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Alicia Blain

Archive for January, 2011

As a female executive who had a 30 year corporate career, one of my passions is to help younger women navigate the corporate maze & advance their careers. As a result, I mentor & work with many Gen Y & Gen X corporate women. This week I want to focus on one of the biggest sources of frustration that I hear from Gen Y women as they enter the workplace. This is a continuation of one of my blog’s last week where I highlighted the corporate likes & dislikes of Gen Yers. In many cases, the areas of frustration for Gen Y women stem from the 3 dislikes highlighted in that blog.

One of the complaints I get a lot from Gen Y corporate women is the lack of mentorship or guidance they receive on the job.  This is a very real problem that especially affects Gen Yers.  After years of observing Gen Yers in and out of the workplace, I know that they have received a lot of guidance and support from their Baby Boomer parents and teachers.  Quite legitimately, Gen Yers have almost come to expect that guidance from the older and more experienced people with whom they come into contact. When you arrive at your corporate job, you believe that your boss will be that coach or mentor to you & will help ease you into this new corporate world.  Although all Gen Yers are surprised & shocked when this does not happen, Gen Y women particularly are bothered by it.

So here’s the insider secret about mentoring:

  1. Not their “Yob”: From experience, I can tell you that  being a manager or a leader is not synonymous with being a mentor. In fact, I hate to break it to you but you may even find your boss not to be a very effective manager or leader. Don’t be surprised if you work for someone who is not a good mentor & not a very effective boss. The reason is that corporation’s put people in managerial/leadership positions for many different reasons & rarely is the reason that the person is a good manager or mentor.  Corporations exist to make money and that is one of the key drivers in how they run their business.  The managers & leaders that they have in place know that & that is where they spend their time & effort. Why? Because that’s what’s going to get them a raise, a good bonus, that next promotion.  Mentoring or guiding their staff is not part of that equation. It’s not their job.  If it were, then everyone would be happy with their bosses and the workplace wouldn’t be filled with so many unhappy & disengaged employees. So get that out of your head right now.  Don’t expect your boss to be a mentor.  If you are lucky to land a good boss that is a good mentor, count your lucky stars & stay with him or her as long as you possibly can.
  2. It’s Up to You.  Since you can’t expect your boss to be your mentor, you have to find one yourself.  The good news is that every corporation has good managers & leaders among the ineffective ones.  One of the key ingredients that makes a good manager/leader is his or her interest & involvement in mentoring. Your job is to find one of them.  What I tell the women I coach is that you need to observe your workplace closely because it will give you the signs of who are the good mentors.  So listen, observe & ask people who have been there for a few years who they think the good leaders/mentors are & why. It won’t take long for you to get a short list.  From this list, you are going to pick your mentor.  For those of you who work in companies that offer mentorship programs with senior managers, you may have already been assigned a mentor that may or may not be on that short list.  If they are not & you have the option of switching to another mentor without creating an awkward situation with your existing mentor then do so. If it would create a problem or if your company does not have a mentoring program, then here are some tips for picking a mentor.
  • Closely observe the people on your short list.  You want to make sure you & the mentor you select resonate well together.  Take every opportunity to talk to the people on your short list whenever possible. Talk to people that work for them, get a sense of what they like & don’t like, their particular style.  Watch them in meetings or in the cafeteria.  
  • How are they perceived by senior management? Equally important when picking someone from your short list is how this person is perceived by the top brass in your organization.  The more clout & credibility & stature they have, the better for you in the long run.  An insider secret is that sometimes there are good leaders & managers in the company that may not play the ”game” that their higher ups are playing.  Although you can still learn an awful lot from these people & they will help you navigate the maze,  the fact that they are not on the inside can hurt you as you try to move up the ranks.
  • Don’t overlook male mentors.  Another misconception that young women have is that the more senior women in their organizations will automatically be willing to mentor them.  Nothing could be furthest from the truth.  Actually, there are  female executives who are not good mentors.  Women that have reached senior positions within corporations have done so at great sacrifice, working harder than their male counterparts only to earn less than men doing the same job.  It hasn’t been an easy climb for them & women that reach those positions don’t always feel they have an obligation to help those that come after them.  If they worked their hearts out to get there they think you should, too.  You want to stay away from this type person if she is on your short list.  There are many men who over the years have learned to appreciate the value that women bring to the workplace &  make great mentors.  Some of them have wives who are executives & daughters aspiring to have corporate careers so they are sympathetic & open to mentoring younger women.
  • Prioritize your short list with the mentor you most want at the top.
  • Approach that mentor & pitch yourself to them.  Executives or senior managers (myself included) are always flattered when a young person asks them for guidance.  Before you approach the mentor, you may also want to let your boss know that you may be seeking an outside mentor just to see how he/she feels about that. This will depend a lot on the corporate culture & your personal relationship with your boss. In the conversation,  you can compliment your boss & say that in certain cases, you would feel more comfortable getting feedback from someone outside the team. When you speak with your mentor, the goal is not to burden them with more work but to ask if you could perhaps have lunch with them once or twice a month & ask their advice or get their feedback.  It’s important here that you never trash your boss to the mentor.  In fact, you would say quite the opposite or if you really can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.  
  • Accept the person’s response even if it’s a no.  You may get a no from the executive or  manager you approach.  They may or may not tell you why.  Chances are they may be too busy to help you.  Don’t take it personally.  Move to the next person on your list & do the same thing.  Now, if you approach the top 3 or 4  mentors on your list & they all say no,you may want to stop searching.  There are probably other reasons at play that you are not privy to that makes mentoring you not an option to these executives. Again, never take it personally.  There are organizations out there that don’t have mentoring as part of the culture.
  • Find a mentor outside the company.  I always tell young women to join local associations in their line of work.  From the beginning of your corporate career, you should be networking & getting to know people in other companies in your field or even outside your field.  There are senior executives & managers from other companies that are members of these associations & they are a great mentoring resource for you. Apply the same techniques as I described above &  this time you will find a good mentor.  Sometimes an outside mentor provides better insight & opportunities than those found inside your own company.
  • Keep it positive & career focused.  Please remember that it truly is  a small world out there.  Never talk bad about your company or your boss because you don’t know if this outside mentor is connected to your company in any way.  Also, try to keep the conversation centered on career advice & not around the inner workings of your company or anything than can be perceived as confidential corporate information about your company.

