Updated: Aug 12
Emerging Leadership: Mentoring the New Wave of GenX & Millennial Leaders
This article seeks to reveal harmful and helpful leadership styles so that the new wave of GenX and Millennial leaders may learn from their predecessors and find sources of mentorship even if from afar.
Leadership Skills Which Result in Compliance and Resentment
In the early years, Jack was devoted to technical knowledge and expertise. His work ethic was reflected in the fact that he worked long hours, weekends, and overshadowed his contemporaries in regard to productivity and knowledge. As a young manager, he:
Used lesser effective sources of power; (a) legitimate, (b) coercive, and (c) expert to enforce deadlines.
Used pressure to try and influence his peers and subordinates into performing.
Wanted to be seen, as what he considered a leader, as a person who was driven to accomplished corporate goals and succeed.
Desired to gain power and be promoted into higher levels of management and drove his business units hard.
Was not a team builder, evidenced by his attitudes toward coworkers as the competition.
Wanted to be seen, as the reason for a project’s successes.
Jack’s followers reacted to his style with compliance. They feared punishment and complied with his requests accordingly. Jack did not use reward as a power source and this displayed his attitude of self-promotion, which humiliated and de-moralized those that worked under him. Jack’s constant pressure to perform resulted in his staff being too stressed.
At the time of his first major promotion one of his peers was so angered by his obvious drive to succeed he tried to derail Jack’s career. After he found out about the attempted de-railing, he asked himself why had his co-worker reacted that way. While reflecting he realized that the very traits he hated in his co-worker he had expressed within himself, self-promotion at all cost. He relished the fact he would be promoted over his rivals. Jack always had a low tolerance for ambiguity; he hated dogmatism, and maintained a strong internal locus of control, as he always believed he was in control of his own destiny. Jack’s own personal life suffered as well.
Referential Power Versus Coercive Power
Although he was promoted to vice president, because of his business unit’s productivity he had never learned how to use referential power or other influencing strategies and his relationships with his new peers and subordinates became strained. As he reflected on his lack of success, he realized he needed to change his strategies.
As vice president, Jack began to express more empathy toward the line workers and his staff. He began to:
Socialize with other leaders including the union bosses.
Develop relationships with other leaders and employees. This allowed him to begin to use coalitions.
Hold consultations with other managers and leaders.
Form coalitions with line workers to successfully motivate union leaders in negotiation for the contracts needed to implement profitable changes.
This change eventually resulted in employees’ commitment to the company; however, in the beginning his direct report employees simply complied. His reputation of intolerance for low performance and downsizing staff caused reactions of fear and resistance. As he socialized with the plant managers he convinced them that he had the company's, and workers’ best interests in mind and that the changes would eventually allow as many people as possible to retain their jobs.
Jack was learning to build relationships that opened referential power and rational persuasion and personal appeal to get people to commit to his ideals. Although his values hadn’t changed much, his strategies changed, and he accomplished the tasks given him. His focus was now on finding and developing leadership skills.
Senior Leader’s Must Be Visionary and Resilient
As Sr. VP, Chairman, and CEO, his focus on managing processes had been long gone. His belief that leadership must be visionary and guide the corporation was deeply implanted and affected his behavioral choices.
He began to use:
Reward and Reference Power far more often.
Rational Persuasion to convince others to follow him.
Inspirational and Personal Appeal in speeches and meetings.
It took almost two years of persistence with union leaders before he began to gain the referential power needed. By using coalitions, consultations, and exchange, he won them over. He built-in bonuses for the production line, secured future positions for union leaders, and encouraged better performance by rewarding the reduction of product defects. Jack’s trend in getting subordinates and even other senior leaders to commit to his vision for GE continued through the rest of his career, (Slater, 1999).
Leaders Must Address Their Weaknesses
As Jack progressed as a leader, he admitted he was self-centered, and he introspectively observed and evaluated the reasons for this. It led him to evaluate his, others, and corporate successes and failures. He began to look for ways to repeat strengths and weed out weaknesses. Jack hated bureaucracy, he felt that companies should have a small business feel and that leaders should be able to easily change what they felt was holding the company back from profitability. His belief in corporate nimbleness and his commitment to observation, reflection, evaluation, and change led him to implement the Six Sigma methodology at GE.
