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Managing Millenials: The Gaps In Leadership with John Dame
I’m excited to be talking about leadership and the future of leadership. I am with the great John Dame. I love his slogan, “Making money and doing good.” He has a reputation for insightful evaluation planning and a passion for driving results. He’s grown his involvement with companies and organizations internationally. He helped these companies to take it to the next level. He has a fine-tuned understanding of the risks, the challenges and the opportunities that are facing both seasoned and emerging CEOs. His current focus has turned towards the role of purpose. He has a great newsletter and series around purpose, around the business environment and the new challenge of transitioning to a Millennial-based workforce and growing leadership teams within his client companies. Welcome, John.
Thanks, Penny. I’m glad to be here with you.
I have great respect with the way that you work with the companies that you work with and the realness of what you get into with them around leadership. How did you get passionate about working with leaders in this way?
Historically, I grew up in the broadcasting business. I owned and operated radio stations, for many years, most of my career. I started a network syndicating talk shows nationally. For the past several years, I’ve been working almost exclusively with CEOs. What I’ve seen is that people are generally good, CEOs included, even though there’s a bad rap in terms of how people view leaders in general because we don’t have a tremendous amount of great role models to look at. Unfortunately, at the top of the news, we have political leaders that are not the greatest models as well as even some of our higher level industry leaders who have been arrested or have a variety of things that have happened. The concept that I talked to people about is that leadership has to change. We should view our jobs differently and treat the human beings that we work with quite a bit differently.
That’s the premise that I’ve worked with. In doing that, what I’ve found is that the people that I work with, whether they’re the most senior leaders in an organization or emerging leaders, they’re looking for a way to be heard. It’s a way to communicate in a fashion that treats them as intelligent human beings that they are and also gives them a place to be safe. We don’t think about that too much. Even for executives, where can you go to talk about the stuff that’s important? Sometimes you can’t go home. Sometimes you don’t want to share that with your family or even with your best friends. What I tried to do in the environments that I work with is create a place where we can talk about what’s important to people in an atmosphere where they’re not afraid to be vulnerable and maybe expose a few of those warts they think they have.
I read a study that Google had done where they were picking apart what makes great teams. It took them a few years looking at all different constellations of teams. One of the key things that came out was that they needed to be an environment that they felt safe and respected. That’s an interesting word, safety.
If we think about leaders in the world that I grew up in, it was a command and control world. It worked well at the time because there were more people than there were jobs. In other words, when I was growing up in the business world, people stuck around and took a lot from their leaders because they had to. There were not that many opportunities. Nowadays, when you look at people and we all think it’s terrible, it’s a good thing. People are unwilling to be in an environment where it is not safe. This goes more than whatever you might say with the #MeToo organization. People like to be in a place where they have friends, where they feel there’s a little more meaning to their work than showing up and making a buck.
Nobody wants to go to work so their boss can drive a BMW. That’s not the case. People are looking to find an environment that allows them to come to work every day, feel like they’re making a difference. Humans are herd animals. We like to be around other humans for the most part. You want to be at a place where that is pleasant to do. Not in a place where it’s unpleasant to do. Sometimes we mistake business toughness and that can get you results. Those results were having a great organization. The people are looking for safe and collaborative environments. They want a boss that has a steady hand on the tiller. Somebody who doesn’t change every day. You don’t want to come in in a different direction every day. It drives people crazy when they do that. They want to have some say and some input into what’s going on. People want to have a vision. They want to have a strategy. They’d like to have goals, focus and all those things. Employees are looking for something slightly different.
Skills and strategy are not enough as a leader. Empathy, compassion, authenticity and all of that are the soft factors. They’re even more important now. I want to go back to the word, less tolerance. This is my perception, the experience that I’ve seen. I’m interested in your opinion on that. They know what they want. They want to have more of a say. They want to share and be more connected, purposeful and collaborative. They have little tolerance for, “If this environment doesn’t have it, I’m going somewhere else.”