In upcoming blogs, we’ll get into some other areas of frustration that Gen Y corporate women have raised & some tips to help solve the problem.

In the meantime, what have you done in your company to find a good mentor?  Any techniques or advice that you can provide young women as they navigate the maze? We’re all ears…

I love slang.  Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always liked keeping up with the latest lingo. Our daily conversations are usually rich in slang.  I think all Baby Boomers like slang because we grew up with such a rich selection of slang words & many of them have become part of our daily lexicon.

Well believe it or not, Gen Yers also have their own slang.  Actually, theirs is probably richer than ours because it contains a whole new language that they invented which is what they use for texting.  These are abbreviations of words that make it simpler to write when texting.  I think everyone who has been texting has used these code words because they are short & to the point.  Codes like LOL, LOTFL, B4, etc.

When I used to shadow my Gen Y staff, one of the things I enjoyed the  most was to hear them talk amongst themselves & utilize their slang.  At first, it was if they were speaking gibberish but with time, I got to understand it & know what the words meant.  The Millennial slang words often are derived from the world of Hip/Hop very  much like the way our slang came out of Jazz &  Motown. These are words invented in street corners that sound cool & go viral quickly.  Many of them stick & become part of our everyday language & cross all socio-economic groups.

As you can imagine, as new words are introduced & become part of our daily conversation, they get added to all the English dictionaries such as Oxford Dictionary of English, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.  In the January/February issue of the AARP Bulletin, Betsy Towner highlights 50 of the latest slang additions in her Power of 50 series.  Although I have provided a link to the publication you may have to register to look through the magazine but the list is worth it.  The Power of 50 always appears on the last page of the magazine.

Here are some of the slang words that made it to the dictionary:

  1. Automagically.  I love that word.  My Gen Yers used to say that a lot at work when they were asked to do something without instructions on how to get it done.
  2. Chillax.  Another good one although by now it’s been around for a while.  Combination of slang word Chill plus Relax gets you Chillax.
  3. Frenemy. A friend who you fight with a lot.
  4. Tweet.  Self-explanatory by now.
  5. Pimp.  Think of the reality show “Pimp my Ride”.  It means to make something flashy or showy
  6. Staycation. This has become popular these last couple of years as the recession has made its dent on the economy.  You hear it mentioned a lot on radio stations.  It means taking a vacation & staying home.

These are my favorites but there are 44 more in the article.  Share the list with your Gen Yers & watch them roll their eyes & tell you they already know them. They’ll probably tell you the words are old & no longer cool.  But it’s a fun way to connect with them & let them showcase their lingo just like we did with ours when we were their age.

Happy Friday, everybody

As I talk to Gen Yers across the country about their corporate experiences – the good, bad & ugly – the same things keep coming up in the conversations.  It doesn’t matter if I talk to someone who works for a Fortune 500, Fortune 1000, a major hospital or international law firm.It doesn’t matter if they are female or male, white, black or Asian.  Gen Yers clearly see that there’s value in working in a corporate structure but they are also torn by some of the more frustrating things they witness as well. 

