Leading the new generation

The third element of General Zinni’s Leadership Model is about the led (followers). He says that “The new leader must listen to, understand, and relate to the new led and to what it takes to make them productive, fulfilled, and motivated”

Frequently midlevel leaders are brilliant at impressing their bosses but utterly uninterested in impressing their subordinates. Listen to one former career diplomat: “The chain of command in any organization is like a tree full of monkeys.

If you look down from the top, you will see smiling faces. If you look up from the bottom you get a much different perspective.”

We have all encountered bootlickers like some of these midlevel leaders and bosses who allow themselves to be moved by the flattery and practiced persuasive skills that selectively shield them from the valuable input from below.

Though the leader may be blind to the performance of such sycophants, their peers and subordinates are all too aware of their inadequacies and over ambition.

Other failed leaders allow themselves to hear only what they want to hear. Or else their top aides tell them what they want to tell them, and in that way they control decisions.

These illnesses, Gen Zinni has observed, have cures: Instead of discreet or silence, subordinates are now evaluating leaders.

In today’s successful, cutting-edge organizations, the led are increasingly encouraged to speak up and pass judgment on their leaders and leaders are listening and shaping up for the better.

In cutting-edge organisations, leadership chains have also been increasingly flattened. Eliminating hierarchical layers makes the whole system more responsive and inclusive.

The payoff has been better organisations with better leaders who are answerable to all within the organisation.

Senior leaders, the retired General advises, should be wise enough to understand and appreciate the importance of both views of leadership, the one from the top of the tree as well as the one from the bottom.

The top and bottom of the tree place demands and obligations on senior leaders to understand both perspectives; ignoring either view risks failure of both the enterprise and its leadership. In other words, effective leadership has to be judged from the top down and the bottom up.

Gen. Zinni believes that in today’s changing world, there is no way you can ignore the view from the bottom even if you try to.

The new led will not let you. How many workplace leadership problems would occur if leaders knew that they were evaluated from the bottom as well as from the top?

Leaders today are leading a breed of subordinates never seen before.

These newly led belong to an entirely different generation. Some generations are characterised by the priority they place on material interests, some on their altruistic motivations, and some on their need for self-fulfillment.

They are formed and shaped in their adolescent years by the times, events, media, and other changing influences their predecessors did not experience.

Each generation that bounces on the scene challenges the leadership of previous generations, who find themselves trying to lead what they can only see as an alien group.

Values and attitudes differ, along with the symbols such as music, dress, and entertainment. These differences exacerbate the chasm between generations, and heighten the demand for leaders to better relate to the led.

How much have we adjusted our leadership approaches to better connect to each of these generations and to get the maximum from them?

How have we reconfigured the organisation, processes, and methods along the way to allow everyone to develop fully based on their differences from previous generations?

It seems that leaders have dictated the answers to these questions and based those answers on their own generational preferences.

Rather than approaching the standards and goals by relating to the needs and nature of the emerging generations, leaders have wanted to maintain proven standards that they sincerely believed in; they wanted to bend the new generations to be just like them.

This truth holds today as much as it ever has. Attempts to make new generations conform to the older generations’ ways of acting and thinking have always been a source of conflict.

Now we see successful leaders and enterprises adjusting to the new generation rather than trying to force them to adapt to the old ways.

They are capitalising on the uniqueness of the new led and leading them to the goals desired in ways they can relate to. And we believe it is working.

The led today are more knowledgeable and more assertive than the led have been in the past; and they have more to say to leaders, more influence, more expectations, and more needs.

More than ever before, the led have, and want, a say in judging the quality of leadership. Hotlines, attitudinal survey feedbacks, ombudsmen, and many other reporting mechanisms allow them to weigh in on leader’s performance with the view from the bottom of the tree.

In the past, the led avoided leadership and tried to stay anonymous.

The old military advice to never volunteer and never draw attention to yourself has long disappeared from barracks counsel and from the workplace. Today’s led seek out leadership; they have something to say to it and expectations they want fulfilled.

In simpler days, authority based on position was all it took to get work done.

Obedience, subservience, loyalty, and self-discipline were demanded and expected of the led. Scarcely any aspect of their lives did not depend on the leader.

If you didn’t like the leadership, your only option was revolt. Later, the relationship between managing leaders and the laboring led became more structured.

The laboring led were seen as functions, components parts in large, impersonal industrial process.

Today the relationship between leaders and led in successful organisations is, more often than not, close and fully participatory; almost unheard of in the past. Leaders listen to the led.

They attempt to get buy-in, commitment, partnerships, and a sense of co-ownership with the led. Leaders have to know what makes the led tick, what they want, why they do what they do, what defines them, what their aspirations are.

Only with answers to these questions can leaders create the productive and motivated teams that are the keys to success in today’s world.

We no longer build a leadership hierarchy in cutting edge modern organisations. Instead, we build leadership networks that make the business of leading institutionalized and multidimensional. Leadership is no longer only vertical, working from the top down.

It is distributed, pervasive, invited from all members, and instilled in the culture of successful enterprises. We now seek to build leadership organisations as opposed to organisations with leaders.

The new leadership now emerging increasingly does not appear as an individual and personal quality but as institutional quality.

We now talk of a leadership culture or organisation, meaning that the process of leading comes from multiple directions rather than just from the top.

You form a team with multiple skills that needs to be integrated. Each member “leads” from his area of expertise, with a common leadership focus and approach, and contributes to the decision making.

They may be one ultimate decision maker, one person who is ultimately responsible and accountable, but more sharing of of the input and more delegating of supporting decision making goes on.

Organisations now invest a lot in training and educating all members in leadership skills in order to build this common culture.

For new generations, this investment in their leadership development has great appeal. They are invited into the organisation’s process and thinking. They have a say.

Their views, judgment, and skills are appreciated and valued. Everyone buys in to leading the enterprise to success. And the new led are eager and ready to join in this shared leadership concept.

By Capt. Sam Addaih (Rtd.)

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