To Be A Kingdom Building Pastor Today — You MUST…

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I love this picture.

I saw it on Mark Jobe’s Facebook page. Mark is a pastor of a church I greatly admire in Chicago. Actually, as a church planter and revitalizer, I’ve probably referred people to New Life (and a video of their work I keep bookmarked) as much as any other church.

New Life is doing what I believe is some of the best, hardest and most needed work in church growth today. They come along side an older, declining, established church and breathe “new life” into them helping them reach the community again. There are many other churches doing similar work, but I have been to New Life and had the opportunity to talk with Mark a few times, so he’s one doing this type ministry I’m familiar with most. I don’t know Mark well — but we are close enough to be Facebook friends :)

In this picture, Pastor Mark is walking with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. According to the caption, Mark was “Discussing the challenges of providing a safer environment and better role models for Chicago school children with the Mayor”

I love it!

Yea Mark! Yea New Life! Yea God!

The thought that struck me with this picture is that it provides further proof of something I’ve believed for some time. Something I’ve been living and preaching.

It’s how I’m trying to do church growth today.

To be a kingdom building pastor you MUST be a community building pastor.

You simply have to be! I’m convinced.

Okay, maybe must is too strong a word. Sometimes I use titles to get you to read — because I am making a point I believe is important. And, let me be clear there are many other effective models of doing ministry than Mark’s and certainly mine. But, being a community builder seems to be at least one of the more effective ways I’m seeing churches grow these days.

People aren’t coming to our big buildings anymore — or our small buildings. We must go to them.

Shortly after I arrived in Lexington I ran past a historical marker for the oldest home in our city. It was built for a Presbyterian pastor. The marker explains what a difference that pastor had on the city — not just as a pastor — but as a community leader. That’s because — years ago — pastors used to be at the center of everything in a community.

Pastors were community leaders — game changers in the community. They garnered respect through visibility and activity. People listened to them and wanted their opinion — mostly because people knew them well enough to respect them. They weren’t just faces on a raised platform on Sunday — they were faces seen in the community during the week. They were friends. Town folk.

One of my mentors, a pastor now in his mid-90′s, helped start a small business almost 70 years ago that is still thriving today in the community where his first pastorate was located. How? He walked the man desiring to open a business over to the bank and told the community banker to “give this young man a chance”. He got the loan. The pastor got a generous church donor. (Funny how that works.)

He could march over to the bank with a prospective loan because he was respected by the banker.

Now, things have changed. Banks don’t operate like that anymore. I’m not saying they ever will again. Most likely not.

But, not everything has to change.

The fact is, we didn’t just stop influencing the bankers — we stopped influencing our communities. Many times we left public square to hide behind our pulpits. And, I get it. For so long they came to us. We would build it — buildings and parking lots and programs — and they would fill them. We may need to wait for some tragic or life-altering events to occur in thie life, but they’d come.

But it doesn’t always work anymore — at least not as easily.

I’m convinced, many times they don’t trust us as much because they don’t know us as much.

I haven’t been in full-time vocational ministry long. I came out of the business world where I was very involved in community functions. Frankly, in my experience, the pastors who were active in community efforts weren’t respected because of the way they went about trying to make a difference. I know because I heard my friends who weren’t Christians talk about it. (That experience has greatly shaped my approach to doing ministry. Leading in the community — hoping to be a Kingdom builder.)

You knew what they were against, but you didn’t know what they were for. You knew what they didn’t like about the community, but you didn’t know what they liked about the community. You knew they took resources from the community to operate their programs — but you didn’t know how they gave anything back. Honestly, they were seen more as antagonistic than helpful in changing the community for good.

The community won’t stand for it anymore.

And, while much of that is perception more than reality — most pastors and churches do love their community, even if it’s not always visible. If the church does it’s job of making disciples of those who attend it should be helping the community by giving back citizens who have more joy, patience, love, etc. Who doesn’t want that? (I’ll let someone else decide if a particular church is actually producing Christ-like disciples.)

But wasn’t Jesus visible, known and well-liked in the community? Sure, they eventually rejected Him, but that was part of the plan — and He knew it was coming — and that didn’t deter Him from loving the people outside the walls of the synagogue. Jesus proved you could be in the world without being shaped by the world.

