Youth Needn’t Be Wasted on the Young



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by Tamara Paton in How to get on board, Motivation

In the lead up to the recent Canadian federal election, television personality Rick Mercer put the possibility of change at the feet of Canadian youth. “It will change everything. It will change the country. If young people show up, it will just change everything.”

No one would dispute the clear message subsequently sent at the polls. Change happened and we have a new government. Whether we are better off depends on your politics, but the power of youth is clear. (And, yes, I consider myself part of the movement, despite my crow’s feet.)

I have to admit that our new prime minister, just 43 years old, has me thinking differently about what is possible at this stage of my life. Should I nudge forward those “someday” items on my list of professional aspirations? When the next executive recruiter calls with an ambitious role, should I mute my usual “Thank you, but I have young children” response?

I hope that you, too, are feeling the same pull to do more, to stop delaying. It’s natural for us to look at our jam-packed calendars and wonder where another responsibility could possibly fit. When it comes to board service, however, we simply shouldn’t wait. Acknowledging that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, we can lay the foundation for a rewarding board career long before the perfect time presents itself.

Doing so promises invaluable benefits to our communities, the organizations around us, and our own career trajectories. I hope you’ll start before you’re ready and be part of the change in boardrooms that is already underway.

Boards are actively searching for younger talent

Macy’s CEO and Chairman Terry Lundgren walks the walk on the value of diverse perspectives at the board table. As the head of a major U.S. retailer, he’s adamant that the board reflects his customer base so he can stay attuned to trends in how different people shop.

“Boards that aren’t looking for younger, digitally savvy female and ethnic board members are really going to fall behind. It’s a key part of staying relevant in today’s market. I agree that if you’re just looking for a sitting CEO or a recently retired CEO it is almost impossible. But there is no reason why that be a limiting criteria.”

Executive recruitment firm Spencer Stuart agrees, reporting that “the need for digital expertise is everywhere.” Boards are clamouring for directors who represent new, desirable markets, particularly those valued by three types of companies:

  • Traditional, consumer-focused companies targeting younger, more digitally savvy consumers
  • Media and technology companies seeking new revenue streams via digital media and e-commerce channels
  • Private growth-stage technology and Internet companies preparing for an initial public offering

Opportunity awaits more than just digital leaders

Tech leaders aren’t the only ones answering the call. At 42 years old, Leslie Hale is the youngest member of Macy’s board and had no prior board experience. Hale reports that, “I was drawn to Macy’s because I could add value both from my professional experience as a public company CFO and from my personal experience as a Macy’s shopper with a young family.”

Finding the right application of your skills can be as easy as updating your LinkedIn profile. The site’s Board Member Connect matches professionals to non-profit boards, facilitating that critical first board appointment in a director’s career.

Board work can accelerate your career progression

It’s common to imagine board work as an activity for those who have reached the senior ranks. Serving on a board as we ascend, however, can actually make the climb faster. Just as executives are expected to be increasingly well rounded, there is no better place than a boardroom to develop and integrate key skills.

Since launching my board career, my communication style has become more structured and succinct. I have found supportive mentors and enjoyed a strong, growing professional network. When I work with corporate clients, I even interpret their ideas in terms of how well they would play for the board. And serving on a financial institution’s audit committee taught me more about finance than getting my CFA designation ever did. Whatever skill gap you’d like to address, there is a good chance that board work will help you rise to the occasion.


But don’t take my word for it. There are countless relatively young corporate directors providing a real-life example. Look to Michele Romanow, Mitzi Reaugh, Torrence Boone and Katie Mitic for inspiration. And then let me know when I can add you to my list of people to watch.

Question: What single decision would position you to launch and grow your board career? What is holding you back?

Finally, I have another question for you. If you could have a private conversation with me, what two questions would you like to ask about your board career? Send me your questions at

(Yes, I really mean it. Please hit reply and share your questions now. What do you need help with right now?)




Youth Needn’t Be Wasted on the Young

by Tamara time to read: 3 min