. In a gig economy, every hour given away is lost revenue. We can’t afford to lose 50 percent of the talent pool. They can’t afford to give up precious time. We can meet in the middle and offer financial support.
Fourth, we need mentorship across generations. Although created with good intentions, young professional organizations have the negative effect of reducing access to more experienced leadership. The millennial generation is the most peer-mentored generation, but that does not mean they do not need or want to learn from more experienced leaders. Every non-profit board member, elected official and executive director should challenge themselves to mentor someone.
Finally, the City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, the Charlotte Chamber and the Charlotte Regional Partnership should explore creating a community human resources department that offers benefits such as health care, retirement and professional development to independent contractors and other gig workers. By pooling our resources, we can increase the number of entrepreneurs, creative workers, contractors and small business owners who can thrive in Charlotte.
As the future of work evolves, so too will the future of economic development. We can set a new standard for attracting and retaining talent that sets Charlotte apart. The economic opportunity work we’ve committed to will require multiple generations of leadership. Let’s prepare them for long-term success.
Chiou is the executive director of Queen City Forward. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.