Posted by: dstieglitz | March 31, 2014

Crowd-Sourced Leadership

Sid, a division president with 30 years in the firm, described an enlightening experience: “During a meeting one of my 20-somethings – who was invited only to learn – injected a new idea during tense negotiations with a strategic supplier. At first I was angry because his participation was unexpected and, frankly, unwanted. But the supplier loved the idea. Later, I realized the idea was very creative. It let us conclude negotiations and secure a long-term contract.” In the world where Sid grew up, concealing information demonstrated power, and creativity was top management’s job. Even though Sid succeeded in that environment, the meeting with the supplier changed his thinking: “Now, before each critical meeting I hold a brainstorming session with people at several levels. I challenge them to bridge generational gaps and break down silos by leveraging each other’s experience and knowledge.”

     Crowd-Sourced Vision.  In the past, the workplace blended three generations – the old, middle-aged, and young – in a hierarchical structure. Similarly, today has the Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) with colleagues from Generation-X (born 1965-1983) and the Millennial generation (born 1984-2002). But those generations have a wider spread in work ethics and technological skills. Organizations must seek common ground in a shared vision, a picture of the future that offers an enticing role to each person. The younger generations expect to have substantial input to a crowd-sourced vision, a concept that is unfamiliar to older executives especially those in government.

     Leadership at All Levels. Organizations that are bonded by a shared vision don’t operate with leadership solely at senior levels. Instead, leadership springs from the vision itself – objectives that everyone commits to wholeheartedly. The vision flourishes despite retirements, virtual office arrangements, and other changes in how people manage careers. The changing of the guard has as much to do with the Baby Boomers’ evolving priorities as with the teamwork of Gen-Xers and lofty expectations of Millennials. Organizations that cultivate a shared vision will thrive because they attract and retain the best and brightest from all three generations.

     Age Inversions – Who Changes? The shift toward workers reporting to younger managers raises several issues. It is ineffective for Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers to push Millennials to work like they work. Similarly, Millennials must get over their umbrage at being called the ADHD generation and become effective in inter-generational communications. Despite their reputation as wanderers, when Millennials find an organization that offers rewarding work and growth, they participate actively and stay. Actually, Millennials are just asking for things that everybody wants. They don’t want to work 40 years and then enjoy life – they want satisfaction from the work they do today.

   Making Diversity Work. Making multi-generational diversity work (and other kinds too) is crucial to success in this globally-connected world. It’s not diversity itself that matters. Rather it’s how you lead a diverse workforce to achieve their goals. There is no cookie-cutter approach – few practices work equally well in the U.S., Europe, China and, say, Brazil. Yet, diversity must be at the core of every business strategy because diversity in the customer base is expanding as rapidly as it is in the workforce. When you look around the table at your next meeting, you’re likely to see colleagues from multiple generations as well as various races, religions, physical abilities, and sexual orientations. You and your team must embrace that diversity in order to develop and deliver products and services that remain in high demand – your future success depends on it.

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