The Most Critical Factor in Leadership is...
Becoming a Great Leader
Great leaders are not born great. They learn the art and science of leadership over time, experience, and education. In 2017, while in the Caribbean, I met a young American leader who was 28 years old. He had cultivated a following of 15,000 Millennials and paid for his trip by leasing his list of followers to marketing departments. His primary clients were liquor distributors who paid him $5000 every few months to throw flash parties and another $5000-$15,000 to show them how to market their products to Millennials better.
He did a magnificent job of promoting himself through social media, and his parties were epic. The liquor distributors rented the venues, hired bands, set up tasting tables and beer stands, food trucks, etc. His average gathering drew 2000-3000 people. As we talked, I shared some of my corporate leadership experiences, and he asked me some questions. He wanted my opinion on why he hadn’t been able to keep a corporate job or obtain promotions. “Why do I keep getting fired,” he asked. “Why don’t leaders at work listen to me, I get so frustrated with them, I end up just quitting. Now no one trusts me enough to hire me into a position with responsibility.”
Here was a talented, smart young person, who could talk to his peers, but had no idea how to interact with or lead his parents’ or grandparents’ generations. He was bitter because life was more complicated than what his mother had taught him. His mom was always saying, “do the right thing, get good grades, pay attention in school, and you’ll get a good job and life will be good.” However, in today’s competitive world and economy, doing the basics right doesn’t guarantee life will work out the right way. You must gain specific knowledge and skills to succeed.
This talented young man thought that he was already a leader because he was able to gather a following on social media. He was right to a degree; he had followers, but for how long?
He understood how to lead a group of young, energetic, party-going peers, and he was great at it, but he had no idea how to be a leader of leaders, produce leaders, or be a leader in any other context. Because he refused to embrace the fact that 50% of leadership is a natural ability, and 50% is a learned science, he never progressed past his current state. He chose not to learn how to expand his reach or sustain his success. He became a dead leader walking.
Leadership in Workgroups
It’s a typical day in the office, and an 11:00 am Monday morning team meeting has just started. The department’s director Sue, who is a long-term employee and Gen Xer, is facilitating the meeting. Attending are four first-level managers: Bob, a Boomer; Bill, a Gen Xer; Arden, a Millennial who just got promoted into management; and Amber, a Millennial who is two years into her management position; and their teams. Sue wants ideas for new strategies on how to best approach several interoffice operational issues. During the meeting, Arden and his team dominate the conversations. The meeting ends at noon, and Bob and Bill, grab lunch in the building’s cafeteria, they buy today’s special and sit down. Bob starts the conversation…
“Bill, what was that?! These damn Millennials are so arrogant it’s unbelievable, can you believe that Arden just let his team run off at the mouth. Does he think he can come in here and take over, tell us what to do like we’ve been idiots all these years?” Bill responds, “Bob, I hear you. He’s the FNG and came in spouting out ideas like he’s a tenured member of the team! Who does he think he is? His momma probably pampered and rescued him from failing too. They think they’re entitled to everything. What kind of name is Arden anyway?!” Bob says, “Classic CLM! He’s gotta learn around here; it’s ETR baby, ETR!”
Note to Millennials and Gen Z: ETR (Earn the right), FNG (F’n New Guy/Girl), and CLM (Career Limiting Move).
At the same time, Arden and Amber walk a half block down from the office to a great coffee and tea café’ where they have shared workspaces. Arden is having a cup of kava and Amber, a shaken black tea, iced with three pumps. Arden starts the conversation…
“I felt Bob personally attacked me in our meeting today. My team and I tried our best to offer up ideas, and all he did was make us feel like our ideas sucked. I’m not sure if I want to continue being a manager here. Maybe I should go where I’m appreciated.” Amber responds, “I hear you, Arden, I felt the same way when I got promoted. Every time I tried to give input, Sue always cut me off, like I was some plebe. I felt like the woman in the commercial who’s presenting to a workgroup of monkeys.” Arden, “I bet they couldn’t even download the presentation to their iPhones…idiots. I can’t wait until they retire; of course, I’ll probably be long gone by then.” Amber laughs and then retorts, “Actually Sue and I talked, I told her how I felt, and she was shocked. She didn’t mean to make me feel rejected or unappreciated. I think we get each other now.”
