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Alicia Blain

C.A.R.E. System of Leadership


Quote:  “You can’t lead without imagination”  ~  Seth Godin in Tribes: We Need YOU to Lead Us

Imagination is seriously lacking in today’s corporate environment.  We are knee deep in a status quo that no longer serves us and that in many ways, makes us mediocre.  To change that, we need to spark imagination in all our employees.  But first, we must spark it in ourselves as team leaders. To create the spark you need to embrace experimentation.  I’m not talking about creating a department or a committee to look into experimentation.  I mean changing the way you lead your team so that experimentation is always encouraged and rewarded.  When an idea doesn’t work out, it isn’t perceived as failure but as a learning experience that enriches the team and the lesson learned can be utilized to fuel the next experiment.

Experimentation is the final but core concept in the C.A.R.E. System.  It is what ties it all together. In these posts, I have showcased Starbucks and its CIO to illustrate the key principles behind the C.A.R.E. System.  At the very core of Gillett’s success was his innate acceptance or need to experiment. None of the examples would have been possible if Gillett had not embraced experimentation. Let’s recap all the ways he experimented:

  • When he took on more responsibility in the face of daunting IT problems that needed resolution
  • When he went to work at a Starbucks retail store, not knowing what he’d find or how he would do,
  • When he showed the Executive team a live simulation highlighting the shortcomings of their existing POS system
  • When he proposed the new business unit called Digital Ventures,
  • When he chose an entrepreneur to run the new business unit,
  • When he made IT and Marketing equally responsible for the new business unit
  • When he asked employees for their ideas on making IT better,
  • When he let employees select their IT devices,
  • When he applied his knowledge of networks to help spark solutions in Starbuck’s retail business.

All of these examples illustrate that Gillett was open to experimentation. He may not have been comfortable with all of it but he chose not to play it safe.  At some level, he understood that taking risks was critical to Starbuck’s survival and he, as well as his CEO, faced the challenge and came out ahead.  I’m sure that there were ideas that didn’t work out.  In fact, the article highlights one. Apparently, Gillett is a big gamer or lover of video games. Actually,  he’s a guild master in the online video game called World of Warcraft.  That’s a pretty big deal in the gaming community. Instead of playing down that passion, he  set up a meeting between the executive teams of Starbucks and Blizzard, the owners of World of Warcraft so they could look into the possibility of doing business together.  After all, both companies had a huge fan base and Starbucks needed to find ways to engage customers online the way that Blizzard did. 

At the end, the experiment did not end up in a partnership.  But all was not lost.  The experiment sparked new ideas among the Starbucks executives that led to new offerings for their customers.  Embracing a spirit of experimentation almost always sparks the imagination and that leads to more possibilities for innovation.

For companies to be relevant in the future they must make experimentation a core objective for all departments.  It needs to be nurtured, rewarded and imbedded into the corporate culture.  More importantly, it is a pivotal component if we are to transform the way we lead.  Millennials will make up 50% of the global workforce in less than 5 years.  As leaders preparing to pass the baton to the next generation leaders, I believe it is our obligation to embrace change and find new ways to lead.

So you may be wondering what happened to Ben and his direct reports? As I dissected the Starbucks case study, Ben was able to see real world examples of C.A.R.E. in action.  It sparked their curiosity and an eagerness to try new approaches in their organization as Gillett tried to do in his.  Ben, as CIO, made a very important decision that day.  He chose not to play it safe.  He realized the future required new ways of seeing things and new ways of leading.  The Millennials were their new audience not just as employees but as customers. He realized that if transformation was going to happen, it needed to include the Millennials in the workplace.  And he was ready.

I’ll end this series by quoting Seth Godin one last time.  In Tribes: We Need YOU to Lead Us, Seth writes:

“The safer you play your plans for the future, the riskier it actually is.”

My questions to you are:  How safe are you playing your role as leader? What one thing can you do today to get you slightly uncomfortable? What one thing can you do to get to know a Millennial in your workplace? 

Like me, you’ll find that staying in your comfort zone as a leader is actually riskier than embracing a little discomfort to prepare for the future. Once you step out of your comfort zone and see all the possibilities that it offers, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner…

Quote: “ I don’t think we have any choice.  I think we have an obligation to change the rules, to raise the bar, to play a different game.”   ~ Seth Godin in Tribes: We Need YOU to Lead Us

Connecting with our employees and customers and adapting our mindset gets us ready to play a different game.  But you also need action and to do that you have to be willing to RESHAPE your organization.  To Reshape is the third module in the C.A.R.E. System. To visualize just how you can begin to do that, let’s go to our Starbucks example.