In a nutshell, the top 3 things Gen  Yers appear to like & dislike about corporate America are:

The Likes

  • Opportunities to move around the company & learn new functions
  • Company benefits especially in the area of tuition reimbursement & perks
  • Flexibility in getting work done (e.g., working from home, etc.)

The Dislikes

  • Lack of clarity on what they need to do to get to their next career level
  • Lack of direction in how to perform their job – a sink or swim mentality
  • Managers & leaders who are distant & removed & don’t mentor them.

Overall, I hear a lot more dislikes than I do likes but I think that if I were to interview anyone in corporate of any age I would get the same thing.  What I find interesting & different about Gen Yers is that they want to find what works for them sooner rather than later.  Time & time again, Gen Yers share stories of how their parents (aka Baby Boomers) have stayed in corporate jobs even though they’ve been miserable there.  They’ve seen how responsibilities have weighed heavily on their parents forcing them to stay in miserable corporate jobs until they are stuck & can’t leave.  They’ve seen firsthand how their parents have traded hours for dollars and have become wage slaves.

Gen Yers realize they too can get stuck if they are not careful and so they are choosing their next steps very carefully.  Most of the Gen Yers I speak to don’t have any plans to work very long for a corporation.  Many are planning & testing the entrepreneurial waters in their spare time.  Others are planning to work for smaller corporations where the hierarchy is not as steep & as layered.  Still others are joining their Baby Boomer parents in starting a new business. Those are the ones I was the most fascinated with.

When I ask them what percentage of their friends are unhappy working in a corporate environment, the average is high & over 60%.  Although people may be surprised at that number, anyone who has worked any amount of time in corporate knows that percentage to be accurate across all age groups.  I would venture to say that it’s higher for Baby Boomers.

Despite the fact that most leaders think Gen Yers are not loyal, I found that not to be the case.  Time and again, I heard Gen Yers say that the reason they stayed with their company was because the company had been good to them & they appreciated it.  The reasons they cited for their appreciation was usually one of the 3 listed in the Likes section.  The one referenced most often was the second – tuition reimbursement. 

My conversations with Gen Yers are unsettling to me because they clearly are committed to their job &  they want to do what is expected of them to move forward but often they are lost & don’t know what exactly is expected of them.  The lack of clarity, transparency & direction is making them get discouraged & they don’t know where to turn for help.  Instead of fighting an uphill battle and risking getting stuck like their parents, many are opting to try something different rather than accept the status quo.

I admire their conviction & tenacity & applaud their desire to find something better.  So many of us as Baby Boomers didn’t do that and as we get to the end of our corporate careers are filled with regret in not having done so.

My only question is: what is going to happen to the caliber of talent that stays in corporate if the best & most talented opt to leave because the dislikes clearly outweigh the likes?  Gen Yers are very open about how they feel & what they think about things.  The only thing they need is for someone in corporate to listen.  Are you listening?

The great thing about people knowing about my interest in Gen Y is that they always send me anything they come across that relates to the generation.  A colleague of mine recently sent me this video below of a TED talk in Australia.  You all know how I love TED and TEDx and often encourage leaders to use some of the great TED footage to spark interesting conversations & ideas within their teams.

This particular TED talk is given by a Gen Yer called Rachel Botsman.  Rachel has been fascinated by the topic of collaboration which as a Gen Yer doesn’t surprise me.  But in particular, she is looking at the trends that are evolving related to collaboration and consumption which she is calling collaborative consumption.  It’s a fascinating look at some of the ways that technology is radically shaping the 21st Century in ways we can’t even fathom. 

According to Rachel, her generation is not as interested as Baby Boomers in owning “stuff”.  They are  more interested in the experience that the “stuff” provides.  She gives many examples of what she means.  Here’s a simple one:  a DVD.  In the past, people were focused on buying a DVD so they could have a copy of their favorite movie or show to watch as their convenience.  Today, young people are more interested in the experience the DVD provides them than actually owning the DVD itself.  In fact, they’d prefer not to own it at all and just have access when needed.

Watch the video & see what I mean:

To me, this is another great example of how Gen Yers are wired & how differently they see things when compared to Baby Boomers. What they value, how they think, even how they come up with ideas is totally distinctive.  I’ve seen this firsthand as I have observed Gen Yers intently over these past 8 years.  This is one of the major reasons I work with corporate leaders to get them to understand that trying to mold Gen Yers into the existing corporate structure is a big mistake.  The leaders and organizations that do that are leaving money & talent on the table.  