It is part of the Millennial culture. Unlike a Boomer or Gen X who might be slightly different, Millennials have had an environment where there have been good job opportunities especially now where there are more jobs than there are people. They can choose to go and leave without another opportunity. There’s real flexibility and freedom to do that. It’s probably more in the culture of a Millennial to work to live so that they can enjoy their lives, get away and do things. The other fact is that Millennials work more than anybody else does because they spend more time online. They work from home more than anybody else. It’s a little different way that they want to work. They’d certainly like to have a flexible work environment.
Humans are herd animals. We like to be around other humans for the most part. Click To Tweet This tolerance is for everybody. Nobody would like to go work for a jerk. In the end, most people whether they’re 65 years old or 25 have a real aversion to somebody who is not a truth teller. That looks at people as horses that you can drive with the carrot on the stick. When we look at people in that manner, we lose the ability to optimize a relationship, which would then optimize the efficiency and the work habits of the organization. If this were easy to fix, people would be doing it right and left. Often, people think that as leaders it’s like, “Let’s have a Friday happy hour and beanbag chairs around,” and that’s enough.
I bring up that tolerance because I don’t mean it as a negative but as a positive in the context of it’s forcing changes. It forces and opens the eyes and empowers. Nobody wants to work for a jerk, an organization that doesn’t have integrity. It’s freed even Baby Boomers and other generations to look at it and be like, “We don’t want to work under those conditions either.” It is raising the bar for leaders to show up as leaders and not as that command and control but to stretch and improve their leadership. It’s a good thing.
You talked about the soft skills, a lot of times we place much emphasis on the technical aspects of the business that all of the things like Six Sigma, Lean, understanding budgeting, strategy and those components. What we have seen, at least in the observation that I would have and Gallup supports it is in the past 40 years there’s been little or no movement in the level of engagement. The level of engagement is people willing to go above and beyond the call of duty emotionally for an organization into it. That hasn’t changed in that level of engagement depending on the organization. Overall, the average has been about 30% of the people are engaged, which means that 70% of people are somewhat disengaged and might dispute that if you have an organization.
The truth is that for a lot of people, it’s a job. There’s nothing wrong with it being a job. The issue is that work is not meaningful to people. Therefore, they end up not being as attentive, as positive as they could be about it. Therefore, they don’t get as much done as they could. The data shows that a person who’s engaged does about 1.5 times the amount of work than somebody who’s disengaged. It doesn’t cost any more other than paying attention. It’s what I would call some total culture ecosystem that you need to think about to make that happen.
What are the key things for leaders who are looking to positively engage their people and create more meaning in the workplace? What are some strategies that they can put in place that you’ve seen successful?
These are not revelations. I do think number one is that if you start out as a leader and know yourself, understand who you are, why it is you’re doing the work that you’re doing, what your values are. You can translate those values into alignment with your organization. If you don’t run it, if you’re not the CEO, you might be interested in whether what you value aligns with what the organization values and what the purpose is for the organization. What you collectively see is that purpose. That starts out by looking at yourself and gaining some self-awareness that you would need to move forward as a leader. Often we look, “This is not seven steps.” It’s more of developing a way of being as a leader than seven steps to be a leader.
It starts with defining your purpose, understanding yourself a little bit better. If you look at the culture that you want to engender in your organization, that’s where you can look the organizational purpose and say, “Does that align with my purpose? How does that work for the people that work here? Why did they show up for work every day? What would give them greater meaning?” I don’t think this simply has to be, “We’re going to change the world together.” It could mean we want to work hard and have friends at work. There are things that are purposeful that are there.