And, by being in the world, we stand a far better chance of helping to shape it.

Frankly, if all the community knows is the perceptions they see — and, they are more against a community than for it — I don’t blame them for rejecting our message.

And, so, I contend again…

To be a kingdom building pastor you have to be a community building pastor.

So, we need to be involved in our schools.

We need to be involved in addressing the greatest needs of our community.

We need to know our school and city leaders and help them understand we are here to be part of the solution — not to add to the stress of their jobs.

We need to earn the respect of people in the community — some who will never enter the doors of our churches — so we can help build our communities.

Only then, in my opinion, can we most effectively build the Kingdom today. And, in my honest opinion, it’s the right thing to do even if the church never grows another member from it.

So, let me ask some sobering questions.

Pastor, how are you investing in your community?

How are you becoming a community leader/influencer?

Does the community know you — as more than just a name on a sign outside your building?

If so, do they like who they are getting to know?

The Jesus Inner Leadership Circle

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Jesus had an inner circle of leadership.

It sounds exclusive. And it was.

But you should have one too.

Matthew 15:32 Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.”

It’s a leadership principle we can learn from and should implement also.

Consistently throughout the ministry of Jesus, we see Him responding to situations in a similar fashion.

Jesus didn’t simply announce His plans.

Instead, He repeatedly called His inner circle together. He prepared His team. Then He announced His plans.

The inner circle of Jesus (His disciples) were continually being shaped for leadership and ministry.

He built loyal followers by personally investing in them.

He gained His team’s confidence by sharing insider information with them.

He expanded His ministry 12-fold by delegating to them.

And, do you think Jesus knew a few things about leading people — people He created?

I think so.

Leader, your largest goal in leadership development should be to develop an inner circle of leaders around you.

When you invest in them — when you allow them to lead — you develop loyal followers who will follow you anywhere and help you accomplish the vision God has given you.

Great leaders — like Jesus — develop their inner circle of leaders first.

I can anticipate the detractors of this post, so let me address you now.

It’s not that you are being exclusive in your leadership development. Everyone can be developed. But rather you are being effective.

It’s impossible to lead too many direct reports in leadership.

That’s why some pastors burn out.

For me, I find I’m less effective when more than 4 or 5 people report directly to me.

Jesus could handle 12 — but He’s Jesus. But even then, it appears Jesus was even more intentional with Peter, James and John. And He consistently tried to slip away from the crowd.

“Follow Me” – Jesus said.

Leaders — do you have an inner circle of leaders you are developing?

Leader: Address the Elephant in the Room

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Years ago I was serving on a team where there was a consistent idea killer. Whenever anyone on the team presented an idea, regardless of the idea’s merit, this person would shoot it down. He always saw the glass as half empty and was negative about everything. It’s okay to have someone who asks questions to make things better — but this guy was a doomsayer in the room. It wasn’t helpful.

It was annoying, but was allowed to continue by leadership. Everyone talked about it outside of the meetings, no one respected the idea killer, and even the leader admitted it was a problem for the team, but he insisted he had counseled with this person privately, and it never seemed to improve.

It led me to the conclusion:

Sometimes, as a leader, you have to address the “elephant in the room” — in the room.

Everyone knows it’s there.

You can’t miss an elephant.

It keeps being repeated.

You’ve handled it individually.

Nothing has changed.

It may even be getting worse.

At some point, the leaders may have to address the elephant in the room.

You can’t ignore the elephant.

While everyone is in the room, address the elephant.

You may have to call out the person causing the disruption in the presence of everyone else in the room.

Yes, it’s hard, uncomfortable, and you don’t want to do it often, but it may be necessary.

If you don’t:

  • Everyone will assume this type performance is tolerated.
  • The negative actions will be copied by others.
  • Team dynamics will never be healthy.
  • Respect for the leader — with this issue and others — will diminish.

Address the elephant!

You must. Everyone already knows it’s there. The best excuses won’t hide an elephant. And, elephants don’t often leave the room on their own.

Have you ever served on a team where the elephant wasn’t addressed and it negatively impacted the team?

7 Ways to Make Yourself Invaluable to a Team

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Here are 7 ways to make yourself invaluable to a team:

Be a chief encourager. Be one who helps people feel better about themselves and their contribution to the team.