All the societal, technological, & global forces that came together to shape the lives of Gen Yers from a very early age manifest themselves in how differently they see the world & in how they think.  Trying to make them conform to a corporate structure that was created in a past that is very different than what we face today is a recipe for failure.  More importantly, we are not serving these next generation leaders. We are not helping to prepare them to be effective leaders in a world that resembles what they are used to much more than what we are used to as Baby Boomers.  Because we are not always comfortable in their world, we often choose to ignore it and stick to what is comfortable to us. But is that fair to Gen Y?  How do we ensure the leadership of corporations in the 21st Century is the best it can be if we don’t challenge our leadership comfort zones and pay attention to the next generation?

In addition to being our future leaders, Gen Yers will be a huge consumer force when they all reach adulthood.  We are just seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of how their unique experiences will shape their interest in all types of products in the future – from gadgets, to clothes to cars.  The sooner we as leaders learn to appreciate their unique perspectives as employees currently working in our organizations today, the sooner we will get to understand them as consumers & be prepared to meet their needs in the future. 

So what are you doing today to leverage the unique mindset of the Millennials in your team?  What are you doing to unleash creative ideas that can lead to innovation down the line?  Remember the future will look more like the world the Millennials have grown up in than the one you are comfortable in.  It might be a good idea to start to C.A.R.E. about what that Gen Yworld looks like.

By now people know that I use this post to take a look back in time & appreciate where we’ve come from & how far we’ve come.  Someone sent me this link to a site that honors the past.  In fact, the site thinks the past is a blast.  So for all Veterans, Baby Boomers & even early Gen Xers, there is a page on the site that relives our growing up years.  I enjoyed reading it and know you will too.  It’s called “We are Awesome” .  How apropos, right?

It’s a great walk down memory lane, especially our childhood years.  Share it with your Millennial kids & grandkids to really shock them.  They’ll think you really did live in the stone age.

Enjoy & happy Friday, everybody!

Being a left brain type of person, I always struggle with the more touchy feely or intangible aspects of life.  Topics like the law of attraction or self-help or some of the personal growth stuff doesn’t always make sense to me but yet I know that keeping a positive mindset & envisioning a certain outcome are powerful things to practice.  For example, I think the book,” Think & Grow Rich”  by Napoleon Hill is a great book and although written decades ago, its principles still make a lot of sense today.

One of my goals for 2011 is to embrace one or two things that are outside my comfort zone.  So I picked personal growth/prosperity thinking as one of the two uncomfortable things I would work on this year.  I started listening to Randy Gage, who is a well known speaker who focuses on prosperity & ridding people of self-limiting beliefs.  I picked Randy because he lives in South Florida and I’ve heard him speak many times.  He’s a bit controversial & unorthodox in his approach & I happen to  like that because controversy always challenges your thinking which I think is good.

So like many speakers today, Randy has a You Tube channel where he shares his ideas, his rants & beliefs on prosperity.  His latest video gave me a lot to think about & I thought the idea applied to those leading & managing teams in corporate America today. Randy starts out the video by asking a powerful question: 

                         ” What would you do  if you knew you could not fail?

Interesting question, right?  But even more interesting are the possibilities that it offers if you apply it in a work setting.  One of the things that I see happening a lot in the corporate world is that people play small.  Everyone plays it safe because there’s so much fear of failing or looking bad or not making your target to get that bonus at the end of the year.  When I talk to companies & ask about what they are doing to innovate, many times even those ideas are rooted in safety.  One of the key reasons I think this happens is that leaders in organizations today are afraid to fail & they bleed that fear into their teams in subtle ways. 

 Time and time again, I have seen team members, those on the front lines, come up with great ideas.  When they try pitching the idea to their bosses,  the little “yea-but”  beasty rears his ugly head & squashes the idea.   Everyone who has worked in corporate is familiar with the “yea-but” beasty.  As soon as the beasty hears of an idea that’s outside of the norm, that is even slightly risky, he quickly invades the body of one of the decision makers and the conversation goes something like this: ” YEA, Sally, that’s a great idea BUT what’s the ROI on that?” or ” YEA, Bob, that’s a great idea BUT where are you going to get the money to fund it?” or my personal favorite “YEA, Nick, that’s a great idea BUT we don’t have any time to work on that right now?”  As if there was a “good time” to experiment & try out new ideas. The beasty wins again & the company misses out on a great opportunity to explore something that might lead to a new profitable product, new revenue stream, a new & more efficient process.

