I think a lot about the next generation. Not just from the perspective of the opportunities ahead of them, but the world that they have inherited. The last 20 years alone has brought about social media, DNA and medical breakthroughs that have extended human life expectancy and the fourth industrial revolution, while climate change, economic crises, school violence, a reckoning of racial justice, and a pandemic impacted the world. Their formative years have been shaped by unprecedented change and challenges. The world has grown a lot more complicated since I was in their shoes, and there will be more complications to come.
As Millennials step into positions of leadership and Generation Z begin to make their mark in earnest, many business leaders see the potential of these generations to define a new type of workplace. Perhaps they will gravitate toward workplaces with more flexible working and better work/life integration, with increased focus on creating inclusion and opportunity for all and a true passion for giving back and social responsibility.
How do we, as today’s leaders, harness the enthusiasm, vocal spirit and appetite to learn and give back of the rising generations? We need to teach them to lead – not once they hit their 40s, but today.
And, as a Millennial or GenZ worker, what can you do today, in your next meeting or during your next shift, to begin building your leadership skills? I’d encourage you to start with two things:
Treat people the way you want to be treated. The “golden rule” should apply in business and it includes giving people a chance to show who they are and what they can do. One bad meeting doesn’t mean you should write someone off as a bad leader, or not being able to contribute value. Give people more than one chance to prove themselves before you decide how you want to interact with them going forward.
That goes for managers as well – even managers have ‘off’ days. We’ve all worked for bad managers and good ones. Really give thought to what made the good managers, good. Pick the traits that you want to model, not copy. It’s important to be authentic and make good habits your own.
Lastly, remember that no matter how much planning goes into a project or campaign, rarely (if ever) does it go off without a hitch ─ and that’s okay. Stumbles will happen, and whether they are yours or someone else’s, what matters most is how you use those lessons to succeed in the future. Treat the person who is learning from their mistakes with kindness and encouragement.
Know when to follow. There’s a fallacy about leadership that leaders lead all the time. It’s equally, if not more important, to purposely follow. And in this case, following means listening and collaborating.
An easy way to do this is to give everyone an equal voice at the (virtual) table during meetings. Everyone gets a say in a safe way and no one should leave the meeting until each person has contributed. Diversity of people and ideas matters – true group thinking yields not only better results but ensures total buy in across the team.
If you hear an idea that you disagree with, or just doesn’t sound right to you, rather than react in haste, listen and ask questions to have a more meaningful conversation. You might just surprise yourself with what you can learn and how your viewpoint may evolve, again, leading to a better outcome.
In my next few blogs, I’ll share my top pieces of advice for giving the next generations the tools they need to begin building leadership skills, now. Until next time, I challenge you to truly listen to different viewpoints, reflect on leaders that you want to emulate and bring the best version of yourself to all of your interactions.