Again, Here’s the link to the Information Week article.

Here are 3 examples of actionable steps that Gillett took to reshape his IT team and their reputation.

1.     He forced collaboration between teams.  In the C.A.R.E. System for Next Generation Leadership, we call this “Letting go of Silos”.  Silos are rampant across corporate America and they are innovation and motivation killers for most employees but especially Millennials.  One of the key Millennial characteristics is their collaborative spirit.  They work best in groups and the more you mix up the group the better. Imagine their surprise when they show up for work and see that business units barely interact with one another and they certainly don’t share and collaborate very much. In his pitch for a new business unit, Gillett forced the collaboration of the IT and Marketing teams.  Talk about silos that don’t normally have much in common.  The new unit was called Digital Ventures and Gillett hired an entrepreneur to run it instead of a corporate type. Now that’s playing a different game.

 2.     He let the employees choose their technology and propose new ideas. At a time when so many IT shops are still fighting the consumerization of IT here is a company that allows their employees to select from a wide assortment of technology, from Macs to PCs to smartphones to get work done. To be completely fair, the article did say that Starbucks modeled their Tech Café after the Apple Store. That brings up a good point.  We should always be scouting the market for techniques that work for others and how they can be customized for our specific organizations.  What I liked the most was that they welcomed feedback from the employees on all things concerning IT.  In the C.A.R.E. System, we call that IT Advocacy.  Millennials are the first generation of workers that actually want more technology than what currently exists in the workplace.  No matter what team they work for, they can be invaluable to an IT Dept.  But IT has to take the first step and request their help and then be open to the suggestions given. As IT Advocates, Millennials can be a wonderful test group for any new product, process, or upgrade that the IT Department is considering. If done properly, IT Advocates can be a great extension of the IT Department.  As IT partners, they also create a great fan base for IT in the company.

3.     Applying expertise from an unrelated field to solve a different problem.  Gillett had little retail experience before working at Starbucks and according to the article he had never worked on the scale of a Starbucks.  But he had worked for companies with big networks like Yahoo. Instead of disregarding that experience, he leveraged it to understand the retail giant and apply that seemingly unrelated experience at Starbucks.  Gillett is quoted in the article as saying:  “[…] big Internet, like Yahoo, had solved a lot of the technical challenges that big retail had yet to solve… If you think of all your stores like nodes on a network, and all your resisters as computers rather than cash registers, you can start to manage and deploy […] like Yahoo would a server farm […]”   Many examples exist in business of how breakthrough ideas and products are discovered when a solution that worked in a completely unrelated field is applied to solve a different problem.

 Sometimes, organizations are too narrow-minded in how they view and value experience.  Perhaps an employee in your team has expertise in solving problems in another field that can be the breakthrough idea you need to solve a problem.  You’ll never leverage that unrelated expertise if you don’t know about it or you don’t support it or you don’t find an outlet to try it out.  Experimentation is the subject of our last post in the series and a pivotal one for transformation to occur.

Quote: “What they needed was a leader to bring the organization to a new audience in a new way.”       ~ Seth Godin in Tribes: We Need YOU to Lead Us.

If you’re not quite sure why Millennials are an organization’s “new audience”, I invite you to read through some of my past blogs to get a thorough understanding of this unfamiliar group.  As leaders, we won’t be able to really reach that new audience unless we are willing to create a new way or at the very least question our existing way to see if it will work going forward.

That’s why it’s so important for us to ADAPT and find a new way so our next generation employees are engaged and productive in our teams.  ADAPT is the second module of the C.A.R.E. System for Next Generation Leadership and it’s an important one because it has to do with a leader’s state of mind. ADAPT is all about mindset and getting comfortable testing your boundaries.

So what specific things can we do to ADAPT our leadership style?  Let’s look at the Starbucks case study for ideas.  As the new CIO, Gillett embraced 3 things that got him out of his comfort zone and ready to ADAPT and find a new way to lead his IT team.

Again, Here’s the link to the Information Week article.

1.     He was curious and courageous. The article quotes Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz as saying that Gillett “had an insatiable curiosity and wasn’t afraid of pursing big, bold ideas.” Curiosity and courage are key components of the C.A.R.E. System.  To change and adapt to a new way of doing things and of leading is not easy.  You are fighting yourself and those in the organization that want to keep the status quo alive.  Without being inherently curious, asking lots of “why do we do it that way” questions and being willing to fight the good fight, it is very difficult to ADAPT and give your new audience – the Millennials – a new way.