The “Yea-But” beasty works on our inherent discomfort to try new things because we are afraid to fail and corporate entities suffer from that as well except they make up good excuses to cover it up.    These days, I think the beasty is working full time on keeping leaders from recognizing the amazing talent that is sitting right under their nose in their Gen Y staff.  As I travel internationally to speak on the topic of Gen Yers & leadership, I hear the beasty all the time.  Leaders still believe that the Gen Yers will ultimately succumb to the way corporations have been managed since the 20th Century.  My response to that is simple “  Why would we want that”?  Anyone who has worked in corporate knows that there are a lot of things that could use a little fixing, a little overhaul, a little 21st Century upgrade.  So why don’t we merge the unique talents that Millennials bring to the workplace with our corporate experience & brainpower to create something better?  That could be risky & most of all it would require some work.  I can hear the beasty now…

But what about if we took a baby step every day to remove failure from the equation?  What if, like Randy Gage says, we carried out our leadership responsibilities as if we couldn’t fail?  What if we set a goal to experiment with one new idea or concept this year?  Imagine the boost of confidence you’d give your team?  The creative juices would wake up & the possibilities to develop a new product line, a new revenue stream, a new software tool could make all the difference to your bottom line.  But you’ll never know as long as the beasty is allowed to flourish.

When I struggled to understand & accept Millennials in my team years ago, the beasty was in full force & I, too, held on to the leadership principles that I had used for years.  At first, the beasty was winning big time but then slowly, with every uncomfortable baby step I took,  I got stronger & I fought the beasty back.  It was a great feeling to remove failure from my leadership equation & forge ahead with new ideas & experiments that produced bottom line results.   I was able to conquer the beasty and so can you.

So how about it?  What will you do today to fight the “Yea But” Beasty?  What will you do this week to remove failure from the equation?  What can you do if you knew you could not fail?  All it takes is a baby step…

Isn’t that a great question?  Well I didn’t think of it myself.  I heard it from one of today’s leadership gurus – Mr. John C. Maxwell.  I was in my car Saturday morning heading off to attend a workshop & as I do when I’m in my car, I slipped in an educational CD.  Driving is a great time for me  to absorb information because I am ususally by myself & can give the person talking on the CD my full attention.  It also helps me focus on something other than the horrific traffic that seems to plague South Florida 24/7.

This particular CD was from one of my favorite monthly series. It was the December edition of Success Magazine’s wonderful complimentary ( yes, it’s free!) CD hosted by its publisher, Darren Hardy.  I’ve raved about Success Magazine & their CDs before so I’ll refrain from gushing again.  In every one of their CDs, there’s a segment with John C. Maxwell where he shares his leadership insights. In December’s CD, Mr. Maxwell was talking about how important it was for people to start or initiate something in order to be successful. He then went on to explain all the reasons why it was important to get going on something. The first place he recommended we start was with ourselves. According to him, starting with yourself gives you experience, confidence, integrity and influence.

It was when he was describing how starting helps you gain experience that he caught my attention with the analogy of leaders being either travel agents or tour guides.  What a great analogy.  I perked up right away.  Basically, Mr. Maxwell explained that travel agents typically send you places they’ve never been themselves.  They arm you with brochures and maps and other information to get you ready for your trip. But tour guides do something else.  They take you by the hand & show you where they’ve been.  That enriches your experience because they have the inside track & can share little known secrets about the location you are visiting that makes it special.

The concept of being a travel agent vs. a tour guide leader resonated with me because of what I see happening in corporate America these days as it relates to our newest entrants, the Millennials.  I think many leaders would say that they are trying to be the tour guide for this new generation of workers but that Millennials are refusing to listen to the advice they, as leaders, have garnered from years of corporate experience.  It is true that the many years of working for a corporation is certainly valuable and leaders should be tour guides by all means.  But what happens if, as a tour guide, you haven’t visited a particular destination in years?

Although you may still know your way around & are still familiar with the old landmarks, etc., there may be new things that have sprung up in that location that you don’t know or aren’t familiar with – new restaurants, new neighborhoods, etc.   For tour guides to be effective & relevant to their customers, they need to stay current with what’s going on in the destinations they are experts in.  If not , they run the risk of becoming more like travel agents as time passes.  So it would appear that a pre-requisite for someone to continue being a relevant tour guide would be for them to keep up to date with the destinations & the clients they serve, to be frequent travelers themselves so they don’t lose touch with the latest trends & happenings in the destinations for which they provide tour services.

The same applies to leadership.  Although those of us with years of corporate management experience can be great tour guides, we can only be so if we stay relevant to the employees we are leading today and not just those that we led yesterday.  Many things have taken place in the young lives of Millennials that make them very unfamiliar to us as employees & as people.  They grew up very differently than most of us did & that impacts how they perceive work, the world & those around them.  If we don’t understand & accept this unfamilarity, we won’t be very good tour guides because just like the destination tour guides,  our skills & knowledge will become outdated. That puts us at a disadvantage and could make us irrelevant to our ”customer base”, the Millennials.

