Tomorrow is the start of three half day leadership workshops I’m leading in partnership with Oklahoma State University at the Oklahoma City Campus. It’s called the Leadership Series. My first four hour session covers the topic of Generational Leadership. The sessions are on Tuesday mornings for the next three weeks.
Generations work differently, think differently, and act differently. Let me just be upfront in saying that I detest generalizations. It’s like saying the HR people aren’t any fun. However, each generation is shaped by the events, trends, technology, and lifestyle norms they encountered each day. And it makes sense that these commonalities would effect a group of individuals in similar ways.
Two years ago, I spoke with a human resources professor casually at a networking event. We discussed the way in which HR was changing, and he told me that he was disillusioned with his current students. They didn’t value his time, their education, or the curriculum that he was presenting. The students spent time texting and surfing the internet on their computers and laptops, and if they were not able to attend a class, wanted to text him instead of pick up the phone. (How dare they!)
And in our conversation, I suggested that the key to a good leader is not just the information, curriculum, or facts presented but how you engage your audience and inspire them. These students (Known as Generation Y or Millenials) are our future HR professionals who are also the largest generational group to enter the workforce, 89 million strong. This group is used to technology demanding their attention. As children they multi-tasked completing homework assignments while traveling to their soccer practice by car while also listening to music. This is the way in which they had learned, was considered acceptable behavior by their parents, and how their growing minds were programmed.
As a leader, this professor has two choices — to continue teaching and leading his students the same way or to change his methods to suit the audience. The first option provides an already established outcome that we are aware. Disengagement by the students, the instructor, and frustration by the professor. The second is what I believe Generational Leadership is about. By changing your approach to engage the students through different channels like the internet, video, and even texting messaging and you have their attention. They learn best in the environment in which they are most comfortable with. And at the moment in which you have their attention and interest, you are better able to discuss when them as a leader your communication preferences preferring a phone call versus text. By establishing a line of communication that engages you audience, you are able to learn just as much about them as they learn from you. A partnership is established where opinions are valued instead of rules bestowed.
That in my mind is Generational Leadership. It’s a place where both parties flourish, where an old dog learns new tricks, and the different generations focus on the task at hand.
And if that professor left our conversation with any actionable nuggets is unclear, but I have a hunch if he did, it wasn’t much. He asked me about halfway through the conversation how old in fact I was. My answer surprised him. I could tell by the look on his face. “How old are you?” I asked. “I’ll tell you if you tell me first.”