 2.    He asked for even more responsibility.  In early 2009, Gillett has been in Starbucks for just one year and realizes he inherited what can only be termed an IT nightmare. At the same time, Starbuck’s new CEO, Howard Schultz,asks the company executives to give him ideas on how to turn the company around. He urges them to think outside their corporate functions. Does Gillett ignore his boss’ request because he legitimately reasons he already has too much on his plate? No. He goes ahead and pitches an idea for Starbucks to make a venture capital investment in a new business unit designed to push the company’s mobile and online strategy.  That was a gutsy move.  Instead of sticking to what he knew and focusing on just that, Gillett saw a rare opportunity to be part of a transformation at Starbucks.  It required him to take on more than he probably could chew at that time. He got out of his comfort zone and adapted his mindset to take on a strategic challenge and he succeeded. According to the article, since creating the new venture “Starbucks has become a retail leader in mobile payments”. By stretching yourself and getting uncomfortable you push yourself to try new things.  Like a muscle, the more you use it, the more comfortable you become letting go of your status quo.

 3.   He instilled an entrepreneurial spirit into IT.  That’s very rare to see.  IT departments in most large organizations these days are all about following the rules, often playing it safe, and saying a lot of NO in the interest of “security”.  In the next post, we will see examples of what Gillett did that went against these typical IT practices.  The examples were possible because he elected to run IT not so much as a corporate business unit but rather as an entrepreneurial venture. They opened themselves up to try new things.  The focus was to address the needs of its customers – both inside and outside the corporate walls. That ultimately showcased IT as an enabler instead of  a cop.

 In today’s super competitive, global marketplace,  organizations that don’t want to fall behind need to be run by leaders that are open to adapting their frame of mind and leadership frameworks to make way for the future. They need to ADAPT and find new ways for their new audience – the Millennials.

Quote“ If you’re not  uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it’s almost certain you’re not reaching your potential as a leader”  ~ Seth Godin in Tribes: We Need YOU to Lead Us

Being uncomfortable is how transformation begins.  When I first started hiring Millennials, I didn’t want to change.  The more they perplexed me, the more I dug my heels in my comfort zone.  It wasn’t until I decided to understand why they perplexed me that the transformation in my leadership style took place and led to the creation of the C.A.R.E. System for Next Generation Leadership. That led to first seeing the potential Millennials brought to the workplace then tapping it then capitalizing on it.

The first step in doing that is to CONNECT.   Many of us who cut our management teeth in the 20th Century approach leadership like this:  I, leader, have a certain leadership style that you, employee, will need to get comfortable with.  It is not my responsibility to figure you out or adapt my style to meet your needs.  You need to conform to my style and work effectively under that style. 

Really?  Do we really want to lead that way?  Does it work for us?  If we were honest with ourselves, we would admit that working for a boss that took the time to know us and spend quality time with us are the ones we liked working for and worked the hardest for.  Now more than ever, making a special connection with each of our employees is not only critical but expected.  The more removed we are from our staff, the less effective they will be and that will reflect back to us.  We also minimize our message and our vision.  We need that direct connection to our teams to spread our message and communicate our goals.

So how can you begin to CONNECT?   Let’s look at the Starbucks case study for real world examples. Here’s the link to the Information Week article. 

As the new CIO for Starbucks, one of the first things Stephen Gillett did was connect with the people in the trenches and with Starbuck’s customers.  How did he do that? He shadowed them by actually working in one of the retail stores. This is one of the key components in the C.A.R.E. System.   As a leader you need to spend time with your target audience whether it’s your employees or your customers.  It’s important for 3 reasons:

  1.  You see firsthand how employees work.  You can observe their thinking process as they complete their tasks.  How is that thought process unique and can you leverage it in other areas or functions in your team?  You also see how they do their tasks.  Are there shortcuts that they are taking and are unaware of that help speed up the work? Can those shortcuts be applied in other areas of your operation? Or perhaps they are missing important steps that require more training?  Is there duplication of work that you were not aware of?  No report or spreadsheet analysis will give you that kind of intelligence.
  2. You see if the process works or doesn’t.  In the case of Gillett, as he worked at a Starbucks store, he quickly realized that the point-of –sale (POS) system was broken.  Even though the Starbucks brass knew the limitations of the system they were more focused on growth strategies and opening stores.  They didn’t realize that the limitations of the POS were contributing to problems in opening new stores.
  3. You are able to make better and more intelligent decisions when prioritizing projects based on your firsthand experiences in the trenches.