Six Sigma is a good process to rescue struggling manufacturing operations however it chokes the creativity out of regular employees and middle management, who are the life source of every operation. Jack used Six Sigma to streamline his business units to overcome the struggles GE found itself in when Jack took over the company. However, once GE’s state changed from being a struggling manufacturer to a high growth global leader the process Ironically added a level of bureaucracy that began to choke out the very thinking that had saved it.
There was no centralized theory of leadership or management. Each facility was managed as seen fit by the local plant manager. This led to a disconnect between operational and planning functions within the organization. He continued to use coercive power through pressure and legitimate power throughout his career.
He created levels of leadership, placing managers into A, B, and C-list groups trying to inspire/reward them to improve to the next level. The A, B, C model demoralized many of his middle managers and many on the B and C-list members left GE to seek careers where they felt they had a better chance in management. One example was the practice of firing the bottom 10% of managers each year, which he felt was the right amount of pressure to motivate the staff to perform which cost him a seat on the Board of Directors for many years. It was not until there was a change in the Board of Directors that he was able to become CEO and Chairman of the Board, (Welch & Byrne, 2009).
Millennial's Want Work-Life Balance and Leadership Roles
A truly successful leader leads at home as well as in the workplace. Leaders must learn to have a balanced work life. What does a leader gain if they are a success at work and a failure in their personal life? The stress and agony of a broken heart and home are not worth the dollars earned while being consumed by responsibilities to a corporation. Whole and successful leaders make sure to gain personal skills and emotional education it takes to keep a home solid. Consider this, what is costlier, the $1,000,000 of wealth lost in a divorce, the tens of thousands of dollars and emotional anguish spent for rehab/counseling programs for troubled children, or hiring a life coach to help manage the work-life balance ratio?
Emerging Leadership Styles are the Way to the Future
With the gross failure of so many well-known figures in the United States, is it any wonder that the Millennial generation shies away from leadership positions or rejects the ways of earlier generations? They do not want a life of high stress, divorce, failed parenthood, and emotional pain, just to say they are a vice president or drive a BMW? Millennial's are the first generation to stand up and say no to post World War II materialistic values. Those younger than them are even more so inclined.
The new generation of leaders must find ways to make workers feel appreciated and valued. Jack’s A, B, C leadership team approach worked at first but encouraged so much internal competition that C group members just left the company leaving a gap in lower and middle management. In a culture that craves personal worth over material reward and position, this attitude will grow. People will simply not put up with those that pressure them without valuing them, treat them as a cog in a machine, or do not respect them as a person and their personal life.
Regarding his strengths, few others have had such a strong work ethic or the vision to build a leadership-training program that would develop, communicate, centralize leadership strength, streamline management processes, and produce global executives at the unprecedented rate of Jack’s program. Jack’s ability to adapt through observation, reflection, and change was his single biggest asset throughout his career. It allowed him to separate failures and turn them into opportunities for improvement. He understood that leadership, not management, was the way of the future, that companies must develop their own leaders, however, how this is done is changing with the very generations that are taking over the workforce.
If we are to follow his good traits, it was his ability to change that was the secret to his success. In every situation, he records that he had to change the strategies he used, many times inventing them according to what the situation required. We must in fact do the same as the GenX and Millennial generations take the corporate reigns.
Jack's Short Comings
Jack’s biggest failure was his in ability to change his values and base behavioral traits. Values and Traits (personal attributes) such as emotional intelligence and work-life values are harder to learn and change. When he began to see the effects of his negative behaviors he should have sought help to find and address the root cause of it. Instead he superficially changed behaviors to fit the moment to get what he wanted. Later these underlying faults caused undue stress in his life due to cognitive dissonance. This was very apparent when dealing with European leaders. He had an inability to change his style or consider situations based on differing cultures and ethnicity.
