The two-year Quantum Leadership Program (QLP) takes participants from the phase of ideas of and techniques for leadership influence, through practical application, to personal customization which results in the enduring use of future proofing Leadership processes and practices on a daily basis throughout their organization.
The Quantum Leadership Program is anchored by three critical philosophies.
The first is to design for the leadership strategy that Indra Nooyi, past CEO and Chairman of PepsiCo, refers to as “Future Proofing” the organization.
The second is to leverage the definition of ‘quantum’ in leadership’s tactical execution – the smallest amount of energy or effort required to create the desired interaction or result.
The final philosophy is that leadership is not synonymous with management. Organizations are comprised of multiple levels of focus, from the technician whose attention is on tactical execution of the activities of the business, to management which plans and steers and problem-solves that execution, to leaders whose focus must be on the higher-level considerations of vision, strategy, overarching corporate systems, complex paradox management, and external opportunities and threats to the organization.
By engaging the broadest range of roles in the organization in the Quantum Leadership Program the organization establishes a culture in which long-term repeatable leadership practices that produce excellent employee engagement and retention along with the cultural responsiveness and stability to last for decades to come.
The QLP fuels company Future Proofing by leveling up Leadership through the organization in a 4-phase structured process that drives better outcomes in employee engagement, performance, and retention.
Where It All Began
The term ‘Leadership’ is bandied about in daily conversation throughout business and the broader society.
For millennia the term referred to the individual with greatest economic dominance or political, military, or religious influence and power. Leadership was reserved for those in control of wealth and military might.
The leadership style experienced by those around them might be authoritarian or charismatic. There was little need for self-examination and adaptation if it held no interest for the leader.
Thousands of years ago, Plato created his first academy. He believed that leadership must be trained so that it could be embodies in philosopher-kings. Socrates was a lone voice in pointing to alternative considerations of leadership.
The Industrial Revolution gave birth to a production and service sector of society. Individuals in control and influence in feudal systems expanded their control into this new sector. The forces of their power and influence gained traction inside organizations that employed individuals and teams. Added to these forces were systems of control. These three dominating forces were embodied first in owners of businesses be they the wealthy, or the merchants who managed them. While industry expanded, they were delegated down into a new management class of employees.
Throughout recorded history, from the dynasties of Egypt on to the modern era, as work became more sophisticated, the managerial class expanded to steer the work of the technical doers of the work. Emphasis was placed on the management systems and behaviors inside organizations whether organizing the shipment of stone blocks to build pyramids or factory workers filling spindles with yarn. The topic of leadership was only of interest in military matters or rulership.
The Dawn of Considering Leadership
It was only in the twentieth century that leadership became a topic of general conversation that expanded beyond the military to organizations. University-based professors of human and organizational behavior adopted the topic and sought a deeper understanding that might translate into actionable insights.
Notable among these university-based efforts was Warren Bennis, long-time professor at the University of Southern California. He pointed out that the standard criterial for choosing top-level managers were technical competence, people skills, judgment, and character. However, he judged that effective leadership was overwhelmingly the function of character, followed by judgment. His research showed that subordinates most wished for vision and direction, trustworthiness, and optimism which bred hopefulness.
While many professors, writers and commentators focused on character traits and charisma, Bennis distilled his research on the most effective leaders into four core competencies they embodied: the management of attention, meaning, trust and self. Add to this strong communication skills and clarity that cut through chaos and enabled followers to see a clear path and get into action on it. He considered these leaders’ energy and actions created cultures in which that leadership was felt throughout the organization.
In his most revered book “On Becoming a Leader,” published in 1989, Bennis shook up a generation of executives by casting a spotlight on what he perceived as a growing wave of failed leadership.
In the decades that surrounding his work, many scholars sliced and diced the observed behaviors of leaders and constructed theories and published tens of thousands of pages of research, articles, and books. Some focused on The Great Man Theory, others on Trait Theory, Behavioral Theory, Situational Approach, Skills Approach and Path-Goal Theory. Still others looked at Systems Theory and Thinking, the Theory of Constraints, and Transformational Leadership.
Each model tried to reduce Leadership to a streamlined understanding, and each had their own strength in sharpening attention on particular areas of leadership involvement and influence.
