Most discussions on the topic of ‘leadership’ tend to revolve around the importance of leading vs. managing people. They drill down into the theory of how good leadership can enable us to best meet the goals of the organization and, at the same time, provide a work environment that is both motivating to employees and responsive to customer needs.
It’s important, however, that we take a broader view of the topic of leadership and discuss where the next generation of business leaders is going to come from and how we’re going to prepare them for their roles. In today’s increasingly competitive global market, no effort is more important to the continued success of the region’s economy and the creation of tomorrow’s jobs than the encouragement of our future leaders.
While there are numerous programs and initiatives in place at the state, regional and city levels to encourage leadership development in the profit and not-for-profit worlds, it’s the efforts of hundreds of today’s business leaders who volunteer their time and energy that stand-out as a model for what can be done when various constituents in the community come together to help entrepreneurs and younger talent build viable, sustainable and profitable enterprises. And it’s no surprise that the cornerstone of these efforts, coordinated within the region by the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center, is the identification and development of business leadership talent.
An excellent example of where these coordinated efforts are making a difference is in the area of women-owned businesses — the fastest growing segment of the entrepreneur and small business segment. Through The Center’s mentoring programs, including AthenaPowerlink, woman business owners are being connected with advisory panels made up of experienced business leaders who offer advisory services that help them negotiate crucial, early business decisions. Assistance is also provided to these younger leaders to help them connect with resources and advice they need to grow at different stages, and establish the skills and contacts they need to succeed.
Beyond their involvement with initiatives like The Center, today’s business leaders must re-double their volunteer efforts to help increase the quality of the education system that is responsible for producing future leadership talent, especially at the secondary and college levels. The ‘Education in Entrepreneurship’ program, an initiative of the Motorola Foundation and The Center, is a good example of how the business community is helping high school students in underserved communities experience and realize the benefits of becoming an entrepreneur. The program includes presentations by entrepreneurs who share experiences and insights, and internships at entrepreneurial companies for select students.
The challenge of identifying and encouraging tomorrow’s business leaders is a large one, particularly in minority communities. But the very fact that the continued growth of our regional economy and of jobs depends on our success in this endeavor, makes the challenge both necessary and an exciting one in which we cannot afford to fail.
James J. O’Connor Jr. Vice President, Motorola and Co-Chair of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center