Monday, August 29, 2016

Millennial Management in a Baby Boomer world.

This is the second in a series on management styles as they pertain to Millennials.

“Change agent” and “work-life blend” have become nomenclature de rigeur regarding a generation of current employees percolating up through the bases of organizational structures in public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Their hallmarks: overabundant utilization of new technologies, a desire for purpose driven work, and breaking down the entrenched hierarchies of business culture.


If you read that opening statement and considered this not the first time you’ve heard a generation fantasize about reforming their work environment to find a higher purpose, improving office protocols and efficiency through space-aged technology, congratulations! These are modalities inherited from their parents. The flower children and Volkswagen van touring generation birthed a new generation just the same. There is even a movement of 20 - 30 somethings to travel in tricked out, wifi enabled late model vans living the digital nomad lifestyle. The new American Dream includes a life of liberty on the open road according to a new Vice article by David Jagneaux.


However, where the whole of writing on the topic has gone completely awry is in the estimation of Generation Y’s taste for hierarchical work structures. Millennials are quite comfortable and entirely amenable to working inside of these sorts of structures - as long as they were the ones who imputed the structure. Such is the idea behind so much of the post-classroom work in which TFA is involved, as well as NLC, StudentsFirstNY, and a variety of other parallel organizations whose prime objectives are fundraising, and pipe-lining their alumni into key positions in the current political and business structures.

This is the hidden curriculum of the next generation 'leadership training' forums presently in vogue. The ideals behind flattening existing organizational structures and eliminating traditional pathways to leadership positions is to leapfrog trained, experienced, well-rounded - and, admittedly, a bit more seasoned, - individuals already in the leadership pipeline, displacing them entirely. But we have seen this insidiousness in prior versions of both world history, and popular fiction: Joffrey Baratheon, Jiao Long; in myths and legends - Phaeton, Patroclus, and in current business arenas.

Augmented reality. Photo courtesy of Design Boom
With the advent of the all-seeing, all-knowing interweb, IoT, Augmented Reality, and literally the power of the universe in the palm of their hands, now more than ever the generation needs guidance on why it is that they are performing the mechanical operations they’ve learned for their junior roles via YouTube channels.


Upending hierarchies
Photo by @dorania_luo
Fast-tracking untrained, inexperienced individuals into leadership positions is not a successful, long term sustainability plan for any of the three sectors. Thoughtful, reflective, purposeful leadership requires experience, learning, training, certification and degrees. It requires having had mentors so that as a leader they can in turn mentor the next generation. It requires a philosophical basis upon which the leader's daily actions and interactions are founded, and not one that is regurgitated in sound bites that make excellent five second Vines or catchy t-shirts devoid of historical context. We have seen this movie before and it always has a bad ending, always requiring the appropriately trained, highly experienced, and usually, a previously selected leadership figure to arrive and rid the kingdom of its ills (Game of Thrones has not yet arrived at this juncture.)

To quote Ryan and Robert Quinn from Harvard Business Review: Change Management and Leadership Development have to Mesh. This is a crucial concept for, as the saying goes amongst Navy SEALS: "Under pressure...you don't rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training. That's why we train so hard." Millennials, in order to be effective, will have to get the very thing that they lack - experience. Here I should echo the sentiments of a recent Forbes article: “Trying To Manage Millennials? Give Up And Lead Them Instead.” They will need leadership in terms of purpose, leadership in terms of habits of mind, leadership in terms of succession planning, and leadership in terms of critical thought. America will have to come to terms with the idea that the mentoring, instruction, and planning will have to be done by a generation older and more trained than the Millenials. The alternative is that while inexperienced, untrained 'leaders' are busy sinking to their level of training, the whole of the organizations around them will sink as well.

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