Bridging Leadership Lessons from the Workplace and Those Experiences Shaping Today's Youth and Tomorrow's Leaders
Coming out of the covid pandemic, you kept hearing the phrase “new normal” which for some people brought a breath of fresh air yet for others, created anger and frustration. It escalated as people began to return to the workplace and we started to hear new phrases such as “Quiet-Quitting” and the “Great Resignation.” Regardless of the phrase being used, what became evident is that there was instability and a shortage in the workforce as restaurants and businesses were forced to change their hours and approaches as positions either went unfilled or opened up because an employee decided not to show.
As a person who spent 30 years at the same company, this was the part that was the hardest to watch. It’s not that I don’t think people should pursue new and better opportunities or expand their experiences, I am all for personal growth. But what I have witnessed and experienced in sharing with other people in industry is the need for instant gratification and not appreciating the importance of investment and work to build future success.
The young workforce today is getting a bad rap in the media as you can search articles and hear about young people expecting to get a promotion soon after starting a job. They don’t see the value in “working your way to the top” but instead should be recognized for what they could achieve if they were promoted. The instant gratification that comes with likes and heart and other social media emojis seems to be supported about a desperate business climate that is throwing bigger salaries and signing bonuses at unproven commodities because they need bodies.
But is it really something new?
Kids have always been know-it-alls. I remember classifying my family after a few weeks into my freshman year of college after attending a Psychology 101 class. I can still see my dad shaking his head as if I was an idiot. I remember thinking about how little my dad knew as he had never been to college. Well, now I know. His life was lived through experiences, not by reading about someone else's experiences.
In my Pillars of Impact series, I talk about the Courage to Challenge and that as a leader, you must be prepared to challenge the status quo. This is one of the key aspects when I look at new employees. Do they have the ability to assess a situation and find a better pathway forward? But I also need to see HOW they will challenge the status quo. Will they discount what was done previously or the people who chose that path? Will they first seek to understand the why or just push forward with what they believe is the why?
There is a reason you can get online degrees in a bunch of disciplines but not to be a surgeon. They need the experiences, the challenges, the stress of making decisions, of living life. When you follow the 2nd Pillar of Impact and Expect Excellence in yourself and others, you realize that nobody at work cares about your GPA. They care about what you know, what you can learn, and most importantly can you apply it to the challenges you face to help the team win.
As parents, we have experienced these hard lessons in life firsthand and apparently, a lot of us were so traumatized that we are doing everything in our power to avoid our kids having to experience it themselves. Somehow forgetting the importance of experiencing challenges to help build character and work ethic on which we have built our lives.
Articles and books have been written about helicopter parents hovering over their every move or the dozer / lawnmower parents who are trying to clear the way for their kids. But while they believe they are being helpful, they are setting their kids up for failure as the parents have failed to equip them in the basics of life and being overly dramatic, to survive. At some point, it stops, and the kids are forced to sink or swim. They show a pattern of leaving jobs when they don’t get what they want and then their resume is filled with what appears to be job hopping and when they finally realize they need stability in their lives, they won’t be chosen for that big position because employers don’t want to take a chance on training up someone just to leave. If an employer can’t trust an employee to stay to be loyal, they will put that resume aside and look for another.
In my next post I will talk about People-Soft vs People-Easy. It fits in well with this topic - both from the workforce and from being raised by the helicopter / dozer parents. An example would be teaching your child to swim. Old school was to throw your child into the deep end and let them sink or swim. An archaic approach that is outdated and proven to have more negative results than positive. A People-Soft approach would help them learn how to swim by getting them classes, supporting them as they learned techniques, helping them to find a way, by learning and doing until they become sufficient swimmers that they can do it on their own. People-Easy is to put them in the kiddie pool and not put them in deep water. Ever.
Why did I meander down this path when I started talking about the challenges in our workforce? It might be that after 30 years at a company, well, that’s what we do, we tell stories that wind around before we get to the point. Or maybe, that is the point. Sometimes you just want to get somewhere so you jump on the interstate, and you focus on getting to that final destination. It’s pretty straight, traffic moves along, and you get to your destination. But sometimes, I like to take the Blue Highways and travel the side roads and back roads that are less traveled. You experience the changing landscape and scenery. The hills and valleys. The small towns and drive-ins. Experiences that add to your knowledge base that help shape you and your thoughts.
In Robert Frost’s famous poem, The Road Less Traveled, he finishes it off with this final stanza, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
It is that decision made by you, not by your parents and not made by your boss, that will help shape your future. A future built upon experiences that you created and lived through, shaping who you will become and how you will impact others. Don’t avoid those experiences. Don’t avoid those roads. Take the time to make memories. Take time to put in the work necessary to prepare you for the deep end. To experience what lies Beyond Today.
It is amazing how people and opportunities always seem to appear at the right place and the right time. I don’t mean to turn this into a religious post, but too many events seem to happen in my life when they are needed most to simply be coincidence or serendipity.
I have written about the alignment of many people and circumstances that enabled my heart to be restarted so that I could have a second chance.
I wrote about a stranger walking his dog on a coastal shore during the early morning hours who spoke truth into my life forcing me to listen. When the realization of his words hit me, I turned around to share my thoughts only to find he wasn’t there.
