One of my smartest bosses, Laurent Philippe, once said to me, “Always lean forward and promote exceptional young talent.” We were having a discussion in Morocco 25 years ago about a young marketing prodigy in P&G Maroc. The usual “lack of experience” issue was being talked about. Laurent cut through all of it with his principle of “leaning forward” and believing in young talent. We ended up promoting the young manager to a much larger position. And it was a total success.
In the subsequent 25 years, I have come to personally learn that Laurent was 100 percent correct. Young talent should be pushed. Stretched. Put in roles we honestly think are just too big for them. Because 90 percent of the time, talent will rise to the occasion and they will grow into the job. I have pushed and stretched young talent for the past two decades, and only in a mere handful of occasions did this backfire and fail.
Yes, experience is important. And being now 50-plus, believe me, I want to believe in the power of experience! But honestly, talent trumps experience every single time. So if you have all the experience but a lack of talent or a loss of desire, well, watch out, because you are going to be passed by the youth behind you!
One of our key roles as leaders is to nurture the next generation of talent. This, however, does not mean treating people like wine, storing them in the cellar like good Burgundy and letting them “age” gracefully. It means pushing them. Popping the cork, so to speak! Believing in them. Stretching them. Putting the best in over their heads and expecting them to swim. It means leaning forward and not falling prey to the “lack of experience” argument. Experience is overrated.
Let’s not kid ourselves. The kids can do it. And this has been proven since the dawn of mankind. Alexander the Great ruled the world at 25 and was dead by 32. The current Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne at age 25 and still remains today at 90. Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook at 20 and is now one of the world’s richest individuals, a successful and respected CEO at 31. The older crowd like me loves to say, “Age is just a number” to assert our youthfulness. Well, age is just a number. And it works for young people, too.
I have had numerous “seasoned” HR professionals work for me, the 20-year folks who have supposedly seen it all. But frankly, Laila Ngo is the best I have had. She was just 23 when she was hired as entry level in HR. But through circumstances, she was thrust into an interim “HR manager” role and, like young talent does, she just accelerated. By the time it came to hire a “seasoned veteran” to take on the role, I remembered what Laurent Philippe said and instead we promoted Laila into the role. She’s now just 25 and the HR head for the entire company. And you know what? She is not “just OK.” She is not “as good as the seasoned veteran.” She is, in fact, the best I have had in the past 25 years. Talent trumps experience. And youthful enthusiasm and a can-do attitude make a huge difference.
Politics and business are fundamentally the same. Just look at the global enthusiasm for young Justin Trudeau of Canada. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t impress the world even more. And in political circles, he is the youngest guy in the room!
I met a young candidate running for city councilor in Muntinlupa City. His name is Raoul Olbes and, while “only” 32 years old, is the kind of politician the world needs more of. He’s idealistic, and rather than look at a position as an entitlement, he just wants to serve the community he loves. He is honest and ethical and transparent. He is not afraid to get his hands dirty to help his constituents. Last weekend a fire ravaged a section of Muntinlupa. It didn’t get much press. But there was Raoul on a Sunday, texting me and others to please bring food and clothing for the people who lost everything. He was coordinating relief efforts and personally leading the way with his own money to help those who needed it… and without the cameras around. Because it was the right thing to do.
Maybe in politics experience is, in fact, not so valuable. Perhaps with the passage of time, the entitlement mentality creeps in. Maybe for more reasons than just young talent, we need more political leaders like Raoul Olbes.
The bottom line is, it always pays to lean forward and believe in young talent. Push them hard. They can take it, they can bounce back, and they can surprise you. And if you are an old-timer like me, well, we’d better keep our foot on the gas, keep up our enthusiasm, and don’t play the “experience card” alone. Otherwise the current crop of Filipino young talent is going to trample us as they stampede right on by. Experience alone won’t keep us relevant.