The agency of millennial leaders: No one needs to give you permission to lead

Jody Britten
Jun 28 · 4 min read

In a recent New York Times article, Megan Rapinoe stated, “What kind of person do you want to be for yourself, but also in the larger context of the country and in the world?”

And do you know who I thought of first: our teachers.

Not just any group of teachers but those teachers that take the leap from the professional their contract tells them to be, to the professional they know they are capable of being.

At a recent international conference I had the joy of speaking with teachers from all over the world. One of the constant themes: my leaders are more worried about control than empowering great change for kids. One participant said, “Jody we are suffering from old-white guy syndrome and they are unfortunately teaching our young leaders how to act. Sadly many of our older female leaders are playing along.”

Here’s what she was referring to.

In years past we had a career progression in education: be a teacher, be a coach, be a vice principal, be a principal, maybe work at the district level and maybe be a professor. You had to be invited into the leadership club and approved before you had a chance of mattering to the organization.

Today our millennials are doing something amazing: leading without permission. And this will be the majority of our educators tomorrow.

Today, our young leaders are seeking opportunities and recognizing that they don’t need permission to lead. They are finding creative ways to create the systems of education they want for their kids.

Quite frankly our traditional systems of education don’t know what to do with them.

While millennials are often set aside because of their fetish with hip authors and podcasts, they are quickly realizing that those aren’t doing enough to deepen their necessary knowledge of research (instead of relying on personal perspective or experience). They are realizing quickly that we live in a time of big data, and that data should be used and not ignored.

They are brave enough to say “Tell me more, how can I learn more, or I honestly don’t know yet.”

When I think about leaders of yesteryear (and even those educational leaders on the tail end of their careers) I think of some great management and good leadership. I think of some great examples of innovating but I don’t quickly come up with lists of examples of those baby boomer and late gen-Xer leaders are giving agency to their people. Agency means having significant voice, and the ability to take purposeful action without anyone giving their blessing or permission.

I truly believe to my core that the main problem facing education today is that we don’t have millennials serving as superintendents.

Yes, they would benefit from having awesome advisors and coaches around them that can help navigate those experienced land minds.

Why millennials? Because they don’t care who said what, who owns what, boundaries or lanes, or even titles.

What they care about is doing good work.

And maybe our millennials will push us to collaborate, stand clear of gossip, quit it with the mean-girl approach, and embrace difference more than similarity.

I see more flat out fear of individuals that are smarter and bigger-thinkers among Baby Boomers and late Gen-Xers than any other generation.

What they don’t understand is that relationships run deep with millennials and the words “don’t tell him I told you” don’t drift from their lips.

Why? Because those behaviors are the bullshit of bullying and they are the first generation to be trained to recognize it.

Our world outside of education runs on innovation, flat organizations, rapid cycle prototyping, blog style open communication, and true collaboration (where you aren’t just inviting but including). If we allow our systems of education to live and lead in the era of the Baby Boomers and late Gen-Xers we will slowly crumble to a point of irrelevance.

To the millennials that are frustrated and being shut out: lead anyway. Be bold, invite anyone in, and communicate often. But don’t just sit there.

Your voice matters, let it be heard and way more importantly… let it be seen. Seen in your classroom, your organization, your community, and your field.

This is a tough era for education and if we are going to save our public schools we have to remove the gate keepers, the gossips, the control freaks, and those that thrive on our student-earned test scores.

And we need to let the people lead.

That is the new way of our world and education needs to follow suit.

The millennials are coming: get ready to be wowed.

Jody Britten

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fierce mom, constant learner, writer, speaker, researcher, thinker, designer, gadget queen, advocate for learning that matters & public ed, lead with my actions