Simultaneously their colleagues were examining the topic of motivation for insights on how influence was experienced. Considering the complexity of individual needs and motives, various theories were used to explain the concept of Motivation. Among such theories were Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory/ Motivator-Hygiene, McGregor’s X and Y Theories, David McClelland’s Human Motivation Theory, The Equity Theory, Value – Percept Theory, Vroom’s Expectancy Theory and Porter-Lawler Model.
These motivation theories, though they apply to individuals, also apply to groups as individuals come together to form groups. The reality is that motivation becomes more complex within teams because individuals in the group often have differing personal needs that will motivate them to give their best to their endeavors. If this is not well managed by leadership, some members of the team underachieve while others excel. It became the responsibility of leadership to ensure that every team member was well motivated to contribute to achieving the team’s objectives. Even if leadership did not come from the official leader, some members of the team would assume the leadership role of ensuring that other members of their team would be well-motivated.
The Shortcomings and Blind Spots of Theories Revealed
The challenge of theorizing is that is has always been after-the-fact retrospective analysis looking for cause and effect from an observer stance. None of these authors developed the practical tools and applied them for themselves in complex culture and ongoing operations of a business.
Ideas and theories in and of themselves are a distillation and simplification that misses the complexities of organizational life that a leader must solve. They need to have relevance inside organizations and be made practicable. For instance, Transformational Leadership is a style of leadership that creates focus throughout an organization by communicating a clear vision of what needs to be accomplished. Vision becomes the driver behind leadership efforts and underpins efforts at motivating people throughout the organization to accomplish the activities and improvements needed. A useful element, but insufficient in and of itself for the fullness of what leadership requires.
As Indra Nooyi pointed out, great leaders and their business need to be prepared for transition events regardless of the circumstances.
4 Forces Changing Organizational Circumstances
The External Force of Technology
In 2000 the topic of ‘tele-commuting’ was being tentatively raised by a few professionals with their bosses. The idea that some portion of an employee’s work could be done from home rather than at their ‘place of work’ raised issues around how to evaluate if the productivity of that employee met the levels obtained when they were on-site.
The choice was at the discretion of the management of the organization, with performance criteria set and agreed to between the manager and their subordinate. In fits and starts various professions experimented with and used technology to enable part-time and full-time remote or virtual work.
By December 2019 the following trends were in place in American corporations:
• Before the 2020 start of the pandemic, only 6% of the US employed worked primarily from home and about three-quarters of workers had never worked from home
• In May 2020, over one-third of the employed worked from home due to the pandemic – a close match for pre-pandemic estimates of ‘the share of work that could be done remotely’, theoretically, in the future
• Office-based business and professional occupations were most likely to implement remote work, with three-quarters of such employees working from home early in the pandemic
By 2022 there was a distinct shift in work-at-home trends:
• Most workers and employers report they expect to permanently implement more flexible remote work opportunities after the pandemic
• Increased remote work will negatively affect businesses that support commuters and business travelers, especially in transportation and leisure and hospitality
• Remote work will be available to the services sector industries and employees, but not to manufacturing line workers
As politicians forced as much as of the workforce to be sent home and kept there for an undetermined duration it was only in 2022 that the newest trends could be considered.
The turmoil of 2020-2022 created stress fractures in the relationship between employees and their managers and teams.
Existing and novel technology enabled continued communication, and the political decisions forced internal adaptation of technology for both communication and for the remote execution of work overall. However, some industries thrived, and others suffered through recurring crisis-based pivoting and redesigning of entire business models.
Use of time changed radically as leaders, managers and employees struggled to make the new models work.
Despite that increase in meeting interactions, research by Gallup and PEW uncovered one of the most important risks to corporations:
Leaders were immediately challenged to rethink their use of technology in order to maintain influence of employee morale, motivation, stress management and organizational productivity. Simultaneously, employee concerns about health and safety are delaying any permanent decisions about ‘where’ work will take place.
It is self-evident that the work that could be remotely located is found among the professional staff roles rather than line production.
The result – a permanent Hybrid work model of work-from-home combined with on-site work is here to stay and will need to be grappled with by leaders of every generation.
If this were a single generation being affected, it would be enough to contend with. In fact, it is a deeply complex issue due to the forces of demographics.
