Bridging Leadership Lessons from the Workplace and Those Experiences Shaping Today's Youth and Tomorrow's Leaders
I recently gave a talk on the 3 Pillars of Impact with the focus being on leaders actually walking the walk and putting the Pillars into action. During the talk, I spoke about the challenge facing leaders today is closing the gap between the vision of the organization and where the employees are operating. While this leadership gap has always existed, heading into 2024 highlights the evolution of the gap.
We talk about the “post covid” impact as if the virus was the cause for a lot of the changes, but this really wasn’t the case. We have a generation hitting the workforce that grew up with social media and influencers. A generation who had been given phones and devices since grade school and were raised by bulldozing, helicopter flying parents. It wasn’t covid, it was us.
People Need to Make an Impact
This has always been the case for employees, but the difference is this generation wants to make the impact now! They don’t want to invest their time and work their way up following a leadership development plan. They could already have hundreds of thousands of followers on social media - more than your company. It is more important that THEY make an impact than for the COMPANY to make the impact.
Furthermore, the impact they seek isn’t necessarily something you will find in a KPI or productivity metric. It might be on the intangible side of relationships or possibly, not even something that will show up in the business plan. The role they play at work may be their avenue to make an impact on the community, the environment, or an industry working group.
Work Ethic has been Redefined
We sit around in our meeting rooms complaining about how this younger generation doesn’t want to work. They don’t put in the hours to learn; they just want it handed to them.
But how different is it to us when we were younger? The Gen Xers grew up with Gordon Gekko dominating Wall Street and the IPOs of the Tech Stock Boom. We all wanted instant success as well. Now, there are electronic gaming scholarships to colleges, YouTube gamers are worth millions, and teenage influencers can make or break a product depending on the way something makes them feel or look.
They are still dedicating countless hours to their craft, but what they see as valuable is different from what is our definition. We are still viewing the world from our perspective and OUR definition. We view it from how we experienced life and not from the way life is today.
Overcoming Invisible Leadership
I said earlier it wasn’t covid. It was our response to covid and the ripple effect of that response. Shutting things down and then compensating regardless of output redefined value. We paid people to stay home, not to produce. The government went full throttle with this approach. As leaders we became invisible, both literally and figuratively, not only because we moved to a remote environment for being non-essential, but because we abdicated leadership responsibilities.
We allowed our employees to move into a work from home mode without maintaining expectations of what productivity means. We failed to demonstrate leadership coming out of the pandemic when we allowed the “new normal” to gain a foothold because we were too weak to fight the battle.
As we face high turnover rates, lower employee engagement, an inflationary economy with low productivity, it all comes back to our ability as leaders to connect the employees to the vision.
Close the Gap by Making Connections
If we think about the 3 leadership gaps highlighted above, all of them fall back on leadership and our ability to make connections. How do we connect what the company needs to what the employees need? It’s no longer about the security and pay of a job. Jobs are everywhere. How do we help employees find their impact or align their impact within the company framework?
How as leaders can we provide focus for the employee to connect them to their strengths to help move the company forward? Is the story of the WHY resonating with them so that they want to put the effort into the work or are you focusing on the company and hoping that they will make the connection on their own?
As a leader, are you visible? Or are you seen as some ancient ruler type of figure making your money on the sweat and blood of the workers? Do you walk where they walk? Do you talk like they talk? Is your WHY connected to their WHY?
We are dealing with not only an eclectic workforce but also a hybrid workforce where building connections is more difficult than ever. That is the challenge to us as leaders. That is the leadership gap that must be overcome.
The connection to the employees can’t be delegated. It can’t be assigned to a title or an organization. It can only be done by us, as leaders, making a conscious effort to build connections with the employees to close the gap to take us Beyond Today.
Tom Brown - a husband and a father who is simply trying to make a difference. Using my experience as a Manufacturing Executive to connect leadership from the boardroom to the hardwood to help teams grow and develop to make a difference in the lives of others.