Support the vision and direction. Be honest about it, but be a verbal proponent of the overall objectives of the team and where things are going. Be a known team player.

Respect others. In the way you treat and respond to everyone on the team.

Give more than required. That doesn’t mean you have to work more hours. It might. But it might mean you work smarter than everyone else. Plan your day better. Be better at setting goals and objectives. Hold yourself accountable.

Be an information hub. Be well read and share what you learn. Information is king. Be the king of it. Without being obnoxious — of course.

Celebrate other people’s success. Send notes or encouragement. Brag on someone else. Tell others what you admire about them. Without being creepy — of course.

Be a good listener. Everyone loves the person they can go to and know they won’t just be heard they will be listened to. A good person to bounce ideas off of his invaluable to the team. Then keep every confidence.

What other ways do you know of to make oneself valuable to a team?

The Absolute Most Common Reason Change is Resisted

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After years of leading change I’ve discovered some things about the process. One of those discoveries is that change will face resistance. All change.

Surprised by that revelation? Not if you’ve ever led change.

If the change has any value at all, someone will not agree — at least initially.

There is something in all of us that initially resists change we didn’t initiate.

And, I’ve discovered the absolute most common reason change is resisted. I mean the biggest.

Would that be helpful to know?

I would say it is true the majority of time when change is resisted.

Understanding this reason can help navigate through change. Ignoring it makes the process of change miserable for everyone.

What’s the most common reason change is resisted?

It’s an emotion they feel. They may not even be able to describe it, but it’s more powerful at the time than the excitement the change may bring.

What’s the emotion? You may think anger, or confusion, or fear. And, while those are often true emotions of change, in my observation it isn’t the most common. I recently wrote 7 Emotions of Change – and it isn’t one of them. I was saving the biggie for this post — because all the others are often products of this one.

The most common emotion that causes resistance to change:

A sense of loss

People emotionally feel a sense of loss in the process of change.

Have you ever felt like you were losing or had lost something?

How did you react? Didn’t you try to hold on to whatever you were losing?

It’s not a good feeling emotion.

Loss of power
Loss of comfort
Loss of control
Loss of information
Loss of familiarity
Loss of tradition
Loss of stability

They aren’t always rational emotions. They are often perceived as bigger than they really are.

But, they are real emotions to the person experiencing the emotion of loss.

It doesn’t matter if people know the change is needed. They often feel they may be losing something in the change — and it causes them to resist the change.

And, because change is — well — change — their emotions are based on some truth. Things are changing.

I have found, as a leader, that if I understand what people are struggling with I’m better prepared to lead them through it. Some people are never going to get on board with the change, but many times people just need someone to at least acknowledge their sense of loss. It doesn’t eliminate the emotion, but genuine empathy allows me to keep leading.

When a leader discounts a person’s emotions — or ignores them — the resistance becomes more intense — because the emotions become more intense. That’s when some of those other emotions — like anger — are often added. The process of change is stalled — sometimes even derailed.

Leader, are you paying attention to the emotions of change?

7 Indicators That You’re Not Leading Anymore

Leadership is action, not position

Being in a leadership position is no guarantee we are leading. Holding the title of leader isn’t an indication one actually leads.

Leading by definition is an active term. It means we are taking people somewhere. And, even the best leaders have periods — even if ever so briefly — even if intentional — when they aren’t necessarily leading anything. Obviously, those periods shouldn’t be too long or progress and momentum eventually stalls, but leadership is an exhaustive process. It can be draining. Sometimes we need a break.

For an obvious example, I try to shut down at the end of every day and most Saturdays. I’m not leading anything — but I’m still a leader. And, I periodically stop leading for a more extended period. During those times — I’m intentionally not leading anything. There are other times, such as after we’ve accomplished a major project, where I may intentionally “rest” from leading to catch my breath and rely on our current systems and structures to maintain us.

But, again, those times should be intentional and they should be too extended. In my experience, leaders get frustrated when they aren’t leading for too long a period.

For me personally, I like to evaluate my leadership over seasons, rather than days. Typically, just for simplicity of calendar, I look at things on a quarterly basis and then on an annual basis. How/what am I going to lead this next quarter — next year? How/what did I lead last quarter — last year?

