Cultivate your young leaders

It’s easy for top management to get caught up in the day-to-day. Serving customers. Producing a product. Meeting goals. But the companies that thrive and enjoy success over the long haul are those that invest in their people — and more particularly in team members who become tomorrow’s leaders.

When I was a younger member of the Velvet team, my dad, Joe, was unafraid to give me responsibility, not because I was his daughter but because he knew how to foster leadership.

He taught my sister Joanne and I to do the same as we took over the reins of the family business. We learned that the key to building leadership skills among the younger employees is in recognizing and cultivating their value.

Room to grow

These precepts can help any company develop young leaders:

Draw on their assets — Younger colleagues tend to have great comfort with and skill in technology. They bring creativity and fresh ideas. They have global awareness and tolerance, and they’re adaptable. Recognize and make the most of those talents; encourage them to share their abilities with others.

Show them off — It’s easy to pigeonhole newer staff members as too young or inexperienced. Instead, let them be the voice of the company. Send them out to represent you. Provide outside professional development and networking opportunities on company time and on the company dime.

Manage the worker, not the work — Give them training on all aspects of the business. Show them the ropes, then back off and let them shine. Too often top brass micromanages younger workers; trust your own ability to hire well and give junior staffers the room to perform like senior leaders.

At Velvet Ice Cream, we start by cross training all employees so they understand all aspects of the business. That way they’re fully equipped to lead company improvements.

Toot their horn — Every time an employee excels, be generous with praise. And don’t be afraid to be public about it. You’ll motivate repeat performances and inspire others to step up and lead as well.

Commit to see results

A few years ago, we added a young, smart marketing manager, Nathan Arnold, who quickly demonstrated outstanding leadership skills. We cultivated that, successfully nominating him for Licking County Chamber of Commerce Young Professional of the Year. He was recognized as an outstanding 20 Under 40 future leader.

He has continued to shine as a leader, within our company and throughout our community. He recently helped the Chamber launch Young Leaders of Licking County, a club aimed at equipping future leaders with the tools they need to help move the community forward and cultivate the next generation of leaders.

But in order to achieve such potential, top leadership must promote and foster an environment where younger employees feel comfortable stepping up and taking charge.

Beyond what strong young team members bring to our company, we all can share in and enjoy the benefits. The skills and gifts of their leadership spreads, making our entire community a better place to live, work and play.

Luconda Dager is the president of Velvet Ice Cream. Family-owned and operated since it was founded in 1914, Luconda is the fourth generation to run her family’s company in Utica.