I also think that leaders looking at themselves in a culture as a coach versus a manager is a big difference. In other words, if you’re an athlete, you have a coach. That coach can’t replace you in the athletic endeavor. What they can do is add some points to help you get better but you’ve got to do it on your own. People appreciate coaching and feedback loops that are both positive and reaffirming. It’s a funny thing when I’ve done strategic planning in an organization. I talked to people about how do they know when they’re doing a good job. They tell me it’s the absence of being yelled at. It’s positive. You laugh at that.
For many good reasons, they’re fearful of offering either too much positive or too much negative feedback. They don’t want to lose anybody. They don’t want to build them up too much. They don’t treat people like the adults that they are. Therefore, I believe they’re missing a key component in the way that they can develop a culture where people want to come to work every day. It’s also being clear about your values in the culture and around those values because sometimes values seem a little abstract to employees. Can you name the seven values? There are behaviors that you have to identify. What are those behaviors that would have the greatest and most positive impact on the organization that you want to reinforce and make that part of the overall culture too? Codify those so that you end up with a way to look at it.
A key strategy is to ask more quality questions, to be that coach. I don’t know if you’ve read Daniel Pink’s book, Drive. It’s a great book. He talks about autonomy. When people feel like they’re being told what to do versus giving them the flexibility and freedom within a question to be able to bring their creativity and their ideas and find the answer out themselves, it’s giving them a piece of autonomy that engages people.
A person who's engaged does about 1.5 times the amount of work than somebody who's disengaged. Click To Tweet Often that autonomy is taken away by people who want to do a good job and feel compelled to be the micro managers that are there. It’s not that they want to micromanage people. They’re worried about the outcome. It ends up feeling like a lack of trust, “You don’t trust me to do the work.” There are sometimes a lot of good ways to get something done. If we don’t allow people to grow and learn on their own, they’re not going to do it. Daniel Pink’s study validates that. In addition to that autonomy, that, “Don’t micromanage me,” he’s also talking about mastery there where people want to get better at what they do. The only way to get better is to give people increasingly more complex tasks to do over an extended period of time without oversight to see where the edges of their capability are. If you can do that, that’s good. The other thing that he talks about is the purpose. People connect with that. That was all ages. That wasn’t just young. Those three components are what motivates people. Certainly, there are iterations of that. What you brought up about Daniel Pink is great. It’s valid in the workplace.
I want to piggyback off what you said about the micromanager. The thing is we don’t know we’re doing it. I’m a recovering micromanager. I used to fall into that trap. It made me more stressed out and gave me more to do. I know that it comes back to the first thing that you talked about, which was self-awareness. It’s to ask yourself, “Are you coaching or are you micromanaging?” Getting a feel of that and being able to delegate to allow that autonomy is a big feedback point for leaders to see where they are and where their potential is for improvement.
The hardest thing about this too, if you think of a leader, and even understanding being more self-aware, is that there are few places where a leader can go and get unfiltered with the best intent feedback. In other words, it’s one thing to be candid. It’s another thing for you to be candid with somebody with the right heart. The goal is to help people get better, grow and learn from the circumstance. There are few environments where CEOs, owners of companies can go because people blow smoke up their behind so much, that work for them but they don’t get that. They have to go to other places. Whether it’s into a peer group like what I do with this stage or any other peer group that allows them to be more vulnerable and open to hearing about behaviors they have that may or may not be helping them become leaders.
There’s this CEO briefing, which is part of the magazine, had this question that came up. It said, “What’s the one behavior that your employees think that if you changed it would have the greatest impact on your organization?” Often, CEOs never get that. They never get to hear that as people are unwilling to be candid with them because they think they may lose their job. The person may want to hear it. There’s a sunflower bias where the CEO is talking to a group and says, “Here’s an idea I’d like you to think about. I want you to tell me everything you think is wrong with this idea.” After twenty minutes, the CEO goes, “I told you this is a great idea.” Everybody is afraid to tell him. There’s a big organizational design video that came out in the ‘70s about that called the Abilene Paradox. It looks at why we are afraid to respond when something happens that is difficult for us to counter. There are all sorts of things. Whether it’s people left at the altar that we’re afraid to say, “I don’t want to get married.” They go all the way to the altar and then they say, “I can’t do it,” or a boss that is trying to push something. They think they’re asking for unfiltered feedback. You do whatever you want to do.
