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Alicia Blain

Career Development


I think we do and we need to do it fast. In my last blog post I talked about how so many people have been approaching me lately about how unhappy they are in their corporate jobs.  I think the economic woes we’re facing are making people cautious about leaving a steady paycheck but at the same time, it’s highlighting just how pervasive poor leadership is within the corporate ranks.  When times were better, people had more career options and would leave a company when they got tired of its poor leadership. Today, they can’t and it’s putting a spotlight on just how de-moralizing poor leadership can be to a team.

Although leaders know they have the upper hand in this economy, they have to always remember that it won’t be like that forever. If they are lousy bosses, their employees know it and so does everyone else.

It’s not hard to re-imagine leadership so that you have happy employees. Any good leader will tell you that employees don’t want much – they want work that is fulfilling and they want to be respected and acknowledged for their contributions.  That’s it.  The problem is that many of us who have led for a number of years are sticking to some pretty outdated ways of leading that prevent our employees from getting those 2 simple things they want most.

So here are 3 things today’s hip and savvy leaders are doing to re-imagine how they lead in the 21st Century.

  1. They ask for advice.  Savvy leaders know that the days when they had all the answers are long gone.  Today, the employees in the trenches know more about what’s going on than they do.  After all, how current can you be when you’re stuck in meetings all day and most of your job requires you to ensure your team’s compliance with those countless regulations and policies required under HIPAA, SOX, MOUSE (just kidding).  Getting your team involved and listening to their ideas is instrumental for successful leaders in the future.
  2. They are willing to bend the rules. Let’s face it, the only way we are going to shed our old leadership comfort zones are to experiment with new ones. The only way to do that is if we bend the rules of how the game is played.  Now I’m certainly not advocating we go and break corporate rules and get ourselves into trouble.  I’m talking about breaking the rules we’ve used from the past to lead in the future. So for example, just because something hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. Just because our best practices don’t align with the new idea being considered doesn’t mean we shouldn’t test the “best” practice to see if                 something better should replace it.  Bend the rules and test the “what-ifs”.  Those  “what-ifs” are the secret to staying viable in the future.
  3. They learn. If you aren’t open to learning new things every day you will not make it as a leader in the 21st Century.  The pace of change is grueling and it’s constantly challenging what we know on any given day.  If you want to sit on your laurels and reap the benefits of the expertise you’ve developed in the past, you will become the poster child for poor leadership.  You need to be in constant learning mode to hold the privilege of leading a team going forward.  By your example, your team will know that they need to stay sharp and keep their skills up to date. And here’s a secret:  you know those pesky 20-somethings that drive you crazy?  They are a GREAT resource for you to keep you learning and to stay relevant with what is happening in the world today.

So how about it? Do you want to just take up space until you reach retirement or do you want to make a difference to the generations of up and coming leaders that are watching you for clues on how to be the best of the best? It’s your choice.  If we are to re-imagine what leadership is going to be in the 21st Century, it starts with us – the leaders that have the courage to be different, be bold and willing to shed the past to make room for the future.

I want to first start out by thanking my colleague, Susan Whitcomb, a wonderful career coach and President of the Career Coach Academy for sending me this article in the Business Insider written by Vivian Giang titled:  ”If You Want to Retain The Best Young Workers, Give Them A Mentor Instead of Cash Bonuses“.  According to the article, in a recent annual Global CEO Survey  conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, 20-somethings, also known as Gen Y/Millennials rated training and development way above cash bonuses as their first choice in benefits.

The research that I did this past year validated the results from the survey.  As I interviewed 20-somethings that had been working from one to five years, over 80% had either left a job or were aggressively looking for one.  Why?  All of them were shocked by the reality they faced when they started working.  None of them were prepared for it and all of them wished they had known ahead of time so that perhaps they would have asked better questions during the interview to determine if there was a good fit. But even if they still had to take a job regardless of fit, they all felt that knowing would have helped with a better transition.

What was shock #1 for these Gen Yers?  Having to report to bad bosses and/or not having mentors they could go to.  In my new e-book, New @ Work:  An Insider’s Survival Guide to a Crazy Workplace,  I give new hires some probing questions to ask during an interview so they can determine if their prospective employer embraces mentoring and whether or not their next boss has “horrible boss” characteristics.

In my experience having worked as a corporate executive for over 25 years,  I find that new hires don’t take enough advantage of the interview process.  The interview provides a great opportunity to get to know important things about the organization and the person who will be your boss.  Too often, young interviewees are so concerned about making a good impression that they either don’t ask a lot of questions or ask very predictable ones. 

Interviewers have typically been through hundreds of interviews and usually have heard the same questions being asked over and over again.  A way to stand out is to ask them questions that make them think, that get them out of their comfort zone.  As long as you ask it in a non-threatening manner and from a place of curiosity, the interviewer will most likely remember you from the countless other interviews he or she has had.  In today’s world, young interviewees need to find creative ways to get on the employers radar preferably before the interview but certainly during the interview.

As I was reading the Insider Edition article, I was noticing some of the comments that were  posted.  Many of them appeared to be from Gen Yers who disagreed with the survey results and rated cash bonuses over mentoring.  Although this is understandable in today’s unstable economic times, I believe it ultimately backfires.  It’s a case of being penny wise and pound foolish.

Having had mentors and being a mentor during my long career, I can attest to the huge benefits mentors provide.  They are able to fastrack your career.  They show you where the landmines are located, what to do and not do and how best to stand out and get noticed.  Mentors provide a shortcut to becoming successful at work.  Although that may not be as appealing as a cash bonus in the short term, I can vouch that it has much better financial benefits in the long term. 

Mentoring has allowed me to make strategic moves in my career that have ultimately gotten me  higher increases,  better bonuses and more importantly, positioned me to become a high performer which is the cream of the talent crop in an organization. Cash bonuses could not have done that and eventually, those bonuses would probably shrink without a “Success GPS”  that only a mentor can provide.

In my e-book I give some advice on how to find mentors in or outside an organization if someone finds him or herself working for a bad boss or an organization that doesn’t foster mentoring.  Mentoring is that important to your career whether you are 20-something or 50-something.

When you have a good mentor, the cash will come.  Without one, it’s a rocky road.