Last week I wrote about the impact you receive from others, who pay it forward in dark times, when it is needed most to keep grinding forward, committing to continue your efforts to positively impact others.
Today, I share another moment of clarity that has to be more than chance. A short time after I posted my blog last week that I mentioned above, I received a package at my desk. I recognized the handwriting as that of my mentor, who I have written about in the past. Inside was a motivational desk decor titled Stand Firm, a picture of which is above. It contained a verse from 1 Corinthians 15:58.
“Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
I had not spoken to Steve for a couple of months. We had exchanged texts a month ago catching up on personal activities and travels with the plan to connect soon. So how did he know? How did he know that this is what I needed at this moment in time? He shipped the package across the country earlier in the week to show up at my desk, at the right place and the right time. The same day that I posted about the blessing of coworkers, friends, and family challenging me to help me deal with my frustration and to be the leader that they know I can be, I received a gift of love and support saying, Stand Firm.
Contractually, Steve is no longer obligated to be my mentor. While he has mentored me for over 10 years, he has done so through our growing bond and friendship. The note in the package said, “I have always appreciated you as a friend and always will! STAND FIRM in all things that you do!!!”
As I said at the beginning of this post, it is amazing how people and opportunities always seem to appear at the right place and the right time. It is the knowledge built upon experiences AND faith that enables me to STAND FIRM Beyond Today.
I tend to be an optimist, so much so that it seems to bother my wife and daughter when I try to throw in a positive spin on something. This may surprise some of my coworkers who feel my tendency is to point out areas for improvement…but I view that as looking for the positive potential! I have spent my lifetime being steady when it comes to stress and skillfully hiding it from my family and others, skillfully tucking it away deep into the inner recesses of my heart, mind, and soul. This might be connected to My Day of Impact that resulted in a defibrillator being installed!
So, when my frustration finally bubbles to the surface, the change in me becomes evident by those who know me - not just in the words I say, but in how I say them. It’s in my demeanor and it’s in what I don’t say. I don’t go to this dark place very often, but when I do, it can be a debilitating place that drains the energy, enthusiasm, and passion from me, which for me and who I am, is one of the worst feelings I can have.
But it is during those times of darkness when the impact you wish to make moves from the positive to the negative when you must really do some self-reflection. But sometimes, even that time of self-development can reinforce the frustration and continue to spiral into helplessness. Amazingly, things seem to happen and voices rise when they are most needed and people are placed before you to help you stay afloat. My last post, Pivot Towards Your Goal, highlighted those people who had been impacted by my blogs and have shared their stories with me and their feelings to inspire me to write even more blogs.
During a stage of frustration, I received an email from a friend sharing a personal poem that they wrote. It caught me off guard for a couple of reasons. First, this ex-military, outdoorsman didn’t pass the stereotype that exists for a poet and second, it was such a personal and vulnerable glimpse into his emotions and his mind. It was truly a blessing to receive something so private and precious. He entrusted me with this piece of him, that he had no clue was exactly what I needed at that point and time. I highlighted the power of Vulnerability in Impact Others by Sharing Yourself. That Impact came full circle.
Later that day, I was having a 1on1 with a coworker, who had been sensing my frustration. Because of our relationship that we had built over time, she was courageous enough to point out that she saw I was struggling. But it wasn’t enough to point it out, she provided specific examples and how what I was doing wasn't normal for me and was below my expectations, but also HER expectations for me. She recited my own words from the recent training classes I had given and highlighted the tools that I had used in the class that was critical for me now.
She also opened up about how she faced a dark day in her own past and she reminded me that on that day, I had challenged her and helped her find a pathway forward. She said that while that day was the most challenging for her, it was also the day that began her biggest growth. Again, that vulnerability and that Impact came full circle.
That evening, a friend I greatly admire, shared my blog post on social media encouraging others to read my blog as he found it beneficial in a lot of ways. This person took the time to share with others and with me. A moment of positivity and caring that he didn’t know was needed, but it had an Impact.
The next week two coworkers, who used to be part of my team, continued providing leadership lessons to me as they stepped forward on different occasions to encourage me, to challenge me, to demand better of me, to care for me. We talked about my approach and how that can cloud my impact. My words detract from my actions and my intent. The respect and trust that we had built, empowered them to talk about sensitive topics with someone like me who has a strong personality. But I trusted them, so their words, their friendship had an Impact.
That evening, my wife and I are sitting on the couch, and I am sharing all these amazing moments that have had an impact on me. It was hard to share these moments without becoming emotional, because it came from special people at a critical time. My wife looked at me and simply asked, “could you try and care less?” She wasn’t suggesting that I look at what I do as a job and not care about the outcome - to just punch a time clock. But what she was asking was if I could find a way to filter out the things that I can and cannot control. I can find acceptance in those areas where I am empowered and instead of worrying about outcomes, can I enjoy the process of making an impact. She asked me to seek gratitude. She asked me to find the blessings that appear when you need them most.
When people you care about and respect come forward to challenge you, you must listen. When they reference your own words and your own training classes as examples to challenge you and your approach - you have no choice but to listen. I could ignore them. Become defensive. Tell them to go to hell. But how could I possibly do that? When they care enough to challenge me? When they have enough respect for me that they want to help me? I have no choice but to honor them and listen to what they have to say. Without them knowing, it was their IMPACT that I needed to get 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.