The Internal Force of Technology
Various technologies have had between forty and one hundred and sixty years to transform the expectations of roles in organizations.
As technology advanced, the practicalities of work changed. A perfect example was experienced in manufacturers and professional service firms alike. In the 1950s through 1980s, managers had a secretary to manage inbound and outbound communication and mail. They took down their boss’s dictated communication and turned it into type-written materials. With the invention of electric typewriters and word processors, the secretary’s process sped up and time was freed up for additional responsibilities. As the manager started typing their own communiques the secretarial role evolved into one of assistant and business analyst.
As desktop computers became widespread, the manager often did much of their own analyses. The desk outside their office was vacated. As a result of technology’s next evolution, managers added handling their own inbound and outbound communications and meeting calendaring and email management to their daily load.
Simultaneously, four types of organizational teams developed, namely ongoing project teams, ad-hoc project teams, ongoing production teams and ad-hoc production teams demanding manager attention.
In the public arena, technological advances accelerated communication from postal transmissions that took a week or more in transit to delivery at nearly the speed of thought.
However, as communication has become accelerated, one critical side effect has been the loss of thinking time, analysis and problem-solving which remains the responsibility of organization management and leadership.
Today, many organizations of hundreds of team members have managers and leaders acting as their own secretary day in and day out.
Internal technological developments have instigated changes in roles throughout organizations in remarkably short spans of time.
The External Force of Demographics
In 1996 the Lockheed Corporation was confronting the fact that a majority of their expert workforce was reaching retirement age, and in a few short years would be walking out the door. In addition to the high cost of replacing a worker, there would be the significant problem of losing the experience and information uniquely possessed by that person.
When replacing retiring, experienced workers with younger, inexperienced ones, a company is losing an incredible amount of knowledge and experience, known as “knowledge capital.”
Looking at the demographic curve even a decade ago provides immediate insight to the magnitude of pending knowledge loss across industries.
Even those people entering the work force the past decade cannot make up for the brain drain and experience drain that is creating tight labor markets across industries.
Experienced employees have inside knowledge of how an organization works, including how to deal with both complex problems that arise and the internal, institutional bureaucracy. They have developed versions of leadership skills. They have detailed knowledge of customers and prospects. These experienced Bay Boomer employees have contacts and relationships they have developed and built over the course of their careers. They have product familiarity and knowledge.
While to some degree Gen X employees would bridge the gap to Gen Y, there would never be enough of them with enough sheer experience to do it fully.
A new era of ‘knowledge transfer’ became a critical topic for corporate leadership that spanned more than twenty years across industries as the Boomer generation’s oldest members stepped out of the workforce. Leaders must create an environment in which this cooperative knowledge sharing can exist.
Replenishing talent was more than just a numbers game. Leadership was suddenly confronted with needing to lead FOUR separate generations of employees with completely different psychographic composition and values and motivations.
Unless a company is a solo-preneur shop, all work happens through relationships between the staff of organizations.
The intermixing of 4 generations who are motivated entirely differently triggered continuous stress on the company’s stability.
Their work ethics differ enormously as well.
Leadership was forced to undergo a radical change out of any remaining command and control attitude into one of hyper-communicator, shepherd, and pied piper. Leaders reported needing to keep changing hats depending on which generation they were communicating with and being stretched thin in trying to craft single messages that aligned everyone’s attention and motivation.
****Fig 22 too blurry****
All of this points out the radically different values, social attitudes, and motivations at play in public and in the workplace between the four generations.
Leading such a diverse group is unprecedented, and leaders need to understand the demographic realities as well as the generational needs of each cohort.
The recent United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund report summarized research findings from around the world.
And as the generation that is rising through the organization it’s important to understand what Gen Y values:
Gen Y is very individualistic and does not believe that “one size fits all.” They more likely feel “my size fits me.” They are tech savvy, diverse, and understand the global marketplace in ways that generations before them did not. They understand their company’s customers and think globally. They have strong self-esteem, are ambitious and look for ways to contribute, not sit on the side-lines. They are research-oriented problem-solvers.
With all of that said, Gen Y also values collaboration and teamwork. Some of the same tools discussed previously also allow Gen Y to communicate and collaborate with others instantly.