On the other hand, if we let them,  Millennials can be our  tour guides into the world of work in the 21st Century.  I’ve said many times that the future will look more like what Millennials are used to than what we are used to as current corporate leaders. That means we need to get to know them better, figure them out, live in their world & harness the goldmine that is waiting to be found.  If we are  not careful, our status as tour guides can quickly downgrade to that of a travel agent.  That would not be a good thing at this critical juncture.  Millennials need our guidance & direction.  We just need to provide it in ways that are meaningful to them and not just to us.

In my C.A.R.E. Sytem of Leadership,  I show leaders how to maintain their tour guide status in these changing times so that they are not downgraded to travel agent.  I show them how to shadow Millennials to see how they think & work, how to break down silos by bringing Millennials from different teams to collaborate together, how to leverage Millennials’ social media & tech savviness for strategic advantage.   I show leaders how to get comfortable being uncomfortable and experimenting with new techniques & practices.  As leaders, it is imperative that we make adjustments to our way of leading & thinking to stay relevant to the workforce of the 21st Century.

So what about you?  What are you doing today to maintain your tour guide status?  Are you at risk of becoming a travel agent?

Sometimes you take a look at something and you can’t help but say “You’ve come a long way, baby!” That’s what I said recently when I saw the slideshow that Benj Edwards put together on CIO Magazine titled “A brief history of computer displays“.  They go way back in time to the 1940′s to show the various computer interfaces that have been used over the years.  Seeing some of the displays has brought back many memories of working back in the day.

Three of the displays, in particular, caught my eye.  The first one were the early mainframe computers.  In the 3rd or 4th slide , they show a mainframe computer & a keypunch next to it.  Believe it or not, we used to have a keypunch machine in our apartment in Astoria, NY in the early 1960′s.  Why you might ask?  Well, my dad was a computer programmar.  He was one of those people who saw early on how computers could change the world & he wanted to be a part of it.  He was working as a computer programmer at the time for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Hospital.  Back in the day, it was just called Memorial Hospital. He was given a fairly high profile project which was to move all the billing for Memorial Hospital onto the new IBM mainframes at the time.  Millions of dollars on the line – no pressure! 

My dad worked day & night on this project and luckily for him, he had a perfect assistant to help him get the project out.  The assistant was my mom.  As it turns out, my  mom was a keypunch operator & was able to key in all the code my dad was creating for the project.  My dad had a keypunch machine brought in from work to our apartment.  I remember stacks of keypunch cards that my mom fed into the key punch machine that would make these markings as she typed on a keyboard.  I remember a drum where she would wrap a special card with special instructions for a particular run.  I remember  the loud sound that keypunch machine made when my mom entered the information and the cards started to get punched.  I also remember how fast my mom was entering the information that looked like gibberish.  Well, after a lot of hard work & testing, my dad’s project was a huge success.  So huge, that the head of Memorial Hospital personally congratulated him on the great work.  As a matter of personal pride, my dad’s billing system was so effective & so good that Memorial Hospital kept the system for many, many years. Such a smarty, my dad was!

The second display that caught my eye was the dumb terminal.  Believe it or not, that is what I worked on when I first started working at Citicorp after college.  The mainframe guys would have us enter & test stuff on those clunky terminals.  All this information would get entered & then we would have to go to the computer room, ask a computer operator that worked on the other side of a glass window to get us a computer printout of what we had just entered.  I remember the printouts were in that lined computer paper & even back then I remember thinking how  much paper we were wasting. Those dumb terminals were the only semblance of technology allowed for us, the mere “users”.  Otherwise, we had pen & paper.  No PCs until the mid 1980′s f0r us.

The 3rd display that caught my eye was the teletype.  Another unbelievable tid bit.  Again going back to my early corporate days in Citicorp,  every month the monthly financials were sent to the corporate office by our accounting people via a telex machine.  Yes, you read that right – a telex machine.  Someone would sit there for hours, typing away on this telex that would spew little holes on a long, narrow piece of paper.  When that narrow piece of paper was passed through a special machine, you would see words begin to get typed on triple part paper.  You would actually see your month end financials printed on the paper.  One of the copies would be sent to corporate as a backup to what they already send via telex.  Because you see, those holes being created by the machine – the telex itself –  was updating the mainframe somewhere in one of Citicorp’s data centers.  The accounting folks would keep the second part of the triple part paper & I forget who got the third.  This was in the early 80′s. 

When you look through this slideshow, try to think back & picture where you worked & what was going on in your life when those displays were in their heyday.  As I did that, I have to say it brought back some great memories, especially the one about my dad.   Who knows what great memories it will bring back for  you.

Why don’t you share the slides with your Millennial kids & tell them stories of you back in the day.  They will probably be shocked to see what technology looked like but I’m sure they will appreciate what they have today.  I know I do.

Happy Friday, everybody!

