Inspired Leadership: The Key to Closing the Generation Gap. By Misti Burmeister
For years, leaders have been scratching their heads, wondering what to do with this new generation of high-maintenance workers – with their high expectations (and high productivity) and tendency to split after a year or so.
The good news for leaders is that attracting and retaining these critical younger workers doesn’t require a whole new bag of leadership skills, or even a treasure chest of perks. As an expert in leadership and generational diversity, I have spent nearly a decade touting the importance of understanding how generational differences impact the workplace. In that time, I have also worked with hundreds of world-class leaders who naturally attract hard-working, dedicated, loyal employees of all ages. Without any formal training on generational differences, these exceptional leaders manage to keep their teams engaged and inspired.
What’s their secret? They are brave enough to commit to authentic personal transformation in order to enrich the workplace (and world) around them. Here are three of their most effective strategies:
Know Your Vision
Challenges caused by generational differences are a symptom of a greater problem. When leaders set a clear vision, those generational differences disappear. Employees who know where the company is headed and why, and who understand the importance of their individual contributions, remain focused on the mission – rather than on competing or butting heads with each other. And they stick around longer. A recent Gallup poll shows that companies with unengaged, dissatisfied workers experience greater absenteeism, lower productivity and a 51-percent higher employee turnover rate.
A few years ago, I worked with a Fortune 50 communications company struggling to retain its workers, particularly the younger ones. With a 50-percent turnover rate among employees age 35 and younger, leaders needed to make some changes. I asked dozens of team members across the ranks, “What is your company’s vision?” The only common answer: To make more money.
The senior leaders thought this should be enough for their employees, who were, of course, getting paid. But money clearly wasn’t enough, or they wouldn’t have been calling me. Their employees needed an inspiring vision to work towards as a team. And their company did, after all, provide a service that allowed people to communicate with one another – an inspiring vision in and of itself. These leaders simply needed to clarify the vision, focus on it, communicate it and help employees see how they contributed. Over the next two years, they did just that. The result? A 90-percent increase in retention.
Know Your Team
Regardless of age, we all want plenty of opportunities to grow, feedback on our performance, and to feel like we’re part of a community. World-class leaders value their team members enough to spend time getting to know them, coaching and mentoring them, and showing immense appreciation for all their hard work. Naturally, there are many reasons an employee’s performance may be slipping. Rather than getting annoyed, world-class leaders get curious … and supportive.
Since Linda Cureton became chief information officer (CIO) of NASA, she has traveled constantly to ensure that her widely-dispersed team sees her face and hears her message. Instead of “walk-around leadership,” she has mastered “fly-around leadership.” Few government leaders are willing to travel more than absolutely necessary, but Cureton wants her whole team to feel heard, trusted and empowered, even though many of them didn’t trust in her abilities when she first took over the role. “To gain trust, sometimes you have to trust them,” she told me. “Put important projects in their hands, even if they flat out told you that you were the wrong person for the job.” In just one year as CIO, Cureton received a prestigious Federal 100 award for her transformative leadership.
Know How to Communicate Effectively
You will never hear a world-class leader say, “We aren’t reaching our goal, because they aren’t doing their jobs,” or “These kids today just don’t want to work hard.” Instead, you’ll see them spending time with their teams, listening and looking for new ways to communicate their vision – and appreciation.
Kim Russo, chief operating officer of George Washington University Hospital, understands this well. “Ultimately, high-quality, safe patient care is our number one priority,” she told me. “When our employees have the tools they need to do their jobs, and when they feel like they are my number one priority, our patients get the quality of service they deserve.”
It’s easy to spot world-class leaders. They walk with confidence; yet, they are incredibly approachable. They demand excellence; yet, they provide the support their teams need to succeed. And people want to work hard for them, because they feel cared about and trust in the possibilities their leaders set for the future.
Misti Burmeister, bestselling author of Hidden Heroes and From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across Generations, is a foremost authority on world-class leadership. http://www.inspirionllc.com