Surveys Neil Howe and William Strauss conducted show an overwhelming majority (72 percent) of Gen Y wants to be on a productive team. Most responded that collaboration produces a better work product. Even when working alone on a project, many Gen Yers (62 percent) will reach out to their network for input when appropriate.
All of this makes them a potential powerhouse resource for any organization and simultaneously increase the ongoing management stresses as the make rapid exit decisions when feeling bored or under-acknowledged.
When previous generations took their first jobs, they were looking for a greater degree of job security; they could envision working with that company for ten or more years, and possibly assumed they would retire from that same company. However, because of their increased freedom and lack of familial responsibilities, Gen Y has a different mindset about commitment to an organization. They do not sign on for life. They have a much shorter horizon and would be happy with a one- or two-year work experience. Many of them view multiple jobs as a badge of honor! Gen Y is not worried about a long-term commitment. They are ‘leasing’ the job, not buying it. They are more or less taking a long test drive and plan to check out the job before they make a serious commitment to it.
Research found that 74 percent of Gen Y respondents do not plan on staying in their jobs for more than three years.
This makes it an enormous challenge to manage the organizational costs of turnover AND continual loss of knowledge capital and leadership their departure triggers.
So, what does the up-and-coming Gen Z mean for an organization? Several issues are worth being aware of which Tom Koulopoulos explored in The Gen Z Effect.
First, much more important, and significant than with previous generations, to Gen Zers community is a sense of belonging, purpose, meaning, and acceptance—and their community, of course, is very much online. They will most support the communities they’ve decided to belong to. It’s their decision as opposed to it being thrust upon them.
They feel more empowered than any other generation. They know that they don’t have to wait until they’re eighteen to vote to have an impact. They know that they can have an impact now.
Second, it’s not about trying to simply market to them. It’s about starting a conversation with them to make yourself part of their ‘community,’ whereby they can actually have a conversation about the business and their ideas and opinions about it.
Third, is the influence that they have with their parents. The reason this is relevant is that they’re more tech savvy, they’re more knowledgeable, they’re more likely to speak up, they’re more empowered. And they expect to be listened to in their workplace.
These people feel themselves to be on a level playing field with their parents because they have had access to information and to technology their entire life, and they know technology better than their parents do. They became used to their parents deferring to them as kids because the parents do not have the same level of comfort with technology.
Fourth, they are used to consistent and constant feedback almost in real time. “They have been raised with an expectation of instant feedback in the way they game and socialize. If they don’t get the feedback, they think there’s something fundamentally broken in the model.
They are going to influence the reshaping of company culture and operations. Considering the constant learning that Gen Z expects, even annual reviews will undergo redesign in coming years. A hint at what will shape the performance review process involves many of the mechanics of gamification to take constant micro-measurements of the working relationships among employees, managers, and a far wider network of participants.
Fifth, work will be less about a hierarchy of power and more about joint learning, exploration, and discussion. They are likely to change the traditional top-down power–knowledge transfer of teacher to student into a very different, hyperconnected model where the lines between teacher and student, and technician and manager are viewed as partnership.
For this generation, mastery is not simply about receiving information and just reading, writing, or talking about it, but about applying the knowledge.”
As Harvard Professor and Author, John Kotter, pointed out that under these circumstances:
After a century of theories converted into treatises, at the turn of the millennium the shepherds of business recognized that while ideas could be spread among their peers these topics in a siloed manner, they did not address the external and internal challenges faced by organizations themselves.
The Internal Force of Demographics
The numbers of available employees based on birth rates are creating a perfect storm pressing on organizations.
While Baby Boomers anticipated retiring by the 2020’s, the economic upheaval of 2020-2022 has caused many to delay those departures from the workplace. Those deferrals will not make up for the overall loss of expertise and experience.
Filling the halls of corporations are Millennials – the Gen Xers and Gen Yers joining them.
Neil Howe and William Strauss, authors of Generations and Millennials Rising, examined the effects of the generations rising through the ranks, from their attitudes and behaviors in high school, into further education and on into the workforce.
Millennials, born between 1981 and 1994/6, are the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in U.S. history. Nearly 35 percent of Millennials are nonwhite or Latino.
Back in the early ‘70s, about 33 percent of Boomer teens planned to attend a four-year college, a figure that rose to 54 percent for Gen-X teens in the mid-’80s. When interviewed, Millennials felt confident about life after graduation.