In my blogs I always try to highlight great examples of Millennials doing good & being Millennials.  Last week, I came across a blog on Fast Company written by Simon Mainwaring titled:  “Using Social Media to Mobilize Millennials“.  In the blog, Simon talks about two projects that take a unique & highly Millennial spin on an existing practice.  That practice is social causes & our need as humans to give back and help others less fortunate.

The names of the 2 projects are Pando Projects & Loudsauce.  The first puts the Millennial brainpower to help young people that have an idea for a business but need help putting the business plan together.   Each project gets a website, promotional fundraising & volunteer management tools to kickstart the project.  The project is still a pilot but it shows the power of social media as people support projects based on the personal tie they have with that particular cause.  If you look at the 15 pilot projects, it clearly shows the interest that Gen Y has for causes and making the world a better place.  I particularly loved the projects that also had a multi-cultural component to them as it shows how the future of the US will be more ethnically and racially diverse than ever before.

The second project shows the incredible market savviness that Millennials possess.  Loudsauce lists a series of campaigns for causes & based on your preference you donate money to fund advertising for that cause on TV or billboards & then you spread the word using social media such as Facebook & Twitter.

What struck me in both examples is the creativity they display by leveraging 2 of the 5 unique skills & traits that Millennials bring to any situation.  The 2 skills are their collaboration or crowd sourcing approach to things & their use of technology. I believe Millennials are extremely lucky to be living in a time where technology provides access to so much that was not available in just a few years past.  The way they use technology & harness it is unique to them & extremely powerful.  On top of that, Millennials are natural collaborators.  I’ve shown many examples in my blogs of Millennials coming together to get things done.  They are wired to do it &  because it’s natural to them, they harness that collectivity in ways prior generations can’t begin to fathom.   

I agree with Simon on his take of the future. The unique skills of the  Millennials layered on top of their affinity to get involved in social causes, layered on top of the technology available to help them do that will make them the  ”founders of companies and industry leaders that will transform the products, services and role of brands in near future”.

But where will that leave corporations?  For the first time, we have a generation of smart, collaborative young people who, at an age where other generations were forced to look for corporate jobs to get experience, have an option to start their own companies & use the collective brainpower of their peers to help them succeed.  As corporate leaders continue to rely on outdated principles & techniques that hinder their ability to see the goldmine in their Gen Y staff,  they may decide to opt out of corporate and start their own companies. 

They have the  technology, the social media & the brainpower of their fellow Gen Yers to provide them with the acumen & funding they need to start & grow their own businesses.  That combination has never been available to other generations.  Can corporations compete against that especially as so many Millennials are getting disillusioned by corporate & its leaders on a daily basis?  What kind of talent will be available to corporations?  Will the best Gen Y talent be willing to put up with all the hassles of corporate or decide to try their luck & start their own companies & bring on other bright & motivated Millennials?Will corporate be left with a mediocre talent pool going forward or will they be able to attract, retain & leverage the best of Gen Y?

Interesting questions that will be addressed at time goes on.  If you want to be that corporate leader that can attract & retain top talent, you better start now  First step, let go of the status quo, of your comfort zone & get uncomfortable.  Let go of outdated styles & techniques that blind you to the potential that Millennials bring.  Ignite experimentation in your group & make that connection with your young workforce.    That will give you a good head start.  Remember leading successfully in the 21st Century requires leaders to C.A.R.E. – Connect, Adapt, Reshape & Experiment to keep the best talent engaged & commited. 

Are you doing that today?

Last week I was at a client site for a meeting.  My client was running a bit late and her assistant asked me to wait in one of several conference rooms on the floor.  As I was busy getting ready for the meeting, taking out my laptop, connecting it to the projector, etc,  I became aware of a booming voice.  At first, I didn’t pay much attention to it but after a while, I couldn’t help but listen to what it was saying.  Now in most corporate conference rooms I’ve been in, you can sometimes hear what’s going on in the next room especially if people are laughing or applauding or like in this case, when someone has a particular voice pitch that carries through the walls.  As I focused on the voice, I could see through the glass mirror of the conference room that there was a meeting being held in the conference room adjacent to mine & that the door had been left opened.  That explained why I could clearly hear the booming voice.

With nothing to do but wait for my client, I began to pay attention to what the booming voice was saying.  Within 5 minutes, I was appalled at what I heard.  The booming voice was on a tirade.  He was clearly disappointed with the 10 people who were in the conference room and was letting them know it. But it was how he was doing it that disturbed me.  He was using inappropriate language, was banging his fist on the table & using such words to describe the team as “morons”, “useless”, “unreliable”, “lazy”!  All in one paragraph.  You could tell that he was working himself into a full blown rage and as he was doing that I had a front row seat to watch what the reaction of his team was. It wasn’t pretty.