A Note to Xers, Boomers and Traditionalists: Kava (nature’s Xanax) is a drink that looks muddy and relaxes you without dulling mental sharpness. A shared workspace is a place from which people can work outside the office and can help release innovative, creative flow.
One of the areas affecting team building is when and how new team members find acceptance and a voice within workgroups; this is called team membership negotiation. No matter the generation, this process takes place over time. However, Millennials, in general, have grown up with a sense of self-worth and acceptance due to hovering or helicoptering parenting techniques, which focus on self-esteem, coaching without allowing consequences, and the belief that everyone has value. These ideas and parenting styles are different than those of older generations. Some of these aspects were good, but the application of them was not. One failure was that self-esteem is different from self-respect. Psychologists have found that it is self-respect that builds strong interpersonal skills. Having been raised with an emphasis on self-esteem has caused Millennials to believe they have automatic acceptance within a group. However, their elder peers require a person to ETR. As time progresses, this assumed acceptance can cause friction with older members and stifle the acceptance process.
Research shows that there are differences in perceived work ethic, as well. These differences may create additional barriers to being accepted within new workgroups. As different work norm beliefs surface, disparities in accepted practices may make older group members marginalize younger newcomers. The marginalization intensifies with lower-level communication skills, which lack understanding of each generation’s preferred communication methods. Gen Xers notoriously dislike group work and meetings, yet Millennials have grown up in workgroup environments and meeting in groups from grade school through university studies.
Group and team environments have a great deal of importance in acceptance in the workplace. Millennials grew up as the center of attention. Mid-career Gen Xers in middle management don’t see as much need for group work; they desire to work autonomously. Millennials also want to know detailed knowledge of strategic information, generally reserved for upper managers. They tend to reject the idea that information is provided on a “need to know” basis. This drive to see private or privileged information can cause trust issues with older leaders.
A marked commonality is that the generations are equally concerned about success and money. Regarding a positive impact on workplace performance and team building, Millennials want frequent, open, detailed, and positive support from their managers. Growing up in an environment in which parents, teachers, and coaches sent recurring, positive re-enforcement messages to help Millennials learn, these same children, now adults, expect the same in the workplace. The challenge is that most middle managers, who are typically Gen Xers, do not want to answer their frequent questions or coach them. As a result, middle managers see Millennials as needy, and without the ability to stand on their own two feet. Being aware of these differences will help you choose when to ask for assistance and do it wisely. Leaders love it when people show self-initiative, research a problem, and bring positive solutions to the table.
Mentoring & Reverse Mentoring
Mentoring programs can assist with bridging differences in viewpoints. There is a need to instill the value of meritocracy in the workforce. There is also a need for positive support systems from managers to subordinates. Mentoring programs can deliver both. These needs stem from the reality that many Millennial employees were raised by parents, teachers, coaches, and others who made them feel accepted regardless of their performance or the outcome of their work. The sense of entitlement and auto-acceptance in the Millennial generation is pervasive.
Mentors and mentees must be aware of the differences in communication norms and be prepared to adapt. As children, Millennials were encouraged to speak and interact with adults, teachers, and coaches. The effect has been the propensity to interrupt managers and superiors, causing difficulties in relationships, respect, and middle management’s ability to get their work completed. One generation sees interruptions as disrespectful, while the other sees them as their opportunity to provide input. Better expectation setting through mentorship can mitigate difficulties in communication styles.
The great news is that younger generations want and welcome mentorship. They are eager to learn but ask mentors to treat them with equal respect. Mentorship should never make another person feel subpar. The whole idea of mentoring is to pass on the skills and knowledge that comes with experience.
Millennials and Team Power
Millennials are not a disconnected group of people that only have their sights set on fulfilling their own needs. They are passionate, adventurous, and sympathetic individuals who have Boomers and Gen Xers as major influencers and role models. Parents of Millennials used nurturing methods in their upbringing and led by example. Hinote and Sundvall, two researchers, believe that the strengths of Millennials outweigh their weaknesses, and as leaders, we must harness their creative power, enthusiasm, and ability to work in teams. Kouzes and Posner, authors of “The Leadership Challenge,” explained that when leaders lead by example, the employees see their commitment. Jarrett Spiro, assistant professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD, found “that while money is important to Millennials, their key motivator is maintaining a work-life balance, seeking out companies that foster strong workplace relationships, promote a sense of purpose, or make a difference.”
