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New Leadership For Generational Differences with Greg Zlevor
I’m super excited to talk with Greg Zlevor. Greg is the CEO, President and Founder of Westwood International, a consulting collaborative that’s reinventing and re-imagining what it means to lead wisely in a global age. Westwood’s signature of global-scale action learning programs and change management initiatives have energized the vision of global brands like Volvo, the Singapore Police Force, ConMed, General Electric, Cochlear, Boston College, J&J and many others. Greg has spearheaded three projects. The Leadership Project, a podcast that seeks to redefine workplace and leadership development. The Global Community for Leadership Innovation, a collaborative of global companies including J&J, Honeywell, MGM, and others that work together to discuss and explore new models of the best practices within leadership development. Finally, Leading Mindfully, a customized program that seeks to center employees and leaders in mindfulness practices so that they can better serve themselves, their teammates and their institutions. We’ve got a super powerhouse in the house with Greg.
Thank you, Penny. It’s great to be here with you.
I’m super excited to pick your brain. What I like about your introduction and I’d like to hear more about it is you’re not just talking about leadership, you’re talking about re-imagining. I had to relook at the word. What is that? Talking about re-imagining and changing the way and finding new ways to develop leaders. What’s brought you to that point to say, “We need something new in leadership,” and how did you get there?
There’s this collision course between technology and human interaction. It’s fascinating to me in that right now this generation that’s coming into the workforce, spends less time outdoors, less time in nature and spends less time interacting. Yet they’re coming in with greater expectations, with the need for more training and development, and with a need for more and better feedback. It’s ironic because what the generation of people in their 40s, 50s and 60s would be doing is giving feedback face-to-face. This generation is finding more and better ways to interact electronically but wanting more feedback. How are those going to come together? It’s fascinating to watch that collision take place between the generations. What we do and what I see my role is, is being a bridge between those two worlds. The re-imagining comes in, in terms of how do we make that happen?
Your main thing is because we have these different generations in the workplace and they think so differently and their needs are different. It’s how to interact with that as well as the technological aspect.
On top of that, the expectations of companies and enterprises are rising. The bar’s getting higher. It’s not enough for a company to put out a good product. That company has to more and more be sustainable. It has to be working to contribute to good within the world and also has to be creating an environment that is conducive to nurturing and growth in addition to productivity. People are joining the workforce and expecting in some respects almost what they used to get from their neighborhood or their church or their playground. They’re looking for a community, for a network, for best friends from the workplace. Because the old places where they used to have that, don’t exist anymore.
Maybe it’s because they’re spending more of their time in the workplace.
That could be true but what’s interesting is employees are expecting a lot more of those needs to be met in the workplace than they used to.
Leadership is more than just a concept; it is about habit change. Click To Tweet Is that from a study that was done because I would think that with Facebook and all these other communities outside of work that have been created, people are more and more involved in charities and different types of organizations. I would think that they’re getting a lot of their needs met in other areas. Not to say that they don’t have different needs for the organization but that was my thought. Is there some study that brings that to light?
Yes and no, and I’m making some connections here. As an example, this generation has more resources and more opportunity than any generation that’s existed. From both a medical perspective, a health perspective, from an entertainment perspective, from an educational perspective and from a network perspective. This generation has access to all of that in ways that people 20, 30 years ago never had. Yet, even though they have more resources, more connections and an opportunity for a greater network in education and talent development, they have the greatest number of issues from a mental health perspective. From a loneliness perspective and from a relationship struggle perspective than any generation in history since we’ve been tracking it. They’re seeking more of this connection. They’re seeking more feedback. They’re seeking more validation in the workplace and they’re doing it from a platform that’s more technologically-oriented. How do you do that?
Executives and leaders now, especially if they want to attract and retain incoming talent, it’s not enough to be clear about here’s our mission, here’s our vision, here are our goals and here’s our culture. That culture needs to up its game to be more interactive, to be more dialogic and to give more back. All of that is raising the bar for what a company needs to do and deliver. I’ve read an article and it’s crazy as this sounds to me and probably to a lot of people that there are some students or graduates who bring their parents to their job interview. There are some companies who are reaching out to parents, “Here’s what we’re going to do for your child. Here’s what we’re going to do for your students.” Even I am like, “I think that’s too far.”
It’s the whole, “Everybody gets a trophy.” There are different opinions on whether that is adding value or lacking certain developmental skills.
Here’s the other thing that I did read in terms of research, which I find fascinating is that my generation when it came to onboarding, and training when you started a company says, “It’s a check in the box. Let me do it and get it done.” This generation coming in wants it, expects it and yearns for it. They’re looking for ways to become more competent and more educated. There’s a real hunger. This generation gets a bad rep in some respects. You talked about the helicopter and taken care of and handholding. There’s part of that, but there’s also part of this group was the most talented group to ever come out. They’re looking to make a bigger difference in the world. They’re not just driven by money. Their values are more inclusive. All of these things are extremely positive.