If the past review or the future planning is basically void of any intentional leadership — if all I’m doing is managing current programs and systems during that time frame — if we are in maintenance mode for too long — I know it’s time to intentionally lead something. That’s good for me personally and for the teams I lead.

How do you evaluate if you are leading or simply maintaining? One way is to look for the results of leading. What happens when you do lead? And, ask if those are occurring.

For example…

Here are 7 indicators that you’re not leading anymore:

Nothing is being changed. Leadership is about something new. Somewhere you haven’t been. That’s change. If nothing is changing — you can do that without a leader.

No paradigms are being challenged. Many times the best change is a change of mindset — a way we think. Leaders are constantly learning so they can challenge the thinking “inside the box”.

You’re not asking questions. A leader only knows what he or she knows. Nothing more. And, many times the leader is the last to know. A great part of leadership is about discovery. And, you only get answers to questions you ask.

There are competing visions. Leaders point people to a vision. A vision. Not many visions. One of the surest ways to derail progress is to have multiple visions. It divides energy and people. It confuses instead of bringing clarity. When we fail to lead competing visions arise and confusion elevates.

No one is complaining. You can’t lead anything involving worthwhile change where everyone agrees. If no one is complaining someone is settling for less than best.

People aren’t being stretched. There are never moments of confusion. Please understand. A leader should strive for clarity. But, when things are changing and challenging there will always be times of confusion. That’s when good leaders get even better at communicating, listening, vision casting, etc.

People being “happy” has become a goal. Everyone likes to be liked. Might we even say “popular”. In fact, some get into leadership for the notoriety. But, the end goal of leadership should be accomplishing a vision — not making sure everyone loves the leader. Progress hopefully makes most people happy, but when the goal begins with happiness, in my experience, no one is ever really made happy.

Leader, have you been sitting idle for too long? Is it time to lead something again?

3 Things Creatives Need to Flourish

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There are some lessons that are only learned the hard way.

One of those has to do with working with creatives.

I used to think when leading creatives, the key was to free them to create.

I’ve learned — the hard way — that freedom alone for a creative can spell disaster. Nothing gets accomplished. No one is happy.

Please understand. I’m not a creative basher.

I am actually a creative. Not an artistic creative, but an idea creative.

And, it’s true for me too. It’s the way I thought I wanted or needed to be lead. Wrong.

I’ve learned these tips the hard way, attempting to lead creatives — and attempting to lead myself.

Creatives don’t need freedom — or at least freedom alone — they need more than that.

Here are 3 things creatives need to flourish.

1. Clear lines of direction. A clear vision. The box drawn around a certain end goal or objective.

2. The freedom to draw within the lines. (There’s the freedom creatives love.) Limited micromanagement. Maximum empowerment. The freedom to fail. The freedom to dream. All within the broad — very broad — but defined boundaries.

3. Accountability along the way. Someone to check in with them periodically. Motivate them. Give them encouragement. Let them know they are making progress — that they are doing good work.

Without the lines — without the accountability — creatives don’t flourish — they flounder. Things aren’t creative. They are messy.

Creatives love freedom — but it works best sandwiched between clarity and structure.

When those 3 are combined — lines, freedom and accountability — stuff gets done — and everyone is happy.

(Or mostly everyone. If everyone is happy someone’s not leading — creatives or otherwise.)

8 Reasons a Church Plant May Not Grow

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I’ve worked with a lot of church plants. And, I’ve been involved in two — as a planter. Every planter goes into the process hoping to see lives changed with the Gospel. Hoping to grow. Some work. Some don’t. 

Why is that? 

Well, of course, there are spiritual factors at work. Some sow seeds and others reap harvest. Sometimes God uses the plant in a unique way — that doesn’t produce huge numbers of attendees. And, frankly, sometimes the planter had no business planting. It was never really what they were called to do. It looked “exciting” from the outside — all the “cool” people are doing it, but God had a different plan for the planter’s life. 

But, speaking specifically about strategic type of reasons a church plant doesn’t grow, I’ve observed a few things. 

Here are 8 reasons a church plant may not grow.