The Millennial and Gen Z generations are waiting for the opportunity to prove their abilities. They have the perfect mix of team skills. Team power is a vital component of navigating our VUCA world successfully. No matter what we do or who we are, we work, learn, play, and live in teams. We experience life together, whether as a family, group of friends, co-workers, or leadership team. Team development and group dynamics strategies are people-centered and dramatically affect organizational performance and improve decision making. It promotes democratic, participative management methods. High-performance teams have learned to unlock team power.
The Five Pillars of Leadership for Growth
Understanding the five pillars of leadership for growth is critical if you want to be great leader.
Challenging the status quo with positive innovation.
Inspiring a vision and set of goals that result in mutual commitment from all employees.
Building teams that are empowered and are interdependent upon one another to succeed.
Modeling the behaviors you espouse to others.
Encouraging the hearts of employees so that they work through difficult times, striving to achieve the mutual vision and goals set before them.
All five pillars of organization leadership for growth require an understanding of how and why each generation thinks the way they do. Gaining an understanding of the assumptions, beliefs, and norms of those you are trying to lead is critical in motivating today’s multi-generational, multi-cultural workforce.
How things work out is up to you. There is no magic wand; it takes smarts, hard work, time, education, and wisdom. The dead leader walking’s career was severely limited because he didn’t know what he didn’t know. Don’t make the same mistake; choose to learn to lead.
Reports From The Masses
Company's are expanding the role of Chief Sustainability Officer at an ever-increasing rate. They are finding that the CSO's strategic role in corporate governance is more and more important in the public's eyes as well as investors. The expanding role of CSO's are influencing, empowering, and enabling companies to structure themselves to better attract sustainably-minded Gen X and high-performing Millennial and Gen Z talent.
CSO's are also bolstering unity in diversity and cohesion as well. "Our interview data suggest that their responsibility evolves to tasks that relate to forging a strong culture and unifying the different subcultures inside the firm", Miller & Serafeim, Harvard Business School.
If you are sustainably minded, you may want to look for a leadership role at a "B Corporation" or an "Aim2Flourish" certified company. There are over 2000 Aim2FLourish companies whose motto is "Doing well while doing good". You can read more about this trend by searching "Environmental, Social, and Governance" (ESG) or by visiting, www.aim2flourish.org.
Today's Leadership Trends
One fascinating truth about younger generations is that whether their ethical beliefs lean toward Idealism or Relativism, is that they perform better as individuals and in workgroups, and have fewer ethical workplace violations when led by a Servant Based Leadership model. This is likely because they are more socially aware than their older counterparts.
Some Millennials have even stated that they place their followers and direct reports wellbeing above organizational goals. No matter what ideological category Millennials fall into, they are more likely to be forgiving and overlook ethical violations than other generations. Servant leadership alone can not deal with all of the social constructs of today's workforce. Aspects of other leadership styles are needed. The value systems of each generation were formed in the time and society in which they grew up. Leaders must understand these differences, "I Think, You Think, We All Think, Differently", Greg Buschman, Ph.D.(c).
Not All Generations View Leadership The Same.
Competency in Leadership
There are two major thoughts when it comes to motivating the workforce. One is Human Capital Management the other Human Resource Management. Whichever model your company uses, the statistical truth is that long-lasting high-performing organizations are people and results centered i.e. they are team builders. Statistics from Green & Roberts, show only 25% of corporate leaders understand how to effectively build teams.
As Traditionalists and Boomers more toward retirement, there is a danger of them becoming disengaged. A recent Gallop report showed that in the private business sector, only 33% of American employees are engaged at work as compared to 70% in the world’s best organizations. The cost of disengaged employees for U. S. companies is $483 billion to $605 billion a year. Leaders and managers who focus on employee’s strengths have the ability to eliminate active disengagement. Appreciative Inquiry is one method of focusing on organizational and employee strengths that is proven to motivate workers. The World Cafe' is one site sponsored by my alma mater that provides a deeper understanding of the AI's effects.