If shadowing is effective downstream – working directly with your employees and/or customers, it is equally effective upstream – with your executive team.  After spending time shadowing downstream at a Starbucks store, Gillett decided to bring the same experience upstream, to the executive team. He created a Tech Derby which is really a live simulation of a problem showing the pain points and a proposed solution to the problem. The simulation acted as a shadowing opportunity. Through a large-screen display, the executive team, including the CEO, Howard Schultz, shadowed a barista painfully placing an order in the outdated POS system.  They got to see not just hear about how much time was wasted as the baristas had to translate orders so the POS system could capture them. Then, through a mock up of the proposed replacement system, the executive team was able to shadow the new process to see how much faster and more effective it was. 

According to the article, “When they showed both to Schultz, ‘he just turned around and said, When? And whatever you’re going to tell me, it has to be faster’”.  That’s how effective shadowing is and how powerful the concept of Connecting is to introduce change.

Imagine how connecting with your Millennials or others in your team can give you a bird’s eye view to what’s going on in the trenches.  Imagine how many things you’ll be able to discover, uncover and identify that can be game changers to your team and ultimately your organization.  The days when leaders could run teams by just interacting with their direct reports without a strong connection to their team members are disappearing quickly.  The opportunity for innovation and real transformation lie with the ideas and creativity of those closest to the problems your team faces every day.  You need to connect with them to tap and harness that creativity and find innovative solutions.

What examples do you have that illustrate how you CONNECT with your employees?

Recently, I was conducting a workshop with Ben, the CIO of a mid-size company and his direct reports. The CIO was having trouble holding on to his young workforce.  More than that, he really couldn’t figure them out. He brought me so I could help them understand, engage and retain Millennials, those pesky 20-somethings that are now coming into the workplace in droves. Ben’s situation wasn’t unusual. Millennials in the workplace  and what to do with them is a very hot topic these days and a real pain point for CIOs and other leaders.

In the meeting, shared my personal “Millennial” journey as a Senior VP of IT in a Fortune 500 company and how I went from total aggravation with Millennials to complete amazement at the contributions they could make in the workplace under the right conditions.

I explained to the group that I was able to make this transformation by creating a lab and putting Millennials in the workplace under the microscope to observe them intently and understand what made them tick.  In doing so, I quickly realized that the leadership style and approach I had taken with previous generations of employees were simply not effective with the new breed of 20-somethings.  After many experiments – many that worked and some that failed – a pattern began to emerge that clearly showed me that I needed a different framework to get through to these Millennials and capitalize on their unique perspective.  I ultimately called the new framework the C.A.R.E. System for Next Generation Leadership.  C.A.R.E. stands for Connect, Adapt, Reshape and Experiment.

As I was sharing specific examples of how I began to incorporate C.A.R.E. into my leadership style, Ben, the CIO, raised his hand and asked a great question. 

“Alicia, would it be possible for you to highlight examples of specific steps I can take as a CIO to begin to put your C.A.R.E. System into action. Are there any examples out there of CIOs or organizations that you can point to that can help illustrate the key elements of your C.A.R.E. System.

I couldn’t have asked for a better segue way.  Ben’s question highlights a need we all have to see and drill down on examples that can help us make necessary and oftentimes uncomfortable changes.  The examples help us understand new concepts, demonstrate how the concept was implemented and give us food for thought on how we can incorporate them into our particular work environment.

Ben’s question was refreshing for 2 reasons. The first is that it was a good indicator that he acknowledged that change was necessary.  Unlike many leaders, he didn’t think that holding on to the status quo and old patterns was going to solve the problem.  He was open to trying new things. Secondly, he accepted responsibility for initiating the change and wanted guidance on how to start.

Over the next four posts, I will share with you the real world case study that I used to show Ben and his direct reports how to exemplify how the core concepts of the C.A.R.E. System can be used to effectively lead Millennials in the workplace .

The organization that will be highlighted in the case study is Starbucks and the person spotlighted is Stephen Gillett, its new CIO.

I welcome you to click here to read a recent article in Information Week written by Chris Murphy that spotlights the Starbucks CIO as the Chief of the Year.

 Full disclosure:  I don’t know Stephen Gillett personally other than what I read in the Information Week article and he has never heard about the C.A.R.E. System.  I am using him in the case study because of specific examples of techniques or approaches that were highlighted in the article.  The techniques help me illustrate real world examples of each of the 4 modules in the C.A.R.E. model that I know to be effective when leading next generation workers.

