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So what is the future of leadership?


"Leadership is not about what I do, it’s what people get out of it". Gareth Jones

Unless you have been living in a cave, you will notice that there is a lot of interest and research into Gen Y and how this generation behaves and reacts differently to previous ones. Being in my 30's I feel I’m kind of stuck in the middle of the traditional way of doing things and this new phase in social and economic environments. I recall when I started to work at a well know global bank at the start of my career. Within a few years, as a graduate, I jumped a few levels and soon became a manager. (Please note, I am not blowing my own trumpet, just putting things into context). I was soon responsible for being a relationship manager to high income clients. In simple terms it meant I was the new era of the traditional "bank manager" that you could call direct and meet for lunch to talk over finance. One of the first things I noticed was that although over the phone, most customers were polite and reactive to me, face to face a lot of them were shocked by my apparent young age. I have to say that this did not worry me in the slightest, I was confident in what I was doing and that I knew more than most when it came to bank services and financial matters. When I first started this role, I spent quite a while sitting in on more senior managers meetings with clients to learn and understand how to interact and how to come across as professional and personable. I noticed that the way that more senior managers came across was not what I wanted to be seen as. I wanted to be more approachable and less "bank like". Over time, I adapted and honed my skills in communication with the key goal being to understand what it was that a client wanted and then find a solution that met this need.

Looking and listening to people describing and discussing Gen Y I have noticed that my approach is kind of a half-way house. Gen Y is the most emotionally intense generation that there has been, but at the same time a lot of them spend their time in as little meaningful conversation and interaction as possible. Yes I know that social media has allowed people to stay more connected than ever before, but at the cost of real interaction. How many people actually use a phone for talking these days? Many would rather tweet or text what they are doing to a wider audience rather than pick up the phone or meet face to face.

So how does all of this fit into the future of leadership? Gen Y seems to have very little boundaries when it comes to authority and what they can and can't do, which I admire in a way. You only have to look at Facebook, Google and the likes to see a younger generation of professionals breaking the mould of going it alone and starting their own business rather than climbing the corporate ladder. But how do you deal with Gen Y staff in your business if you are of an older persuasion? Statistics show that younger generations will probably stay with a company between 5-10 years at most rather than a career for life attitude. So by default a business will end up losing a large proportion of the younger generation to other companies. This may be due to being headhunted or just moving on, but the result is a company will lose some of its potential talent of the future. So what to do?

GenY's love to be constantly challenged, like any other generation, people like to find meaning in what they do but even more so with the younger generation. Gareth Jones suggested that one way to engage with potential talent is to give them a taste of leadership/responsibility early on, but with a safety net. Make sure you keep questioning these staff, take them out of their comfort zone, but assign someone more senior with experience to oversee what they are doing and provide guidance and honest feedback. If nothing else, don’t beat around the bush, let them know how they are doing, right or wrong, and you will find that they can quickly adapt and take on board what changes are needed.

Create a learning environment. Most companies recognise the importance of having a company university or at the very least a talent management programme in place which is great, but unless you make these facilities available and encourage younger staff they often will not use them. As well as up skilling them you will make them feel valued.

Make sure you have clearly identified who your brightest stars are, unless you know who to focus on, you might end up with them walking out the door. I once heard that this is Google’s philosophy. They don’t just know who in the market is the best at what they do, they know which schools and universities create the best talent, which lecturer or class has the best students and Google makes sure that they get to these people before anyone else does. It creates a competitive edge in knowing who you want on your team now and in the future.

It has been said that leaders need to be trustworthy and engaged with their staff. Nowhere is this more relevant than with the younger generation. As a leader, one would assume that you did not get there by chance and as such have valuable skills and experience that needs to be passed down to the future generation. Find time to engage and meet your talent. Gen Y don't completely appreciate or acknowledge traditional hierarchy, but they do identify with someone who they can aspire to be like or learn from.

I am going to finish this article with a few quotes taken from Dave Ulrich's and Gareth Jones' talk from last week:

Dave Ulrich asked:

Are we capturing their hearts, are we creating meaning? Are we building the next generation of leaders?

Ask yourself: Do I empower? Am I developing my employees?

Gareth Jones said:

Effective leadership excites people to exceptional performance. Everyone knows this, especially parents. Consider, does the leadership of your children’s school make a difference to performance? Yes, of course: teachers have a huge impact on children and their performance. Individuals make a difference, and as a leader you have to live the leadership brand as the leadership face of your organisation

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