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We Need to Rethink How to Lead Our “”Mobile, Flexible, Agile and Engaged” Workers


We Need to Rethink How to Lead Our ""Mobile, Flexible, Agile and Engaged" Workers

“Mobile, flexible, agile, engaged” are not only descriptors of our smartphones and elite athletes, but also the workplace cultures most desired by the most sought after talent. We’re going to see more frequent leadership changes at various levels, role shifts and non-traditional reporting relationships brought on by demographic realities, external forces and internal impatience.

What does this mean for future leaders their training and how teams will operate?

While Gen Y/Millennials appear confident and sure of their “quick study” abilities and diligence, early in their careers they want a precise guidebook for their activities so they won’t fail to be “right,” a status they have been brought up to think they will always achieve. To generalize, they don’t deal well with ambiguity, as they are accustomed to being given help from parents, coaches, teachers, mentors, and tutors (at least those who are fortunate enough to have them). Because they most often have worked in teams, they are less adept at figuring things out on their own than Gen Xers, who were often left to their own resources, and the Boomers. We need to rethink how to lead young knowledge workers and what to expect from them as leaders.

We also need to consider the different attitudes and behaviors of the next generation, Gen Z, preparing to enter the work world, who differ significantly from the Millennials.

Experience so far yields some observations on how Millennials want to be led and to lead:

  • They want opportunity to have impact, encouraging social entrepreneurship and sense of community.
  • Gen Y/Millennials have high expectations for meaningful work and want to feel passionate about what they do. They have been told that money follows passion.
  • They favor a team approach to goal setting, and achievement that must be reinforced by recognition and rewards to everyone who contributes.    
  • Transparency is the most valued attribute of a leader, which includes distributing information so everyone is in the loop and part of the conversation.                               
  • Navigation through career challenges, pace and progress and work/life flexibility needs to be facilitated through honest conversations.

The above description is far different from command-and-control style leadership and authority based on longevity or seniority, neither of which Millennials believe in as the primary reason to lead. Work teams need to shift their operational models to adjust to today’s multi-generational teams and who is best for which role.

I believe facilitated dialogues within work teams are the key solution to achieving change and harmony among the different generations.  That is where close and effective bonds can be established and nurtured to eliminate generational disconnects and change debilitating business models. It can establish buy-in from resisters who can stall or scuttle progress and engagement.

How facilitated dialogue in work teams fosters stronger multi-generational teamwork and increase productivity:

  • All generations and levels are part of the conversation and are heard.
  • Leaders must be clear about quality of work and deadlines and discuss alternative ways to get desired results.
  • Understanding of differences and benefits of diversity of styles mitigates resentments and fosters sympathy.
  • Using assessment tools for identifying personal behavioral style, work style and preferences, group culture, work expectations and learning style enables better understanding of self and teammates and reduces stereotypical thinking.
  • Through dialogue, roles can be customized with working arrangements that are perceived as fair to work for each team member.
  • Meeting of the minds requires some compromise on all sides.
  • “What’s in it for me” from the individuals standpoint? To be associated with a team that demonstrates better results, reinforced by recognition.

Using a combination of behavioral style and business development expertise as well as mediation skills and generational differences and similarities knowledge, we are optimistic about the positive results we are seeing with our work facilitating dialogues. It is the most effective way to bring inclusiveness and change to increasingly obsolete business models once the groups takes the opportunity to try it.

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