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Alicia Blain

Coaching


I know some people may be saying, “Duh. It’s the same thing.  A team is made up of a group of individuals”.  Yes, but do we manage the group or the individuals that make up the group?

I know it’s a subtle point but a leader’s perspective on that point has a palpable impact on whether they can attract and retain their most talented employees in today’s workplace.

The leadership models of the past and the ones most of us have cut our teeth on focused on the one size fits all theory.  That is, each of us has a leadership style that we are either comfortable with or have learned along the way and we apply that style to running our “teams”.   We don’t deviate much away from that style.  Actually, the more consistently we apply it the better since it shows we are treating everyone the same.  But does it actually show that?

I used to think it did.  After all, I was trained and compensated on how consistent my style was.  Everyone in my team knew exactly how I ran things and the subtle message was that they had to conform to that style if they wanted to succeed in my team.  I felt that my consistent, one size fits all style helped me weed out the non-performers, those people that were not , A-players, or at least they weren’t in my mind.

It wasn’t until I started hiring Gen Yers in my team and created a lab to figure them out that I questioned that approach.  I realized that I was leading the masses, the amorphous “TEAM” and not the individuals that made up my team.  By being consistent in my leadership style I was telling the masses how to conform. That gave me the advantage of running a very efficient and productive team. What I didn’t realize is that its side effect was creating sameness instead of variety. Now years ago, a lot could be said for efficiency and productivity and sameness. But as the pace of change increased and continues to do so at breakneck speeds, sameness is a creativity and innovation killer. 

What I discovered as I tried to make sense of Gen Yers  (certainly NOT the same as me)  was that if I wanted my team to be innovative going forward,  my leadership style had to take a more unconventional approach.  Instead of having my “team” conform to my leadership style, I had to understand and capitalize on the richness of skills, attributes and experiences that each person in my team brought with them.  Instead of leading the masses with a one size fits all style, I learned to understand, appreciate and leverage the unique, distinctive and one of a kind qualities each individual brought to my team.  That was a “massive” shift for me and a total game changer.

The days of one size fits all leadership are quickly coming to an end and are on life support.  Don’t try to hold on to it.  Let it go.  It’s a recipe for being left behind.  Embrace the unfamiliar so you can understand and capitalize on the unique talents each of your employees brings to the workplace.

In a recent blog, Seth Godin wrote a blog titled “Please consider Weird”.  In it he says that “The defining idea of the twentieth century, more than any other, was mass”.  He continues to say that the concept of mass is dead and that although that gets us uncomfortable it also provides us with a great opportunity.

The same applies to leadership. Although leadership of the masses (aka TEAM) is  our comfort zone,  we need to get uncomfortable to pave another way to harness the variety, creativity and innovation that each of our employees bring to the workplace. 

In a recent blog, Seth Godin wrote a blog titled “Please consider Weird”.  In it he says that “The defining idea of the twentieth century, more than any other, was mass”.  He continues to say that the concept of mass is dead and that although that gets us uncomfortable it also provides us with a great opportunity.

The same applies to leadership. Although leadership of the masses (aka TEAM) is  our comfort zone,  we need to get uncomfortable to create an opportunity to harness the variety, creativity and innovation that each of our employees bring to the workplace.

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.