Passing the Torch
by Lauren Branch
I’ve spent the past 26 years dedicating myself to my work, and it is important to me that I leave a legacy that can continue even after I retire (someday). As a CEO at the tail end of my career, I spend a lot of time thinking about what it looks like to pass the torch on to the next generation.
I have seen many changes in the business world, but one thing that has remained constant is the artificial constraints that are imposed on our workforce. Constraints like college degrees, years of experience, age, drivers’ licenses, etc. – the list of pre-requisites for filling specific types of roles can sometimes feel endless. These are the things we are using to identify and qualify people for jobs, but these are not things that automatically equate to success.
Drivers’ licenses, and other similar requirements, should be the first to be reevaluated. Especially if the position does not require driving as a mechanism of the specified role. Often, what the employer really means to say is that the individual must have a reliable system for getting to and from work, but the way they are going about it is reinforcing a bias that affects talented individuals with medical conditions, disabilities, or a commitment to utilizing other methods of transportation. Where does it say you have to have a driver’s license to be a good employee? Some of the most talented colleagues I’ve had the opportunity to work with, walked to work every day.
It is my belief that it is time for businesses to rethink these constraints and recenter around the qualities that truly matter when it comes to being a successful leader and employee: passion, commitment, work ethic, desire to learn, and skills.
I remember when I was first given the role of CEO at NewView Oklahoma. I was a 32-year-old young professional with a background in financial accounting and manufacturing, but I’d never served as a CEO before, and I had zero experience working with the blindness community. By normal standards, I was not even a little bit qualified to step in as the CEO of NewView Oklahoma, but the organization was in financial trouble and could not afford a more “qualified” candidate. Their circumstances forced them to let go of these artificial constraints, and when I reflect on the result of this decision, I see it as a win for myself professionally, but more importantly, I think it ended up being a win for NewView. Together, we’ve moved mountains over the past 26 years. We’ve overcome. We’ve diversified. We’ve served our community well and have created systems that will ensure NewView’s financial success for generations to come– and our triumphs were not the result of made-up requirements.
If the constraints of today had been applied then, I never would have been considered for the job. But it was my passion, commitment, and work ethic that impressed the hiring managers and set me on the path to success.
It is time for businesses to focus on developing their own talent and investing in their employees. College degrees and years of experience do not necessarily guarantee success in a job. It is the qualities I mentioned earlier that truly make a difference in an employee’s performance and their ability to thrive in a company.
Businesses need to embrace new and diverse perspectives and seek out individuals who are not just knowledgeable in their field but are also eager to learn and grow. A business is only as strong as its employees, and investing in them is an investment in the future of the company. It is my belief that by focusing on passion, commitment, work ethic, desire to learn, and soft skills, companies can build a strong and dedicated workforce. Investing in your employees is an investment in the future of your business, and embracing diversity and new perspectives can lead to new and innovative ideas.