Leaders in the twenty-first century are being buffeted by strong forces beyond their control. Whether a seasoned executive or a new team leader, whether running an international corporation or a local nonprofit organization, leaders are living in upheaval and uncertainty. Major currents of change have converged to make managing an enterprise more and more difficult as traditional leadership approaches have become obsolete. One of the big currents that impact how leaders lead today is the millennial workforce.
Millennials will soon dominate the workforce; many already fill leadership positions. Yet many managers today are still baffled by their puzzling behavior, needs, ideas, and expectations. Millennials were born into a fluid world of transformation. Globalization, 24/7 connectivity, blurred boundaries, disruptive innovation, revolutionary social networks, internet-enabled entrepreneurship—trends like these have given millennials a worldview that is vastly different from that of previous generations.
Coming of age at the dawn of the twenty-first century, millennials and their younger siblings see a turbulent world through an evermoving lens. They question old ways of doing things; they insist on finding new ways that are in tune with today’s reality and ready for tomorrow’s transformations. Generation Z and all those yet to come will inherit and extend that mindset, as the world continues to evolve in ways not yet imagined. So it should be no surprise that millennials at every level of organizations are challenging old styles of leadership.
So, You Think You’re Smart
My Gen X client Ross thought that knowledge, drive, and the ability to deliver his business goals would be enough to succeed as an executive. At first, his theory seemed correct. Ross rose to the top rapidly because he was extremely intelligent. Quick with numbers and business concepts, he created solid strategic plans. However, when he was appointed to head an international team, something just wasn’t working, and Ross called me. He applied his familiar mental process to my coaching. He immediately grasped behavioral concepts, understood them, and could even repeat them to others. And he thought this was all it would take to lead.
Ross knew what to do intellectually. But emotionally and physically, it was hard for him to connect with others who see the world differently. He filtered out recommendations that didn’t fit his view of how to get results. As we worked together and I helped Ross see things in a new light, reality hit. He suddenly woke up: transmitting information is not enough. Ross realized he’d never actually experienced connecting with others. He didn’t know how to make them feel heard, bring out their gifts, or develop them into leaders. Ross was very skilled at using the intelligence of his head but lacked the deep understanding and intuitive knowing needed in his new position. Developing the intelligences in his heart and in his body would take time; there was no quick fix.
Living in the Era of Instant Everything
This challenge that surfaced in Ross is especially common in management today. People in management roles are recognized by how much they produce and execute on their goals, not necessarily on how well they work with their people. However, we are coming against a generation that will not put up with an authoritative way of leading. They’ll literally complain to their boss’s manager about how they’re treated! They don’t want to be controlled, but rather connected with. They place great importance on “how I feel when I’m with you”. They want to collaborate with their leaders. Yes, they often feel that they are more qualified than they really are, but strong leaders know how to work with that kind of ambition/enthusiasm. The good news is that they yearn to be mentored.
Millennials are more importantly, the first generation that did not have to go through authority to get information. This is a game changer because information transmittal, once a critical function of elders and managers to manage or control their people, is now something millennials can get on demand by a handheld device. This one phenomenon is changing relationships everywhere especially between managers and their people.
In this era of instant everything, information acquisition is often confused with experiential knowing. But there is a big difference between gathering and applying bits of information to produce an end result versus embodying knowledge to support others in ways that make them want to achieve a result. Some things must be embodied and felt to be understood. And that can take time. Nine women working diligently for one month will not produce a baby.
To succeed as a leader today, one must incorporate practices that go beyond head intelligence. To help themselves and their people ride the waves of change, today’s leaders must tap into intuition and emotions, as well as intellect—patiently.