It’s the opposite. They’re extremely responsible. They’re extremely talented and they’re going to ask for things that we may as an older generation say, “Just suck it.” First of all, I think that’s not the healthy approach. Second, I think it will be shirking our responsibility for raising our bar as well.
That’s what I was going to say is that they’re challenging the status quo so that we can raise the bar, so that we can be better companies. We can care more about the people, add more caring to the training and add more purpose to what the company stands for. The fact that they’re demanding that and that they want more feedback and that’s creating a culture where you don’t just have your annual review, but you need to have check-ins on a regular basis. That’s a good business. I’m sorry but I know companies who don’t have the time to even get to their annual reviews. People are disgruntled, unhappy and that’s why we have 70% of the workforce that’s disengaged. It’s what Gallup says. That’s why these changes are absolutely necessary.
If cultures in large companies and companies that have been around for a long time look at this generation and get inspired by them, pushed by them and embrace them, they’ll find themselves better off. Rather than fighting them or resisting it or trying to change this generation coming in. Rather than trying to change it, we’re better off being changed by it. To take those healthy values that they’re bringing, to adopt them and work with them.
That is leadership now. It brings us into that piece. You design and run different types of leadership programs for large organizations, midsize, and smaller organizations. How do you do that so that you can help these leaders? Whether they’ve been in leadership for a long time and they need to make a mindset shift or whether they’re young leaders coming up. How do you develop a program that helps them to reinvent their leadership?
One of my mentors, Jim Rohn, used to say, “You have to work harder on yourself than you do on your job.” The first place for real leaders to begin is themselves. We spend a fair amount of time and effort working on emotional intelligence, presence, mindfulness. If I gave you a paintbrush, whether I give you a cheap paint brush or a nice paintbrush, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know how to paint. Even if you know how to paint, if you don’t have the soul and the spirit in your painting, it lacks. In addition to helping people develop skills, we do the skill building as well. How to make a presentation, how to facilitate a group, how to run a meeting, how to help a group make a decision, how to deal with conflict, how to create a strategy, etc. We teach those skills but we teach them on top of people committing to working on themselves. As they develop those skills, those skills can multiply and impact because they personally are getting better.
The first place for real leaders to begin is themselves. Click To Tweet They will teach them to others because that’s part of that leadership. When they have the skills that they’ve developed, then they’re able to bring that down to their teams so that their teams have those skills.
If you learn something and you have a spirit of serving, caring, nurturing and helping, as soon as you get something that’s good, whether it’s a skill or an insight or idea, you share it with others. That’s part of this mindset or approach of seeing a cause bigger than yourself. That’s part of the foundation that when people start to establish and develop that habit and that mindset of coming from that place, they become more impactful. They can spread, they can become contagious in very positive ways.
I love that type of programming as well. I do some of that myself. I find that what people don’t recognize is the importance of that emotional intelligence as part of leadership. Our overall theme is to take back time. How do you see the emotional intelligence aspect of leadership helping leaders to take back time?
I see it in a lot of places. One, if leaders can learn to be more present, to have better focus and better observational skills, they will see what is happening sooner than others. They will be able to predict what’s going to happen in the future more accurately than others. They’ll be able to, hence, make clear decisions that pay off more often than others. Those skills come right from mindfulness. It comes right from presence.
Good decisions lead to more efficient and effective results.
You’ll see oftentimes how a lack of emotional intelligence or getting cooked will derail a lot of those processes. As an example, I was called in to do a program for a team. This company saw me speak and they came to me right after the talk and they said, “Everything you were talking about with regards to teams and productivity, we need. As a matter of fact, we have this one particular team that is stuck and can you come in and work with them?” I said, “Sure, when?” They’re like, “Monday.” I was like, “Monday, I hardly ever get next week.” It was an emergency so I went down there. I put together a three-day team building workshop. I show up Monday morning. I’m working with the team, taking them through different skills, how to run their meetings, how to have their conversations, etc.
I realized this team is pretty good. They’re pretty mature. They handle on this together. At the end of the day when I stopped, I said, “What’s going on here? I was brought in to help you be a better team but it looks like you have a lot of the skills you need to be a great team.” One person was brave enough to speak up and said, “It has nothing to do with us being a team or not a team. We’ve produced a solution that we’ve given to the executive team three times. Every single time the executive team has said no, but no one has come down here to explain why it’s wrong or why it doesn’t work or why it doesn’t fit. We’re not doing it again until they come down and talk to us.” It was fascinating to me because it’s a common pattern. If something isn’t working, let’s bring in new skills so that it can work.
A new tool or a new app or a new system.
