Today's passionate youth are tomorrow's leaders

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Young people want meaningful careers that contribute to society, and leadership consultant Gerald Bell said they need to hear how a business career can make that happen.

Bell shared his insights on how to talk to young employees — and your own children — about work, goals and passion, during a March 7 keynote address to kick off the Plastics News Executive Forum in Summerlin.

Bell said people use the first part of their lives to discover what they want to do. Business executives can ask young people their thoughts about work, and why they want to work. Very few of them will want to go into business, because they're not sure they can make a contribution, he said.

Bell, who founded Bell Leadership Institute in Chapel Hill, N.C., encouraged plastics executives to have the conversation, to listen to the young. Ask young employees if they're happy in their jobs. Are they excited?

One important message: Pick a profession you love and if you want to succeed, you will. If you don't, you'll never succeed. Passion for what you're doing has to come from within, he said.

“You cannot manufacture passion. You can't make it up,” Bell said.

Speaking of manufacturing, he told executive forum attendees to stress how business creates jobs and wealth. That's an important way to make a contribution.

But it takes dedication, hard work and leadership. And Bell said the world is “desperate for leaders.” As an example, he cited Bangladesh, one of the world's poorest countries. Citizens there will always be poor until their leaders build businesses to give people jobs and stability, he said.

“There are no Golden Globes or Oscars for great leaders,” he lamented.

Bell stressed that business owners are the ones who have to initiate the discussion, explaining how manufacturing can provide a fulfilling life.

The same goes for your children, Bell said. “Most parents don't really teach them what we know,” he added.

Bell, who also led a leadership workshop at the forum, credited officials from plastics companies that survived the severe economic downturn. “You guys deserve to be proud,” he said.

He reminded them that employees mirror the level of commitment shown by management. If you're not committed, they won't be either.

“I hope you would feel the nobility of what you do, and I hope you would help others to find that nobility,” Bell said.

Developing leadership skills and assembling a great leadership team is very important. Business owners often say, “People are our biggest asset,” and that is true. But Bell pointed out that good employees also can leave.

So plastics executives need to focus on improving their own leadership skills, and selecting and promoting other leaders, he said.