For the Millennials, that expectation of going to college reached anywhere from 64 to 71 percent, according to various late-’90s polls. More than half of them agreed that “people my age should be optimistic about their chances of having a good job.” Even among those growing up in families earning less than $30,000, 54 percent believed the world would hold “many opportunities for me.” Among those in families earning over $75,000, that proportion rose to 78 percent. More than four in five believed while in high school that they would be financially more successful than their parents—a percentage that rose sharply during the 1990s. A Class of 2000 Survey showed only 6 percent expected. to make less money than older Gen Xers and 78 percent expecting to make more.
During their high school years, a rising share of Millennial seniors said, “making a contribution to society” is “extremely” or “quite” important, while a declining share (though still a majority) say the same for “having lots of money.” In a turnabout from Gen X, Millennials have faith that the American Dream will work for them, and for their own children. “Being able to give my children better opportunities than I had” has reached an all-time high—which, given the opportunities they believe they already have, indicates a great deal of confidence indeed.”
Team orientation took on a whole new style and attitude under the Millennials. In dress and manner, Millennials appeared more team like during their school years. The growing efforts by schools to teach citizenship and group skills messaged that ‘adults’ wanted them to be more team like. What was less obvious is the extent to which those kids actually felt more team like. Surrounded by individualistic older people, yet optimistic about their own abilities, Millennials lived in a teen world with little cohesion, decided they didn’t like it that way, and deliberately tried to turn it around.
The Millennials’ team ethic showed up in their aversion to disorder within their own social setting—starting within their classrooms. When public school students were asked what most needs fixing in their schools, a majority of them mentioned teaching “good manners,” “maintaining discipline in the classroom,” and making kids “treat each other with respect.” Forty percent said unruly student behavior interfered with their schoolwork.
Values built at that stage of life generally become the long-term wiring through which each person navigates the rest of their live.
In the Gen-X youth era, educators disliked “peer pressure” because they associated it with breaking the rules. With Millennials, educators started to harness peer pressure—through student juries, peer grading, and the like—to enforce the rules better.
They are drawn to circles and cliques. Only three in ten Millennials report that they usually socialize with only one or two friends, while two in three do so with groups of friends.
Their collective ambitions also have a rationalist core. According to our Class of 2000 Survey, teens had a great deal of confidence in their generation’s lifelong ability to improve technology (95 percent), race relations (69 percent), and the economy (60 percent)—all objectively benchmarkable “modern” attributes—but far less confidence in their prospects for improving more subjective areas such as the arts (31 percent), family life (28 percent), and religion (22 percent). Other surveys revealed they were more likely than the adults before them to value friendships, but less likely than adults to value the ability to communicate feelings.
Jeffrey Tucker has published numerous articles on the topic, opining the “problem is cultural. Ambition is not what it used to be. The belief in progress has dissipated. It will take many years to restore that lost confidence and the conviction that working hard and getting ahead is the American way. It no longer is.”
Millennials expect to focus more on outer-world achievement, and less on inner-world spiritualism, than their Boomer parents.
These four Forces triggered a leadership shift from top-down and personality driven to ‘Servant Leadership.’
This new stage could be considered The Second Dawning of Leadership.
Many of the academic thought leaders developed training programs that could be presented to the staff of organizations. Over time these materials incorporated adult learning techniques and moved from pure theory to practical application and practice through role playing and post training assignments.
However, the materials used in this second dawning of Leadership could be considered relatively short-lived as they were single theory based and designed to send a singular message to participants, despite the need for a model that was instructive to four generations at the same time.
Harvard Business School “Working Knowledge” Newsletter – April 17, 2006, summarized the magnitude of the challenge perfectly: “Can you manage different generations? … Managing multigenerational workforces is an art in itself! Young workers want to make a quick impact, the middle generation needs to believe in the mission, and older employees don’t like ambivalence! Your move.”
The looming challenge arose from two new realities. First, trying to fit an increasingly non-traditional workforce into a largely traditional workplace. Second, a shrinking talent pool.
Whose problem was this? All stakeholders, particularly those in leadership roles.
