Complacency is a dangerous attitude. Successful businesses, organizations, people – and even communities – which think that they will always retain the accolades and success that they have achieved – without further hard work and education – can learn the error of their thinking in a painful way.
A few years ago the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce set out to make sure that such a fate does not befall Naperville. They assembled a group to brainstorm ways to attract and retain more young professionals who would bring new energy and ideas to the organization and hence, the community.
“One of the members of our planning committee summed it up for me,” said Emily Ory of Corporate Concepts, the chairman of the planning committee. “He used to run a successful toy branch of a major department store. He told us that no one ever imagined that department would go away because everyone bought their toys from them. But one day it was gone. Without nurturing and new ideas, any venture can fail. Nothing is guaranteed to stay unique forever.”
“The planning committee, which consisted of new community leaders, veteran community leaders and Naperville Chamber leadership, met for months, throwing out various ideas about how we can continue Naperville’s unique synergy between its great business community, amazing nonprofit world and its strong service/civic organization world. We also discussed how Naperville got to be so unique and successful and how its residents work with the three entities, contributing their time, energy and money to make everything work,” Ory recalled.
They looked at the programming that already exists in the Naperville community and realized that what was missing was an opportunity for dual mentorship. The group wanted to establish a way for those who are experienced in business and life, in general, but who are still interested in learning from the younger generation, to meet on a regular basis with less experienced people who are looking to improve their personal life, professional life and community involvement but who also have a perspective to share.
“When you get a lot of smart, driven people in a room together, amazing and unique things happen. What we finally came up with was the idea of “legacy circles” through which experienced, successful members would be able to leave their legacy to those within the Chamber who are looking to build a legacy,” she added.
They discovered there was a natural synergy between these groups – the under 40s and the over 40s. The two groups have become trusted advisors to each other because both groups are interested in learning from each other and growing personally and professionally and giving back to Naperville.
They formed three circles (of eight to 12 people each) for the 2016 pilot year. Each circle was led by two facilitators (one under 40 and one over 40) and met monthly for a minimum of 90 minutes. A strong confidentiality agreement was signed by all participants to ensure there was a safe and comfortable atmosphere to grow together.
In order to facilitate the dual mentorship they seek, the circles are structured around the mastermind concept in which one person is assigned to bring forth a business, personal or community issue that concerns them. Everyone in the group then asks open-ended questions about the topic and finally, each member shares their advice, impressions, reactions and perspective.
The topics that have been brought forth by members have ranged from time management to how one gets the attention of senior executives to very personal matters, according to Joe LoPresto, owner of Experience Triathlon and a facilitator of one of the circles.
“I have always found in mentoring situations that the mentor learns as much as the protégé and in this case, I am learning a lot from the under 40 members about how to have a personal life while owning a business, for instance. Everyone benefits from our discussions because it is all built on trust,” LoPresto said.
In fact, his group has chosen to expand the idea to monthly one-on-one coffee or lunch meetings between members in order to get to know each other better.
“We came together as virtual strangers and over the past year everyone has dropped their guard and we feel like trusted friends. We talk to each other about problems and other things that we may not be willing to share with other business leaders or our peers and by sharing we get a third party viewpoint,” he said.
“Even when the topic has not been my issue, I could always relate to the discussion and have come away with ideas to try in my own life or business. So I have really enjoyed the experience and plan to continue,” LoPresto said.
“As a Baby Boomer, I have enjoyed interacting with the Millennials. Many of us thought, going into it, that if this activity would bring more involvement in the Chamber by young professionals, that it would be a good use of our time. I, for one, wanted to give back a bit. But it has turned into much more than that. I might not have ever walked into a meeting of Millennials under other circumstances and I have found that they are very sharp. I have learned a lot from them,” he added.
Thomas Peters of CBRE is the under 40 facilitator for one of the other circles. He chose to participate in a circle because he relished the opportunity to be both a mentor and a mentee, he explained.
“This experience has been extremely positive and transformative for me. I have had the opportunity to both learn from and advise alongside the business leaders of today, something few young professional get a chance to do. We have created an environment that centers itself around the legacy of the over 40 members while promoting the fresh perspective of the under 40s,” Peters said. “With no age discrimination in such a give-and-take setting, everyone is given the opportunity to provide their perspective on a broad range of topics from which the rest of the group can analyze, discuss and ultimately apply what they have learned to their own lives.”
In addition, he said, they are looking for ways to grow the caring legacy of Naperville by getting young people more engaged.
“The Legacy Circle has become so much more than I expected,” Peters said. “I enjoy the collaboration and comprehensive engagement of the entire group. Everyone is carrying everyone else in our group. The discussions are vibrant, fluid and smooth between the members. We are actively sharing new ideas on leadership and giving back to the community, in addition to concerns about more developmental issues.
“Where else would someone my age have the opportunity to pick the brain of an older thought leader in the community so candidly?” he asked.
Peters added that he saw the effect of his circle as an expanding web. Through the circle he gains ideas about how to deal with issues in his personal and professional life and how to contribute to the community. He, in turn, then offers those ideas (but not the confidential content) to his friends, spouse and others and the group’s collective wisdom is passed on exponentially, creating a web throughout Naperville and beyond.
“The over 40 members of the circles are replanting their seeds of leadership into the younger, under 40 members so that they may carry it on for the benefit of Naperville and the ever-growing community,” Peters stated.
The initiative is expected to grow each year as new circles are formed and existing circles continue to meet and rely on one another.