Jack should have worked to understand the differences in people’s motivations. His A, B, C-list leadership program did not take into consideration that people are motivated differently. It should have allowed for differences in personal values as well. Had Jack added these types of attributes, the A, B, C-list may have worked long term. Business units needed the flexibility to adapt the program to their local culture, both business and national (ethnic) cultural.
Had he polled his leaders to check for morale and loyalty he may have observed the problems early enough to correct them. Instead, as his success grew he isolated himself from lower level organizational input. He stopped applying his observation, reflection, and personal continuous improvement mind set ultimately costing him in the end, (Welch & Byrne, 2009).
Recommendations for Organizational Leaders
Leadership is both an art and a science. Leaders are not born but developed. Create programs that help recognize leadership potential but do it in a way that promotes a positive work environment free from internal competition, (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2015).
Leaders and followers should take inventory assessments of their personal values, traits, emotional intelligence, knowledge, and skills. Take a Briggs Myers personality test, conduct a 360* review, and other evaluation methods to assess your own and other’s strengths and weaknesses. Then create a program that bolsters strengths and corrects weaknesses.
Make sure to hire people that are different than you. Guiding and leading a corporation requires difference skills sets and ways of thinking. Not everyone thinks like a traditional American and getting input from international people and different ethnic groups is essential in succeeding a global economy.
Focus on using referential, reward, and rational persuasion, and personal appeal power when possible. These help people gain respect for you as a leader and create an atmosphere where people want to follow you. Use your charisma carefully and not for personal gain at the cost of others. When trying to influence and motivate others find out what is important to them first.
One Size Fits All Leadership Does Not Work
Human resources departments should monitor the skill sets and traits in each leader who is hired or promoted. Hiring or promoting people who are just like you will end up creating a leadership team with no checks and balances ending in group-think, organizational blindness, or corporate psychosis. Keep an open mind; someone in your group may have a better idea than you.
None of Us are as Smart as All of Us
Thinking that is focused on valuing every team member, will help keep us humble and appreciative of those who surrounded us. Make sure not to judge the leadership of another without taking the situational circumstances into consideration. Remember the best leaders may not be the ones with the highest numbers; they are usually the ones who have successfully lead their team through toughest situations.
Observe, Reflect, and Continuously Improve
In conclusion, we must apply the same technique that Jack did regarding observation, reflection, and personal/corporate continuous improvement. This was the one common thread throughout all his successes (and failures when he did not employ it). This skill alone will cause the current and upcoming generations of leaders to keep open minds, create innovative leadership styles, and always adapt to the ever-changing and shifting markets and work places in which we live and work.
Welch, J., & Byrne, J. (2009). Jack: Straight from the Gut. New York, New York: Werner Books. John A. Byrne, the author of “Jack: Straight from the Gut”, chronicles Jack Welch’s career from college to retirement as CEO of General Electric. The book shares his personal journey as an evolving business professional, manager, and leader. It provides insights into his personal views, values, traits, intelligence, and motives.
Slater, R. (1999). Jack Welch and the GE Way. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill. Robert Slater, the author of “Jack Welch and the GE Way”, looks at Jack as the leader of GE. It provides insights into his behavior, skills, competencies, and experience as a leader. These two sources combined, consider this past American leader, which of his strategies may be relevant, and those that ended in failure as the market place evolved around him.
Hughes, R., Ginnett, R., & Curphy, G. (2015). Leadership: Enhancing the Lessons of Experience. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill.
About the Author
Gregory A. Buschman, PhDc - Greg started his career at age 19 as a young entrepreneur in the construction industry and then found he has a passion for leadership, marketing, and technology. After 13 years as an entrepreneur he entered corporate America, and for 20+ years he has excelled in regional, national, and global leadership roles in information management, digital imaging, and the print manufacturing industries. He holds two summa cum laude master degrees in Marketing and Information Systems, and is a PhD candidate in Creative Leadership for Innovation and Change in a cooperative doctorate through the University of the Virgin Islands, Buffalo State University, and Fielding Graduate University in California. Visit his personal website @ www.gregbuschman.us