Young leaders need encouraging boost

I like asking questions. It’s a habit I’ve had to develop, but I do like asking them. That’s why when I meet a leader who’s effective in his or her field – whether that be in a business, the food industry, or a nonprofit – I try to have a meal with them to ask questions about their passions, their strategy, and their hope for the Valley.

In the coming weeks, it’s my plan to use some of this column to tell their stories, and to share their visions. I want to show again how great our Valley is and the bright future it has because of these people working hard to make our community a better place for everyone.

I leave conversations with these leaders instructed, humbled and compelled. I also leave encouraged, because many of those leaders I meet with are young leaders, which I tend to think are rare in the Valley. In a community culture that is suspicious of new ideas and innovation and apathetic toward cooperation and collaboration, we tend to chase away young leaders.

But what I love about these leaders is that they have chosen to stay in, or return to, the Valley despite this cultural climate. They’re bold, they’re passionate, they’re visionary. I’m proud to know them.

After meeting with one leader, I’ll often think of another I know – and how if the two were to meet, they would have an inspiring conversation. So I’ll send an email introducing them. Lately, I’ve been thinking, “Wouldn’t this be faster if we could just get all of us in a room at the same time?”

So I’ve started wondering what it would be like to have a Mahoning Valley Young Leader’s Network. In my mind’s eye, it’s simply a low-commitment, high-connection environment to facilitate networking, cooperation, and leadership development. There would be two rules for joining: First, you have to be under 40 to join; second, you have to like food, since it would be nice to eat a meal while we’re together.

I imagine that someone would get up at every meeting and just share the vision of their organization and offer up their coming initiatives. Then, someone with a similar interest or a helpful resource can offer it to that person. Maybe somebody else gives a five-minute talk on a leadership principle they find effective. Then we talk and meet the next month.

Because the reality is that it’s hard to be a leader under 40 in our area. While I am so very grateful for the hard-working leaders previous generations have put into our community, it’s hard to break into leadership here. “The old guard” is often too good at guarding their turf – whether it be their event, their organization, their way of doing things. So new ideas are hard to run with, new initiatives hard to make a reality.

So, a young leader’s network wouldn’t be about pushing back against older generation’s leadership. It wouldn’t be about defiance or rebellion or anger. It would simply be about connectivity and cooperation – those values so close to the hearts of younger leaders. It would also be about encouragement – because sometimes you need somebody next to you saying, “You can do this.”

All this to say: if you know a young leader – someone who owns a business, works in a church or a nonprofit, runs a restaurant, or just has big dreams – try to give them some encouragement this week. Remember that leading is like most tasks: It’s not as easy as it looks.

Tennant is a Warren resident. Email him at