In my next post:  we begin look at the Starbucks case study for techniques on how to Connect – the first module in the C.A.R.E. System

Recently I finished reading Seth Godin’s book, TRIBES: We Need You to Lead Us.  It’s a quick read and I have been recommending it as a must read for corporate leaders as a starting place to challenge our thinking. In each of my posts, I will be quoting from the book to set the tone for us to be open to change.

In Tribes, Seth writes: “And if you insist on playing today’s games by yesterday’s rules, you’re stuck.  Stuck with a stupid strategy.  Because the world has changed.”

Change is a constant and our next generation leaders, the Millennials in the workplace, are counting on us to change and leverage their potential.

Apparently I’m not the only one who has been asking this question lately.  In reading the latest online copy of the McKinsey Quarterly, Olivier Sibony, a Director in McKinsey’s Paris office interviews Dan Ariely and they imbed the video of the interview in the online copy.  The name of the article is “Dan Ariely on Irrationality in the Workplace“ .  Dan Ariely is a Duke University professor and best-selling author who has written a couple of books on the subject of irrationality.  I like the way McKinsey divides the interview into sections & gives a quote from Dan Ariely as a highlight of what is contained in each section.  As I hovered over each section, the very first quote immediately caught my attention.  Dan Ariely said ” I am baffled by why companies don’t do more experiments”.

It was as if this Duke professor had read my mind.   I’ve been baffled by this for quite some time now.  Over the last few years I’ve been working with clients & speaking on the topic of harnessing the talent of Gen Yers in the workplace.  As part of that, I share my C.A.R.E. System of Leadership with corporate leaders.  What the C.A.R.E. system does is it offers a proven methodology that leaders can immediately implement to help them understand, value & harness the Gen Y talent that is sitting untapped right under their nose.  The system also provides techniques to help leaders modify outdated leadership practices that they’ve held on to. The last component of the system is the “E” which stands for Experiment.  This is where I show leaders how to introduce & nurture experimentation in their teams. 

After witnessing it first hand with myself and seeing it with my peers & then later with my clients,  I see that leaders clearly don’t focus on trying new things & experimenting with new ideas & concepts. As I struggled to understand the baffling group we call Gen Y,  I finally came to the conclusion that I needed to shift my thinking & do things differently than I had in the past.  But it was hard for me to do that at first. But slowly & surely I did. One of side benefits of trying was getting comfortable saying “Why not?  Let’s try it”  At first, I fought it.  Things had worked just fine for me in the past so why shouldn’t it work going forward?  Well, the reality is that the going forward bore little resemblance to the past & staying stuck in the past wasn’t getting us anywhere different.  As I slowly got comfortable trying new things, I realized just how stuck I had been & how ineffective it was to just keep doing the same old thing.

Infusing a spirit of experimentation into my management style & into my team made a significant impact to our productivity and innovation .  Giving employees permission to try out ideas & remove the stigma of failure,  freed them to bring up ideas or issues they saw from their unique point of reference.  The team was allowed to carve out time to test ideas & try out different techniques to see if they worked.  With time, I realized that we had created an idea incubator in the team.  It worked very similar to how venture capitalists work with startups.  Venture capitalists understand that not all ideas will bear fruit & make millions of dollars.  But they know the importance of seeding ideas & nurturing them with funding to see what happens.  Nine ideas may flop and not go anywhere but that tenth idea is a home run & will make them millions.

The same thing happens when you infuse experimentation within a corporate setting.  There were many ideas that we tried out that didn’t work but we learned a tremendous amount from them & we were able to apply that knowledge on other projects.  Then there were the 5 to 6 great ideas we developed over the course of a few years that were gold.  They not only contributed positively to the team’s bottom line but they put us ahead of other corproate regions & similar departments.  Over the years, my team proudly delivered many “firsts” for our region. We were the team others called on for advice or help.  Others were baffled by our ability to do what we did with a relatively small team. They couldn’t replicate our track record because they never realized that they had to embrace the unfamiliar and unknown to find the innovative solutions.  They had to break out of their comfort zones & try what had not been tried before even if it meant failing from time to time.

In my next blog, I’ll go over the top 5 reasons why corporate leaders DON’T experiment.

In the meantime, what can you do today to take a baby step into your discomfort zone?

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?

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?