What they don’t realize, it’s the foundational piece of emotional intelligence, being present, not turning away from a difficult issue, being able to have those conversations, and sorting things out. Our practice is all about let’s build the pieces that are most important. While we’re building the skills, we can have more and more impact with them. Skills are not a replacement, they are enhancements. As soon as people see them as enhancements versus replacements, they are oftentimes much better. Skills are not a replacement for low morale, difficult relationships or low productivity. The foundation is what we need to work on, the skills that will enhance whatever we have is a core.
I always talk about that. It’s the balance of the skills and the mindset. The mindset and the emotional intelligence is what we build off of. Every time we talk, I feel like I love everything that you say because it’s so powerful and it’s also not intuitive for people. An intuitive answer for them is to get a new skill, to get a new tool and to get a new system that’s going to fix it because we’re in that fix it mentality. When it really comes down to understanding ourselves and those soft skills and being better at communicating that are the fundamentals of any success. I know that you do multi-day programs. I would guess that it’s multi-day because you just scratched the surface if you’re only going to do a couple of hours or one day. If you want to get to the heart and the core, that’s why you need to do multi-days. A lot of companies are like, “We don’t have the time to do that.”
It’s fascinating. I love that line of, “We don’t have time to train people but we have time to fix all the mistakes.”
We have time to redo it over and over again.
Those companies who are committed and know the difference it can make, do the multi-day longer programs because they know it’s more than just a concept. It’s also about changing a habit. Second, if they can help not only an individual but a network change a habit, now you’re starting to influence the culture. If they can do it over a period of time, several different groups who develop a common language and begin to do it from a collective perspective, that culture begins to shift. I’ve worked in several companies where 10,000, 15,000, 20,000-person companies or functions or areas, that shift took two or three or four years. After a while of learning the language, of practicing the projects and getting on-board, people see it not only benefits themselves, it benefits their team and then ironically also benefits their family when they leave work.
We don't have time to train people but we have time to fix all the mistakes. Click To Tweet It’s everything and so they don’t give up. They don’t stop learning. They get committed through the process of growing and so it becomes contagious, but it takes time. Those companies understand it takes time where someone needs to be a part of a program and also get coaching and then also get feedback and help from their peers. Then they can take and cascade that into other parts of the organization. If they make that commitment, they will get the results. The ones who want to just learn new skills, don’t get it, won’t go deep and don’t see the full benefits that they could be getting.
They are not going to get those long-term results. Tell me why you’re doing this. You mentioned something about working with young people.
I started my career as a high school science teacher and football coach and I also worked at Boston College and John Stanford for several years. I spent now in the last years doing work in Corporate America, expanding the skills and needs that are needed for leadership. Seeing the way the planet is going, seeing the way our country is challenged, especially with the divisions and the divisiveness. We need leaders who have a vision and a focus and are strong enough to cross divides, cross differences and build something better. I’m fascinated by the number of conversations that I’ll be in our groups I’ll work with and they will try to figure out what side am I on. Am I red or blue or this or then? To me, we all have a side. How do we work together to move forward?
Taking these skills and giving them back to young people, people in college and people just out of college will be fantastically helpful, not only to them but to the planet. It would allow them to begin to develop the skills that they need to make the world a better place and to make their company a better place. Also ironically, it allows them to be more valuable in capitalism, in the marketplace. The goal is to become as valuable as possible. What I want to begin doing is taking all of these skills that we’ve been training executives on, that cost thousands and thousands of dollars and start giving it to young people, so they can develop these skills as early as possible, so they can make as much difference as possible. That’s my personal vision over the next several years.
If leaders can learn to be more present, they will see what is happening sooner than others. Click To Tweet Let’s tell our audience where they can reach you so that they can have you come in for a program for them or to talk to you further about what you’re doing.
The two best places to reach me are on LinkedIn. I follow LinkedIn quite regularly, every day if not every other day. It’s my name, Greg Zlevor. You can find me on the company website, which is WestwoodIntl.com. Those are the two best places to reach me. If you want to call the office phone, it’s (802) 253-1933.
Thank you so much for being here. I’m challenging the leaders to forge their pathway to leadership by understanding that it is the skills and the mindset that they need to see around the generations, around the different cultures and so forth in order to create new, more valuable and powerful organizations.
My pleasure. I love this work. Thank you for having me on and I look forward to hopefully talking sometime together in the future.
Thank you all for being here because without you, there would be no show. Thank you and do write down what you can take away and check out Greg and his materials and what he’s teaching. If you’re running an organization or you’re managing any leadership, bring him in to help your team to understand and develop themselves further and to bring your culture to a championship culture. Thank you all for being here. We’ll see you in the next episode.
- Westwood International
- The Leadership Project
- Leading Mindfully
- Greg Zlevor on LinkedIn