You live by someone else’s rules. I’ve seen it so many times. A church plant has the rules of the denomination or an association and they simply don’t work where they are located. The plant doesn’t contextualize the structure to the culture and community around them. The exact same model won’t always work in two different church plants — even across town from each other. Principles are often transferable, but not necessarily practices. 

You try to be like everyone else. This is similar to number one but has to do more with the planter. The planter has a vision but it’s someone else’s vision. They have a desire to look just like someone else they admire. Every plant needs it’s own vision birth by God in the heart of its own planter. The truth presented should be the same as every other church plant, but the style of deliverance will have some uniqueness to the planter.   

You depend too much on outside funding. Rather than developing givers and volunteers from with inside the plant, the plant waits for the outside checks to come. The problem with outside funding is that it eventually disappears. It is rarely sustainable long-term. And, if not careful, the planter becomes dependent on these resources. Obviously there are exceptions. Some plants may never be able to fully fund themselves. But, in my experience, many times this problem exists because the planter has not discipled the people attending in the area of giving. 

You build programs over relationships. This is a common problem I’ve seen too. A church planter enters an area, implements a few programs, and believes that people will naturally acclimate to those programs. And they may for a short time. But in the end programs will not sustain people. Relationships will. 

You worry too much about structure. You’ll get there. And you need structure. But, especially in the initial days, focus more on loving a community. Then building structure. My advice, is to have some basic structure in place, but not have that structure so rigid or controlling that you can’t adapt quickly to the needs of the community. Then spend your greatest energy loving people. 

You waited for them to come to you.  You thought “new” would be enough. Build it they will come works in the movies. But, that doesn’t even work in established churches anymore, why would it work in church plants? The future attendees in any church are usually outside somewhere waiting to be asked. And, sometimes they don’t even know it. It’s our job to go find them.

You didn’t protect yourself and your family. We can’t count the number of church plants that never really accomplished all that they could have because the planter wasn’t healthy enough to see it through. It could be a moral failure, burnout, or a family that is falling apart under the stress of the plant. (Let me speak specifically into this one. Every planter needs mentoring, discipline and accountability. From the start. Not after the need is discovered.)

You held too tightly to your way.  Church plants can recruit entrepreneurial leaders. It’s a natural attraction. Given the authority to actually lead this can be one of the most powerful benefits of the church plant. When the planter ignores this and keeps people from feeling empowered, growth is limited to the church planter’s abilities. The planter should certainly control — or maybe the word is protect — the theological foundation, but implementation of vision should be shared  with others. 

Those are just a few observations. As with the purpose of this blog, they are meant to be helpful. If God has called you to a church plant — plant well. I’m pulling for you.

The Immediate Need to Create a Lasting Legacy

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Succession has been a hot topic in a whole lot of church circles lately.

I visited with my friend William Vanderbloemen who just wrote a book on the subject called Next: Pastoral Succession That Works, which is a church leader’s comprehensive guidebook to understanding what you can do now to prepare for the day your church faces a leadership transition.

The church needs this book. Here’s the interview.

Ron: What is the “big idea” behind this book?

William: It really comes down to one sentence: Every pastor is an interim pastor.

Why? Because unless you plan on pastoring your church after Jesus returns, every church will have to face the reality of a leadership transition. Are you ready? Most people aren’t. Many church leaders equate succession planning to retirement planning. However, smart church leaders realize that succession planning is much more than that. We hope that this book will be a conversation starter and a guide for pastors and church boards as they look to the inevitable reality of transition.

Ron: In Next, you mention the old adage, “Everyone wants to talk about succession…until it’s their own.” Why do you think that is?

William: What we found in our research for Next is that no career ties identity to job more than the pastorate. What other job coincides with more key parts of life? Who else performs their daughter’s wedding at work? Who else buries longtime friends as part of their job? What other career ties personal spiritual formation to career performance? It is a difficult job to leave because our identity as a pastor is tied to our church, but this is why focusing on leaving a legacy through a healthy succession plan from day one in the pastorate matters so much.

Ron: You give countless real-life stories of pastoral transitions in Next. Since every succession is different, what defines a successful succession?