As if this were not enough of a challenge for organizations all the way through 2019…
The Explosive Organizational Pivots Demanded by the ‘Radically Unexpected’ Event
Had the health and economic shocks of 2020-2022 been resolved in mere weeks, organizations and their leadership might have had a brief reconsideration and minor reset.
Instead, in the U.S.A. alone 31.3 million people were unable to work because of pandemic-related closures or business cutbacks. 17.1 million (55 percent) were ‘employed’ at the time of the shutdowns, yet found themselves benched at home for 6 months, 12 months and even 24 months with completely disrupted supply-chains, constantly shifting work style expectations, and pendulum swings personal and team productivity.
More was yet to come as Human Resources leaders began to report on an unexpected phenomenon and no one anticipated the magnitude of the effect.
The Great Resignation
The completely unanticipated intersection of political decisions, enabling technology and demographic shifts stirred up uncertainty lasting not weeks, but months and years. It had a cascading effect on supply chains across the globe, on the ‘way of work’ across industries, and on the ratio of staff needed versus job opportunities.
Forbes contributor William Vanderbloemen described it as a tidal-wave trend of unparalleled employee turnover that he called “The Great Covid Job Churn”. He attributed this repositioning to four main causes:
• Because of the drastic changes moving from a brick-and-mortar office into their homes entailed, many people decided remote work was the ‘best option’ for them.
• The emotional impact of COVID allowed people to reconsider the importance of family and friends. The reaction was that more people than ever wanted to rebalance their lives to be closer to home and their loved ones.
• The pandemic impacted the structure and requirements of many jobs. As a result, many employees left their jobs in search of opportunities that were more like their original roles.
• Initially, workers wanted to wait for the ‘return to normalcy’ before making the move to another organization or a new career. When they realized the job market had become the world of opportunities, they changed that decision and accelerated their departures.
While their reasons for transitioning out were diverse, even when they did not have their next job lined up, employees by the thousands turned in their farewell notes to their bosses and they left to explore what might be greener pastures.
The results of multiple authoritative surveys are painting the road ahead both financially and culturally for businesses across industries.
55% of workers in America are planning on looking for new jobs. Gen Z-ers are the group that feels the least appreciated and underpaid. 41% of the global workforce is considering quitting their jobs. 46% of the world’s workforce plans on relocation this year.
Adults younger than 30 are far more likely than older adults to have voluntarily left their job last year: 37% of young adults say they did this, compared with 17% of those ages 30 to 49, 9% of those ages 50 to 64 and 5% of those ages 65 and older. Experiences also vary by income, education, race and ethnicity.
84 percent of millennials in the workplace who participated in a survey conducted by Deloitte said they’ve felt the effects of ‘poor leadership’ at their current job. The top causes were unrealistic expectations for deadlines, lack of recognition, and working too many hours on the weekend.
Forty-four percent of employees are “job seekers,” according to Willis Towers Watson’s 2022 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey.
The number 1 reason employees gave for quitting in a survey of more than 9,000 people by the Pew Research Center, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., included:
63% said they left due to low pay and a lack of opportunities for advancement.
57% said it was due to feeling disrespected and un-valued at work.
40% of Gen Z and millennial respondents said they had quit a job because it didn’t fit with their personal life, compared to 33% of those polled, overall.
Add to this the recent report on organizations’ trimming their ranks. Around the world, biotech companies are reducing their workforce by more than 25%. This is a consistent trend not just in biotech, but across all industries right now.
With the fear of uncertain economic conditions and geopolitical events, companies are using this as a time to reorganize and focus on key programs and products – which has the positive impact of extending the cash runway of the organization.
Combine the forces of technology enabling remote work with the forces of demographics and socio-economic challenges, and corporate leaders have a giant entangled challenge to solve. Now add in the lack of a sense of belonging created by successive years of remote work. Whether we consider long-term employees or newcomers who were on-boarded during the ‘DamnPanic’ years, the net effect has been a loosening of engagement, motivation, and attachment to their employer.
A challenging time for anyone desiring the role of ‘leader.’
The Costs of Employee Turnover
In the United States SHRM.org estimates organizations paid six to nine months of a worker’s salary to replace them in 2021. To put things into perspective, employee engagement firm Sparkbay broke down the employee replacement costs by job level:
• Entry-level – 30% to 40% of annual salary
• Mid-level – 150% of annual salary
• Highly skilled – up to 400% of annual salary
The cost of employee turnover – or employee churn – is different based on the industry, job role and company.
