“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
-John F. Kennedy
President Kennedy spoke these famous words at his Inaugural Address in 1961 after he was sworn in as the 35th, and youngest, president of the United States.
At just 43, Kennedy was already seen as a charismatic leader, someone who could bring an ambitious vision and newfound energy to an office long dominated by men in their 50s and 60s.
“Out with the old, and in with the new” was what most Americans wanted during this time, and with Kennedy’s good looks and youthful appearance, he was considered by many to be exactly what the nation needed.
After delivering these remarks, Kennedy assumed control of the White House and hired other youthful thinkers to assist his administration. He wanted vibrancy, relentless energy and a freshness that would signal to the American public that he was blazing a new trail.
But deep down, Kennedy was self-aware. He knew he needed someone he could rely on for advice, a political grown-up who understood that the jungle is only dangerous if you don’t know the paths.
So he quietly turned to former United Kingdom Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to serve as his mentor. Macmillan was 68 and a WWI veteran, and he had seen the ways in which political leaders struggled. During his distinguished career, he had walked through these jungles and could be as a dependable confidant to Kennedy.
Today, whether it’s on NFL sidelines or in corporate offices, more and more organizations have turned to youth to run their teams. The grown-ups have been shown the door, have taken their buyouts and early retirement packages, and the fresh faces have been placed at the helm.
But when experience walks away, a wealth of knowledge and wisdom departs as well. Unless new leaders surround themselves with some people who have previously walked these paths, they run the danger of quickly becoming overwhelmed or making foolish mistakes that could easily be prevented.
We could all use a version of Harold Macmillan in our lives, someone we can turn to for sage advice, someone who’s willing to lend a listening ear during tumultuous times. We need someone who can refocus our attention so that our lack of experience never rears its ugly head.
Today, let’s make a list of five people who could potentially fill this role, then start picking their brains. As time goes on, the mentor who fits what we need will emerge.
When that happens, our true talents and skills will become apparent, and we can prevent ourselves from stumbling on the leadership jungle’s slippery terrain.
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