William: I encourage church leaders to first ask themselves, “What would success look like three years after the hand-off from the outgoing pastor to the successor pastor?” Even if you’re part of an appointment system where you have no say in the person who will follow you, you still have a huge influence in how you end, how well the church is prepared for a successor, and what path and direction the church’s momentum will be moving toward when the successor arrives. For pastors who have no idea where to start with succession planning, chapter 2 of the book includes “The Ten Commandments of Succession Planning” which walks pastors through ten steps that they can do today to prepare for succession.

Ron: As the Baby Boomers near retirement, perhaps more pastors will be thinking about succession planning now than ever. What advice would you give outgoing pastors?

William: Great question! But before answering it, I’d love to point out one golden rule of succession planning: It’s never too early to start. I would be thrilled if pastors in their 30’s bought this book and began planning now. When I was a young pastor, John Maxwell told me, “William, spend your younger years creating options for your later years.” I believe that more than ever now.

But onto your question….Too often pastors stay at a church not because they’re thriving but because they don’t have anything else to put their passion into. Having a plan for how you will spend your energy after you leave your church is crucial to a healthy succession. Chapter 4 of Next helps pastors frame when it’s time to move on from your present place of service, but the more fundamental issue is figuring out what you should do next in God’s big picture for your life.

Ron: You and your co-author Warren Bird from Leadership Network did hundreds of interviews for the research on the book. What was the most surprising trend you found?

William: There are a whole lot of surprises that we found, but two trends come to mind: I was shocked to see the average ages of the pastors of the largest churches in the country. There are some great infographics and tables in the book with that sort of information. Seeing it laid out in one spot convinced me that succession planning is a looming crisis for the church.

Secondly, I never realized how much of a good succession rises and falls on the outgoing pastor’s spouse. There are a number of great stories in the book that highlight this. Smart churches will pay attention to that dynamic and find ways to address it as they face transitions.

This is a topic that I think about myself as a pastor and leader. I encourage every pastor to order Next and start thinking and talking about succession on a regular basis.

Order Next: Pastoral Succession That Works now at NextPastor.com and save $5.

Coming Soon to a Workplace Near You: Generation Z

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Here is a guest post from Jeremy Kingsley. Jeremy is a Best-selling author and Keynote speaker. He has been featured on CNBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, FOX BUSINESS, WALL STREET JOURNAL and many more large media outlets. Learn more at JeremyKingsley.com

Coming Soon to a Workplace Near You: Generation Z

The generation that by most definitions we call the Millennials are becoming well established in the workforce. They’ve paved the way for their elders to become more accustomed to tattoos, more appreciative of diversity, and less insistent on spending office hours in an actual office. So now it’s time to start preparing for the next round—the young people being dubbed “Generation Z.”

Following the most common definition of Gen Zers as being born after 1996 means they’re still in school, for the most part, but they’ll be arriving as part-time workers and interns before we know it, and it’s not too soon to start building some insight.

Even more than the Millennials, Gen Zers are, to use Mark Prensky’s term, digital natives who have grown up in a world of technology. If you’re old enough, you may remember joking about how a three or four-year-old helped you troubleshoot your network connections. These are those kids. They can’t remember a world without high-speed Internet, social media, iPads, smartphones, and they’re completely comfortable interacting, learning, and working online.

Partly because of technology, Gen Zers are born multitaskers. It may drive you crazy that they’re looking at something on their phone while you’re talking to them, but from their perspective it’s not rude but sensible to use the leftover parts of their brain on other tasks. Expect the line between company and personal time, already blurred by the Millennials, to become even more obscured.

Technology also means they’re comfortable in global diversity. They’re growing up with people, food, and entertainment derived from around the world. Where older people may be comforted by homogeneity, Gen Zers are mistrustful of its limits.

Again building on a trend begun by earlier generations, Gen Z is socially and environmentally aware. They’re attracted to organizations with initiatives in place for diversity, employee volunteerism and service, and environmental sustainability.

Finally, they’re entrepreneurial and flexible. They’ve grown up in a world where technology radically changed the way we live and do business, and the old familiar structures of the workplace are history as far as they’re concerned. They’re looking for innovation and independence.

Each new generation brings its own set of challenges and opportunities for growth. Whether you’re 25 or 85, whether you’ll be encountering Generation Z as employees, consumers, or clients, it’s your ability to bring together their new ideas with your own experience and hard-earned wisdom that will keep you on top and ready for Generation Z and whatever comes after Z.