My Failure as a Millennial Leader

By June 12, 2013Millennial

Guest Post by Luke Roland

Millennial LeadershipWhen I first got into different leadership roles I was so excited. I felt like I had finally made it. I had dreams of commanding and leading thousands of people. I wanted to be large and in charge. I wanted to be the star of my movie. I wanted respect. I craved authority.

As a Millennial leader I wanted to be taken seriously and to make an impact, but my goals were not always pure. I desired to make a positive impact on the lives of others, but deep down I also knew that I selfishly wanted to make an impact that would promote me and my agenda. Looking back I realized I let some people down because I was focused on myself that I did not serve and lift others.

A lesson I soon learned was authority alone will not make people follow me. My title did not make people want to follow me nor did my gifting. I felt since I was their leader, their authority figure, that they should listen and follow like followers should. My approach did not work.

Because of my position I began to take myself too seriously. I was not one with the people. I was more concerned with building an organization than building people. At times I was more consumed by the cause than I was the welfare of the people I was leading. I failed to add value to them. In truth I expected them to add value to me!

I now believe that leadership is serving others. What bothers me about leaders today is leaders expect people to serve them, but leaders should carry an attitude and a spirit of service to the people they are leading. You should know the pulse of the people you are serving. You should know if they are hurting. If they have a problem fix it. A great man once said the greatest among you will be a servant.

If I could go back I would love people more, listen to them more, take care of them more, invest into them more. Make it less about me and my vision and more about them.

The old saying is true, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

A few lessons I have learned through my mistakes that I hope will help you:

1.  People follow the person first, not the vision.

  • I didn’t understand that they needed to buy into me before they bought into my vision. I was shocked when people didn’t follow me because I had an inspiring vision. People follow people, and to get them to follow me I should have served and invested into them.

2.  People follow leaders when the leader is interested in their story.

  • I wish I would have taken time to figure out what was important to them, what were their goals and dreams, what were their traditions, what were their passions.
  • I should have found out their story instead of telling mine, I should have spent time with them in other contexts, I should had given to them without expecting something in return, I should have celebrated them instead of seeking their praise.
  • Ask yourself do you really know your following?

3.  People follow leaders when the leader is concerned with them.

  • Steven Covey has said “leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves.”  Leaders should be more excited when their followers live out their dreams not the dream of the leader. Do you know your followers dreams, or just your own?
  • Andrew Carnegie has said “No man becomes rich unless he enriches others.”
  • As a leader am I more concerned with my desires or those of the people I am leading? Remember you are here to serve.

4.  People follow leaders when the leader gives them their time.

  • Leaders spend a lot of time with people.  I’ve been in countless meetings with all kinds of people, but there were times in my role as a leader that if I didn’t see how you fit into my overall vision then you may not have gotten my time.
  • As a leader when you give people your time you are recognizing them and affirming them. Who have you spent time with this week?

I hope this post helps you as you lead others.  You can’t be a leader without people, so take good care of them or you won’t be leading for long!

Image: Courtesy of StockMonkeys, some rights reserved.

About the Author

Luke RLuke categorizes himself as a big dreamer!  He lives in NYC with his wife and two kids. He blogs at where he seeks to inspire people to leave the familiar and pursue the dreams that are in their hearts. You can follow him @lukeroland.



From time to time, guest writers contribute to Thin Difference. Topics include leadership, career development, creativity, and mindfulness. Our mission is to "Cross the gap and lead with a new story line," inspiring Millennial leaders.

Join the discussion 19 Comments

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  • Danny Rubin says:

    Great post, Luke. Gotta invest in other people to earn their respect!

  • Thoroughly enjoyed this post, Luke! What great leadership lessons you shared. People do really respond much better to the person, instead of the vision, even if the vision may be inspiring. Ultimately, it’s the messenger who inspires, not the message itself. Also, your lessons really underscore the humanness of leadership. We are talking about people with concerns, interests, hopes and fears. For a leader to be truly effective, s/he needs to really listen and be present with those s/he wishes to inspire. Thanks again, Luke!

    • Luke Roland says:

      Hi Alice, thanks for sharing your comments. I really liked what you said about the humanness of leadership. I think if people could see leaders with their guards down their would be more buy in! Thanks again for stopping by!

  • Hiten Vyas says:

    Hi Luke,

    This was a brilliant guest post because you shared what you’ve learnt about leadership directly from your experience.

    Indeed, I too have made the mistake (especially when I was younger) that things like authority were very important and were needed to make people follow leaders. Your post reminded me of some of the great spiritual leaders such as Jesus and the Buddha. Individuals like these were all about serving people, selflessly and yet the messages they spread impacted hundreds of millions of people (if not more) and continue to do so.

    Thank you.

    • Luke Roland says:

      Dr. Hiten, thanks for stopping by and for your insights! I have become more of a believer of servant leadership as I have grown. Ghandi and Dr. King were also great leaders that were selfless but yet had large followings. I think we can learn a lot from people like that!

  • Terri Klass says:

    What a wonderful post, Luke as it captures what happens when leaders forget that leadership is all about people! I loved your point about the need for leaders to be interested in other people’s stories. When we connect with others on a deeper level and get to know who they are and what is important to them, we do begin to build trust. Without trust, relationships don’t have a chance of survival. Great insights and thanks for sharing!

    • Luke Roland says:

      Hi Terri, thanks for your comment. As a young leader I wish I would have known these things! I’ve learned a lot about the importance of connecting with people and finding out others stories. You are right about trust! If we don’t have that as a foundation then we will never be able to properly lead because there will not be anyone there to lead. Thanks again!

  • Susan Silver says:

    Number 4 really resonates with me. There are people in our communities that want to help, but they need someone to take an interest in them first. You never know what someone has to offer until you take the time to talk with them.

    • Luke Roland says:

      Susan that is very true! Every person has value and we should show them that and help them find ways where their gifts and talents can flourish. To me that is true leadership…when we can help others find what they are meant to do. Thanks for sharing!

  • robbiecat says:

    Hi Luke,
    Fabulous insights. I relate very well and that was 20+ years ago for me. The model you followed until you had your wake-up call is the model we learned in our classic education systems (including most MBA programs). Being valued for our knowledge, our competencies, our authority is not enough. Who we are and how we relate is what speaks to the soul and connects us. Great learnings! You ask anyone what they admire in a leader and what you have discovered is what comes up. It’s pretty universal. Thanks for sharing your personal stories.

    • Luke Roland says:

      Thanks for reading! I reminded everyday of the value of other people when it comes to leadership. Knowledge can only get you so far, but when you really connect with someone then following is not a problem! Thanks for your thoughts!

  • Marquita Herald says:

    Wonderful insight Luke. As I read your checklist it occurred to me that when it came to developing my own leadership persona my greatest influence was the desire NOT to be like those who had previously led me. Not the best training model, to be sure, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. Still, if I had to point to my core belief about being a leader, regardless of the generation, it’s to be the example and not ask someone else to do something I’m not prepared to do myself.

    • Luke Roland says:

      Hi Marquita! Thanks for sharing your insights! I agree…looking back I can see patterns of where I picked up leadership traits fro others that I wish I would not have, but thankfully experience is a good teacher!

  • Alli Polin says:

    Luke, This is one of my favorite leadership posts I’ve read in a very long time. Yes, leaders need vision etc but people do not follow blindly and they do not follow people that are self serving. We are not leaders of things and ideas… we are leaders because there are people and leadership happens through relationships.

    • Luke Roland says:

      Alli your comments mean a lot! You are right on “leadership happens through relationships.” If we don’t nurture and guard the relationships that we have we will not have any one to lead. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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