You probably wondered if there was a typo in the heading of this post.  Video game concert?  What is that?  Well, it’s another great example of innovation at work in the 21st Century.  I was watching my local PBS station yesterday and came across a segment called Video Games Live.   This is a concert event put on by the video games industry to help encourage and support the art behind video games.  For any of you who have played or experiemented with video games, you know that the music in most games is truly beautiful and moving. For me, the music is an integral part of the video game experience and apparently is was for many others.  Tommy Tallarico, a veteran video game composer,  was constantly asked why the music from video games wasn’t made into a CD for people’s listening pleasure.  That gave the composer the wonderful idea to create a concert where the music in popular video games would be showcased.

And what a showcase it is ! The idea led to Video Games Live.  The best way to describe this concert is that it is a highly creative fusion of 3 distinct but very well suited forms of entertainment:  a symphony orchestra, a rock concert and the interactivity and fun of video games.  According to their website, the Video Games concert is an event where the ”top orchestras & choirs perform along with exclusive video footage and music arrangements, synchronized lighting, solo performers, electronic percussionists, live action and unique interactive segments to create an explosive entertainment experience!”

“Explosive” is an understatement.  I sat there mesmerized watching the Los Angeles concert being televised by PBS.  Not only did they show the music and videos of today’s most popular video games such as World of Warcraft, Civilization and Halo  but they blended it with earlier Baby Boomer classics such as Pong,  Donkey Kong & Tetris.

To me, Video Games Live is  much more than a way to encourage and support the video games industry, it is an innovative medium to bridge the generational gap between Millennials and their parents and/or bosses.  It has 2 immediate benefits.  One is that the Millennial will develop an appreciation of a symphony orchestra.  How many times has a parent been successful at cajoling a young person to attend a symphony?  Well, with Video Games Live, Millennials can’t wait to attend a symphony concert because not only do they know the video game music but they appreciate the show behind the music.  Many of the Millennials that attend the video game concert go dressed up as their favorite video game characters.  Isn’t that neat?

The second benefit and the one that appeals to me the most, is that the Baby Boomer/early Gen Xer parent, can finally get a taste of video games.  Most parents and leaders who are not video game lovers have this bad image of video games which I believe is very unfortunate.  In the concert, people can see the beautiful imagery and complexity that video games bring to the Millennials.  They can see how educational the games are and that not all of it is blood and gore.   To me the video game concert can be the “game changer” in getting parents and corporate leaders to understand the power they have when leveraged and utilized in the workplace.

In my C.A.R.E. System for leadership, demystifying the world of video games is at the heart of the techniques I show in the “C” for Connect segment of C.A.R.E.    Millennials’ love of video games contributes to one of their 5 puzzling traits for corporate leaders.  That trait is their need to be experiential in what they do at work.  Their love of video games makes them gravitate to trying things out, being hands-on and not being afraid to fail at something.  Failure is the key to getting to that next level in the game.  The more leaders understand the power of video games the more they will tap the goldmine of talent Millennials bring with them to the workplace.  It’s also they way they learn best.

So here’s a great idea for you as the holidays approach.    As a parent, why don’t you click on the link above to the Video Games Live website and see when the next concert will be held in your town.  Buy tickets for yourself and your kids and attend.  Your Millennials will think you are so cool and you can finally immerse yourself in their puzzling world of video games.  Maybe you’ll find a game that you like and it will encourage you to experiment with the real game at home.  Chances are your kids already have the game.

As a leader,  I would find out when the next concert will be held in your town and plan a team outing to see it.  Your Millennial staff will not believe what got into you to make you so cool, all of a sudden!  You will finally get to see what video games have to offer from a team perspective.  Sit next to Millennials so you can get a synopsis of each of the games they showcase.  See if one of them hits a nerve and ask one of your Millennial staff members who knows that game well to show you how to play it when you get back to the office.  Maybe use the game as a team exercise.  As you become familiar with the game, play close attention to how Millennials interact with the game and how they view playing the game.  This is an invaluable way to see how they think and work which oftentimes is very different to the Baby Boomer way.  Because you are not familiar with it, you have no way to tap it and leverage it within your team.  And you need to.

So take a page from Tommy Tallarico’s Video Games Live event and see how you can learn from and utilize the incredible power of video games for bottom line payoff in your team.  All it takes is an innovative way of thinking and keeping an open mind to experiementing out of your leadership comfort zone. 

Love to hear your feedback if you attend the event in your local area.  I’m planning to attend when it comes to South Florida next year.  Keep an open mind and let the games begin…

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