At the same time Human Resources professionals are aware that the oldest generation of employees are not staying out of loyalty to the mission of the organization, but out of economic necessity.
The Great Resignation has sent shock waves through employers, including economic impacts that forced the immediate bottom-up realignment of teams, pivoting business operations, and rethinking company vision and culture.
The complex people challenge ahead for leaders means the solution to this complex puzzle will take years to address.
What does it mean for Leadership?
What we know about employees, regardless of generation, is that they want to feel they are inspired by and aligned with the vision, mission, and values of their employer, believe their leaders are models they want to follow, have leaders who clear the way so they can do their best work each day, experience being seen for their contribution and have it acknowledged regularly and sincerely. These are not new desired. Forty years of survey data has revealed that people want a timely sincere acknowledgement given face-to-face more than a five-percent increase in their base pay.
Across industries, this is the realm that Leaders influence directly by commission or omission.
It is no longer enough to tout ‘servant leadership.’ Profoundly complex while critical to deal with is the set of considerations: who now needs to be lead and who is doing the leading. Due to the shared presence of four generations in the workplace, the requirements have evolved even further into ‘customized leadership.’
The Third Dawning of Leadership
For two centuries the pattern seemed fixed. While technicians focused on the operational execution, and managers focused on inter- and intra- departmental issues, leadership once focused on strategy and the challenges of the external environment. Luminary leaders inspired from the stage and dealt with the complex paradoxes in business that rose to their level for solutions.
Today, leaders have a more complex responsibility that pulls their attention deeper into the organization than the era in which, simultaneously, the youngest of the employees are impatient to lead.
Finally, there are overlapping effects on company culture of each departure among the four generations that impact every employee and team member they collaborated with. A portion of the more senior leader’s mind must be continuously on team reconfiguration, work configuration, demographic and psychographic re-mix, societal speed of change.
Leading Four Generations in Today’s Workplace
Myriad books and white papers have been written about the comparative composition of the four key generations cohabiting the corridors of business today. The question of who ‘is leading’ and who needs to ‘be lead’ is at the foundation of all companies’ ongoing consideration.
It is worth reviewing what makes each of the recent past five generations tick and what it means for leadership. What each of these generations values as employees and as leaders differs significantly.
With the economic shock to the Baby Boomer generation, many have announced pushing off their planned retirements. Boomers in leadership roles will be considering if they want to relinquish that role or in fact feel driven to increase their mentorship and legacy while they are there. Those with ambition earlier in their work careers grew into leadership roles. But that was when Leadership seemed simple.
Gen X admires competency and honesty. They do not value achievement as highly as other generations. They avoided stepping into roles where they felt peer pressure would be needed. Gen Xers look to their leaders to be Role Models – leaders who exemplify the company’s values with their actions and who are ready to jump in to help solve problems and lead the business through transition and change. Gen Xers want leaders to be engaged in work and be easily approachable. That doesn’t mean they personally want that role. They tend to be fair, competent, straightforward and at times brutally honest. Gen Xers understand employees want more out of work than just a paycheck. They strive to make the culture attractive to employees of all generations as mentors. Their tenure with the organization implies it’s ‘their turn’ to lead. If they don’t want the mantle, will they follow the Gen Y and Gen Z who will be stepping up into a new model of leadership?
Gen Y wants to make things orderly and have them follow the rules. Gen Y leaders work to shape the business to suit its talent as much as they shape talent to the business. They will strive to make the workplace, working practices, and tools of business much more personal and customizable. The same holds for leadership communications and practices. Where Baby Boomers were accustomed to the notion “No feedback is good feedback,” Gen Y employees want continuous interaction and feedback from their bosses and peers. They do not want to wait for major achievements in order to lead. Their version of leadership may feel like over-communication and potentially insincere out of sheer volume to the older generations.
Gen Z mostly prefers leaders who listen to every opinion of their members to reach a common decision called the democratic style. They may not have learned that decisions by consensus can take an organization down as fast as it can enable sound decisions and actions. They consider an effective leader to be someone who can communicate rationally, connect relationally, manage practically, and lead directionally and strategically. They value leaders that communicate and work alongside their teams. Moreover, with their deep focus on teaming, they are used to stepping into their version of leading on a regular basis.