What would be one last thing that is either on your heart that you see the most that you want to bring to people’s attention or a final tip that you’d like to give the audience around leading in this new world?
It’s a free offer. I put this concept, which is called the Lead with Purpose Leaders’ Pledge. It’s ten items. What it does is it sets the tone or maybe who you might like to be or looking at things that you might like to change or the paradigm that shifts. An example of this would be, in the past 40 years, we’ve looked at and paid executives in the event of a downturn in the business economy. The first thing that they do is they do cutbacks in people. No wonder people aren’t too loyal to companies because the first thing that happens is a cutback. What if we looked at things a little bit differently and said, “The first thing we’re going to do is everything but people,” because there’s no CEO that tells me that people aren’t his or her greatest assets.
What you need to do is to say, “How do we shift the paradigm to live so that we’re not given that lip service. How do then people get to know?” If you were working at an organization, you knew there was a downturn. The executives in charge did everything that they could, including reduced their salaries, took away their vacations, gave money to you to be able to stay. What would you think about that as an organization where you’d like to work and continue? Circumstances change over time and organizations go through bad moments and good moments.
That being said, I’ve heard people tell their stories about how they did that in difficult times, smaller organizations. They said they have employees for life.
That’s what you would find. If you want to talk about changing the way you lead and the perception, we’ve all been conditioned. When you think of the biggest companies, whatever it might happen to be, they fire 5,000 people. I’m sure the CEO doesn’t want to do that. On the other hand, that’s the way they get the money to continue to operate. If there was another way to do it, they made the mistake of hiring the people. They ought to own it a little bit more.
Run your big business like a small business. When I had my own IT business, my people got paid before I got paid. I know those big companies appreciate their people too. They’ll tell you that people are the biggest assets but not in the same way. It’s not giving up and seeing what they can sacrifice. Big businesses should run their business and be a leader as if it were a small business.
Becoming a leader starts with defining your purpose and understanding yourself a little bit better. Click To Tweet With the right heart, I go back to that because I think that ultimately if you believe in those human beings that you have working for and with you as being great and wanting to do a good job, then you approach them differently than you would as people that are lined up. You can change them at a moment’s notice. There’s always somebody better waiting in line that may or may not be true. I don’t believe that’s true. You have to find good people, treat them right, grow them up, help them become even more valuable assets for your company. Does this always pay off exactly right? No, but I think more often it will.
Thank you for that. That’s a good mindset thought for leaders to be thinking at a high level. What sacrifices are they willing to make with the right heart before people are being considered to be let go? That’s interesting under different difficult times. John, how can people get ahold of you, get onto also your newsletter and things like that, and get that pledge that you were talking about?
If you’d like to pick up the pledge, it’s free. You don’t have to sign up for anything. I don’t take your name. Go to JohnDame.com. You can download that. I have a Lead with Purpose Friday digest that you can get, which are a series of videos or thoughts about being a purposeful leader and that comes out every Friday. Once again, all I need is an email address. I don’t do anything with it other than send you that digest.
Thank you so much for sharing your years of experience. I appreciate you being here.
Thanks, Penny. I’m glad to do it.
Thank you all for being here and taking away a few nuggets on how you can be a better leader to create better performance and productivity for yourself as well as for your team. We’ll see you at the next show.
About John Dame
JD’s reputation for insightful evaluation, planning, and a passion for driving results have grown his involvement with companies and organizations internationally. He has a fine-tuned understanding of the risks, challenges, and opportunities facing both seasoned and emerging CEOs. His current focus has turned toward the role of purpose in the business environment, the new challenge of transitioning to a Millennial-based workforce, and growing leadership teams within his client companies.