Black leadership: the next generation: as today's leaders grow older, who will our future leaders be? (National News).
Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies President Eddie N. Williams is 70, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition President the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. is 61, United Negro College Fund President William H. Gray III is 62, and NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, the youngest of the crop, is 54. While nonprofit institutions shaped African American progress in the past--and continue to do so today--the future of these organizations will depend on the next generation of chief executive officers to head them.
A good succession plan can make or break an organization these days, says Charles J. Hamilton Jr., chairman of the National Urban League Board of Trustees search committee and senior partner in the New York office of the international law firm Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker L.L.P.: "In prior years, leaders used to just hang on forever. There has been a significant paradigm shift in the way organizations today look at leadership for one major reason--accountability." According to Hamilton, the board of trustees began its search for a new president and CEO in November with a list of more than 450 candidates who had been generated both internally and from recommendations provided by NUL affiliates.
An example of the paradigm shift Hamilton talks about is evident at Rainbow/PUSH. Though the organization would not say exactly when the change would take place, Jackson publicly revealed the identity of the organization's next president last year: the Rev. James T. Meeks, 46, an Illinois state senator and pastor of Salem Baptist Church in Chicago.
The organization that served as a platform for Jackson's mentor, however, was undergoing a difficult transition a few years ago. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which had its glory days under the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was in the news in 2001. Rumors were circulating about a generation gap between the organization's 40-member board and Martin Luther King III, the founder's son, who became SCLC president in 1998 at age 40. While the old guard best understood methods like protest demonstrations, the younger King spoke of revitalizing communities.
Given the tension that exists between generations, age is an important leadership consideration. The post-Civil Rights generation is passing the 40-year-old mark. Many of them received higher education credentials in the early 1980s and became professionals or worked in corporate America. Some have been active in social change movements doing great work with smaller, lesser-known organizations, and a few have raised millions of dollars. Nonetheless, there is speculation that we'll see some familiar names when these organizations change leaders. Gray was considered the front-runner for the NUL presidency, and former mayor Ron Kirk of Dallas is identified as a leader who may have peaked politically and could become an organization leader.
Melanie L. Campbell, 40, executive director and CEO of the D.C.-based National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP), an organization dedicated to increasing African American participation in civil society, says major organizations face the challenge of better utilizing younger talent. "We need the opportunity to bring [the experiences of the younger generation], technology, the ability to raise money, and the networks we have to our organizations. If we find ways to utilize [younger] talent more, I think you'll start seeing more younger people joining our organizations because they'll see a little more of themselves in them. We've missed the boat in many ways by not utilizing folks who have had much to bring to the conversation and are willing to do the work, not just hold a title," says Campbell.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles-based National Alliance for Positive Action, thinks 35 to 45 is the ideal age for leaders to be taken seriously by fund-giving corporations, government agencies, and foundations. Needed credentials are: a college education and professional, business, or elected political experience. "When you hit 35-45 years old, you've still got some youth, vitality, vigor, drive, and energy, but you're also beginning to get maturity and experience," says Hutchinson. Conversely, front-runners for the presidency of premier civil rights organizations, like the National Urban League, must have already achieved considerable national stature--and in many cases, this has been a result of the Civil Bights movement.
Here's a test for a would-be leader's suitability: 'Are you politically connected? Do you know who the political players are? Are you able to talk the language of business leaders and foundation directors? What kind of entree do you have there, and what kind can you develop?" asks Hutchinson. The new leadership must also know how to cultivate relationships with the conservative Republicans who dominate today's political landscape.
The founder put TransAfrica Forum on the map and rebuilt the anti-apartheid movement, but success left the organization needing to redefine its mission. "Now we find ourselves in what many people refer to as a global economic apartheid. There is vast polarization of wealth on this planet. International financial institutions are blackmailing countries. We're building on the legacy of Randall [Robinson, TransAfrica founder and CEO], but we're taking the organization in somewhat different directions," says Fletcher
A turning point for the NUL will be its annual July conference, in Pittsburgh. The board of trustees will review the five-year strategic plan being developed, and the newly chosen president will be installed. After the CEO has been in office a year, the public should know about any new directions for the organization.
What Hamilton says of the NUL's mission and situation applies equally well to all black organizations: "The economy is, without a doubt, one of the greatest challenges we face today as an institution, as we try to address the issue of economic self-sufficiency for the individuals and communities that make up our constituency. The economic challenge is also found in the increasingly intense competition for scarce resources that all major not-for-profits--human services and civil rights organizations--are having to face."
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|Date:||Jul 1, 2003|
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