For all that, organizations need to sort out how to harness the leadership and develop it in staff, whether they are new leaders, growing leaders, experienced leaders, and deeply seasoned leaders.
And in turn those leaders need to become highly flexible and adaptable in leading to create the sense of belonging that staff are looking for, whether they are working co-located on-site or remotely.
The Boomers, Gen X, Y and Z are all showing up at work daily to feel engaged, belonging, appreciated, recognized, supported, enabled, educated.
Their career aspirations vary, as do how they wish to be learning on the job.
Successful leadership during the post-pandemic era and the Third Dawning will be neither simple nor straight forward. Leaders must keep all the strategic issues on the front burner while also meeting the varied values, wants and needs of these four generations, whether leading them one-on-one or in teams.
This is NOT the realm of charisma and personality, it is the realm of deliberate use of skills, processes and practices that result in belonging, engagement, motivation, participation, and retention.
“Who is a leader today” spans from the C-Suite, through layers of Managers, to anyone with the ability to deliberately influence the performance of another employee, including in constructing self-directing teams.
“Who needs to be lead” is everyone at every level of the organization, save perhaps the President of a corporation.
What cannot wait is for leaders to slowly rise over a generation through the Third Dawning of Leadership.
A priority must be placed on specific leadership talents and processes becoming embedded throughout their organization. No longer just the C-Suite. No longer reserved for those who have ‘the trait’ in themselves, no longer assigned to those who are particularly ‘interested’ in it.
This is the realm of applied customized leadership dealing with five current critical Core Leadership Imperatives.
The First Imperative of Leadership
All leadership takes place in the context of the organization’s existing culture, mission, objectives and expectations.
The Second Imperative of Leadership
All leadership establishes and reinforces an organization’s ability to produce effectively and responsively that endures beyond the tenure of the leader.
The Third Imperative of Leadership
All leadership responds or reacts to the external challenges posed to the organization’s human productivity and business profitability.
The Fourth Imperative of Leadership
All leaders recognize when they are in the Leader’s seat, or it is their turn to be lead.
The Fifth Imperative of Leadership
All leadership is achieved through relationships and can be achieved with the precise least amount of time and effort required to result in employee engagement, belonging, empowerment and retention.
These imperatives could look overwhelming from an outside perspective. Each is in fact necessary to future-proof the organization, individually and collectively.
Where Leadership Development Stands Today
Today’s leaders need to become highly flexible and adaptable in leading to create the sense of belonging and acknowledgement that staff are looking for, whether they are working co-located on-site or remotely.
These new practices and organizational processes take time to design and install so that they become an integral and credible part of the organization’s culture and way of doing business. They need to be embodied in each person with a leadership role. Installing them is not achieved by reading a book or attending an inspiring lecture. It requires each person spend thought and time on the future traits and techniques they will take on and practice them as they embrace a new identity for themselves.
Leadership training programs / development projects need to incorporate the variety of learning channels and activities that are required to keep the interest and follow through of the four generations in today’s workplace.
How To Grow Leadership Bench Strength in Todays Organizations
Studies have shown that only approximately 10% of all learning takes place in formal front-of-the-room training. Approximately 20% of learning comes from using focused attention and time with materials systems such as books, manuals, videos, checklists, and facilitated discussions. 70% of learning occurs “on the job.” Then the participant learns by using the information provided in both structured experimentation and adapted/customized form. Most learning occurs by trying the processes and techniques and by making mistakes and observing what worked, what did not, and drawing conclusions that are shared and discussed with other participants. This phase of learning is where participants are now able to learn from the styles, insights, and shared information from their fellow project participants.
In learning a sport, mastery occurs through deliberately designing and using a new balance between thought and action. New muscle memory is developed through using deliberate structures and processes. Repetition of mnemonic devices gradually replaces old habits. Leveraging adult learning techniques performs the same function in Leadership Development, until the tools, processes, techniques all become ingrained intuitive skills applied with the lightest of touches.
These comprehensive learning elements are critical to any efforts to future proof an organization through up leveling leadership throughout the company.
THIS is the realm of third generation leaders who will “Future Proof” their organization.