You could see disgust written on all their faces. Most of them had their heads bowed & were looking down at their hands, or at the table. They were so uncomfortable that it was palpable.  Finally, one of the meeting attendees looked up & saw me across the hall & rolled his eyes.  I smiled at him in support.  I took the opportunity that I had his attention & gestured to him that perhaps he should close the door.  I didn’t feel it was appropriate for that man to display that type of behavior to his team for the whole world to hear. Interestingly, the young man looked back at me and shook his head no. His face was almost defiant. I realized by his reaction that he wanted people to hear the tirade.  My guess is that he wanted someone in a position of authority to hear & see this man’s behavior & hopefully do something about it. Before I knew it, the booming voice was dismissing the team & saying ” Get outta here. I’m disgusted with all of you”.  That’s an exact quote.

As people shuffled out in silence, the young man who had caught my attention made an “L” shape with his forefinger & thumb & put it on his forehead signifying that he felt the booming voice was a loser. A couple of his teammates nearby saw him do it & started giggling as they passed by & I could see one of them mouthing the words “What a jerk” as the others continued to giggle.  The booming voice stayed in the conference room answering his cell phone & I could hear him berating whoever was on the other line. This man clearly was a jerk.

Just then my client walks in & closes the door.  As she is closing it, she can hear the booming voice talking loud & using offensive language.  With the door closed, she rolls her eyes & says ” there goes Steve again ranting & raving about something. He’s such a brilliant man but he’s not a real people person & he can’t seem to get good people to stay in his team”.  “I wonder why??” I said to myself.  I learned from my client that Steve, the booming voice, was the Vice President of Marketing & had close ties to the CEO & had been with the company almost 20 years.

That explained a lot.  Unfortunately, as far as I was concerned, his team was doomed.  Being buddies with the CEO was job security – it was one of the 4 poor leadership trends I’ve blogged about that is so prevalent in corporate. My client explained that the booming voice was constantly badgering the Human Resources group about the lack of good talent they were getting.  Instead of recognizing that he was the problem, it was easier for the booming voice to blame it on HR & the talent pool.  Very sad.

As I witnessed this horrible but not uncommon example of leadership, I remember an interview I heard in my January edition of Success Magazine’s complimentary CD.  In the CD, Darren Hardy, the publisher of Success Magazine was interviewing Shawn Achor, author of the book titled “The Happiness Advantage“ .  In the interview, Shawn explained to Darren how important it was for people & especially leaders to have & disseminate a positive outlook on their teams.  He went over 7 practical and what I think are actionable steps that we can all take at work and at home to reap the benefits of happiness.  You see, Shawn’s extensive research has shown that happiness fuels success, not the other way around.  Most of us think that when we succeed at something, we’ll be happy.  Well, that’s not what the research shows & I know that my own hands-on experience leading teams backs up what Shawn’s research shows.

In over 25 years of leading teams, I have seen a direct correlation between people’s happiness  & effectiveness & how I’ve treated them as a leader.  To be totally honest & transparent, there have been times in my career where I have exhibited behavior similar to the booming voice although never quite that bad.  The result of that negative & inappropriate behavior was more of the same – more of what I didn’t want.  As I changed my behavior & realized that staying positive in a bad situation produced ideas & solutions rather than resentment & disengagement, I was able to get the results I wanted & more importantly, I was able to quantify that success against the failure that had been displayed with my less than positive reaction. Even more importantly than all of that, I realized that my team was more upbeat, more engaged & creative. They also stayed with me for years & my retention rate was pretty high compared to my fellow peers.

As leaders, it is critical for us to know how our actions & behaviors affect our team.  Negativity & bullying only get you high turnover, a very unhappy team & subpar solutions. In my C.A.R.E. System of Leadership, one of the key components I stress is the R for Reshape.  We need to constantly be reshaping & re-evaluating our leadership style & principles to ensure we don’t fall into bad habits that are hard to break.  Even though no team member likes being approached from a negative perspective, it is particularly difficult & offensive to our younger workers who have come from a very supportive network of teachers & parents.  While other generations might tolerate it, Gen Yers find it difficult to do so.  As you saw from the reaction of the young man who caught my attention, he wanted the inappropriate behavior of his boss to be on display.  I’m sure his hope was that it would not be tolerated.

As this new year begins to unfold, let us all keep in mind that there is an advantage to be positive and happy.  Although the day to day may sometimes challenge that philosophy, it is up to us as leaders to embrace it & share it with our team.  Igniting happiness & positivity in your team will get you to reap the rewards & success you are looking for. The opposite just labels you a loser & a jerk.

So what about you? Have you used happiness to your advantage lately?