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3/8/2017 | 3 MINUTE READ

40-Under-40 Looks to Develop Leaders

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Nominations open for 2017 Leadership Class.


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The elite U.S. Navy SEALs have a section of its creed that talks not only about leading, but also learning from others.

“We expect to lead and be led. In the absence of orders, I will take charge, lead my teammates and accomplish the mission. I lead by example in all situations.”

The SEALs are young, ambitious and hungry to accomplish what is laid before them. In his article “Never too Young to Lead,” former SEAL Brent Gleeson tells an excellent story of his first mission as a leader.

“My first combat mission with my Navy SEAL platoon was to secure a hydroelectric power plant in Northern Iraq. My role on this mission was to guide the helicopter pilots over the landing zone and manage the fast rope insertion for our assault team. At the time, I thought this was a lot of responsibility for a new guy. What I figured out after we nailed our landing, and after many other successful missions, is that age has very little to do with leadership ability.”

That message should resonate with anyone who has witnessed a leader being born in front of you. Someone with open eyes and ears and closed mouths, learning from others until the time comes when they are called upon to show leadership in a sticky situation. 

It is then that you realize, “This person has what it takes.”

And that is what we are looking for as we launch the Products Finishing 40-Under-40 awards program for the second straight year. Last year, we kicked off the program by profiling 40 of the top finishing leaders under the age of 40, including those who worked for shops, OEMs and suppliers.

The mix was pleasant. We had lots of men and women from all sorts of backgrounds, each with a single trait: They were succeeding in the finishing industry.

And that is what we are looking for as we open nominations that run through April 1. We seek individuals under the age of 40 by April 1 and who have some of these traits: leadership skills, inventiveness, sustained career progress, people skills, dedication, personal integrity and community outreach.

Not all of those qualifications need to be met. Some of the nominees from last year had no formal college training; they started out racking parts and moved up to become a supervisor or owner of a shop, but they have all dedicated themselves to serving the finishing industry.

Look around your company and nominate someone who fits most of the description above. It doesn’t have to be the vice president; it is someone who five or 10 years from now will be a leader in the finishing industry. They may be there now.

If your shop or company doesn’t feel like they have someone who fits that criteria, then you might want to follow the suggestions of Gleeson, who is a public speaker and leadership coach.

Here are four ways Gleeson offers for preparing your young staffers for leadership:

  • “Don’t hide your young leaders; show them to the world.” Encourage them to participate in ways to improve the company.
  • “Manage them, not their work.” Give your leaders the opportunity to lead. Allow them to be innovative and generate systems and solutions.
  • “Let them fail. While providing guidance and leadership, we must also allow for failure.” Mistakes present an opportunity to learn and succeed in the future.
  • “Link their effort to tangible results.” Leaders want to know how their role impacts the company. Present a roadmap for success that provides a sense of a direction.

Not every leader wears a tie, or drives the most expensive car in the lot. They may just be the individual who is the most dedicated and vital person on your staff. That is who we want to know about and honor. 

Like Gleeson says, if we can build our emerging leaders in the finishing industry from loyal employees who started at the bottom or middle, then our industry will be stronger and have a more loyal foundation for growth.  



Originally published in the March 2017 issue. 


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