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Alicia Blain

Entries tagged with “Generations in the Workplace”.


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 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.

Last week, I had the rare treat of being around NINE 20-somethings for 7 whole days. As many of you know by now, I love watching Gen Yers.In fact, I learned to figure them out by creating a living, breathing lab years ago as I started hiring them. They frustrated me so much that I knew that I either had to figure them out or put in for early retirement. I chose the first option. Putting Gen Yers under the microscrope changed so many things in my life but most especially it changed the way I saw them and the way I led them.

Last week, I had a chance to observe nine of them in a personal setting instead of a professional one. Although I’ve been able to do this in the past, I didn’t have the opportunity to do it for long periods of time like I did last week. Seven glorious days!

So let me give you the quick backstory. My fiance’s mother, June, turned 90 in June. Isn’t it cute that June’s name is her birth month? Anyway, I digress. June’s daughter decided to host a family reunion in August so the entire family could make it. It’s a pretty big family so you can imagine how difficult it was to get busy schedules to align.

What was so amazing is that June’s daughter and her husband PAID for the entire reunion!! And I mean everything from renting the house next door, to stocking refrigerators full of food, to paying for dinners, a suite at a Padres game, tickets to the local outdoor symphony featuring the Beatles and Rolling Stones, to a beautiful sunset birthday dinner at a golf course. It was a magical week full of wonderful memories and all made possible by the generosity of June’s daughter & husband. I know the karma gods will reward them generously for their beautiful and selfless gesture and we are all indebted to them for everything they did.

So, the nine 20-somethings were mostly June’s grandchildren and a couple of their friends. I got to talk to them, observe them, understand what was important to them and just immerse myself in their world. In doing so, I realized that today’s 20-somethings are just like we were at their age – but with a 21st Century twist. I also realized just how much I had forgotten what it was like to be 20-something. Here are the 3 things that stood out:

1. They love having fun. Whether it was playing bananagrams in the dining room table or making signs to take to the Padres game or rocking out to the Beatles & the Rolling Stones at the Pops concert, 20-somethings live their life to the fullest. Seeing their zest for life and the dreams they had for the future, reminded me that I was exactly like them at their age – I had just forgotten.

Here’s the  twist:  At the same time they were playing bananagrams, some of them were playing scrabble on their smartphones with either someone else at the reunion or a friend online.  Before going to the Rolling Stones concert, they went to iTunes to listen to some Stones hits so they would recognize them at the concert.  Remember, the Beatles & Stones aren’t bands they listen to but yet they were totally cool about getting to know them & going to a concert that showcased their songs.  At 20-something, I know I wouldn’t even dream of going with my parents to a supper club to hear Frank Sinatra.  How about you?

2.  They love to Party.   While the boring Boomers would scramble to bed exhausted at 9:00 or 10:00, their evening was just beginning.  They would either congregate in one of the houses or they’d go to a local bar.  Sometimes, I’d hear them getting back at 3 0r 4 in the morning.  It reminded me of how I’d do the same thing in my twenties. But again, going to bed at 10PM makes you forget the days when 10PM meant you were getting ready to go out and party the night away.

Here’s the twist: Unlike their parent’s generation, I found that 20-somethings today are more aware of the hazards of drinking and driving. Instead of putting their lives and those of others at risk, these 20-somethings chose to let someone else do the driving instead. I find that 20-somethings today take cabs after a night of partying rather than get behind a wheel.  For a group that’s considered to be immature and irresponsible, that’s a pretty responsible thing to do and it’s smart too. How many times did you call a cab after a night of partying?

 Through all of their partying, these 20-somethings are connected at all times to their smartphones/cellphones.  They are either letting their friends know where they are, or finding a place to go eat afterwards or taking a picture to put on their facebook page, the technology is always with them and utilized all the time. Boomers will never know what that feels like.  We had to find our way to a payphone and prayed that it worked if we wanted to make a call.

3.  They love their families.  One of my fondest memories of this reunion will be how well all the generations – Veterans, Boomers, Xers, Gen Yers and iGen (yes, there were even children under the age of 11) got along.  There was love and respect even when understanding a certain way of thinking was difficult.  After all, what someone in their 90s thinks is important is very different than what a 20-something thinks it is. I loved how everyone laughed and interacted with one another and the genuine interest the 20-somethings had in the stories told by the older generations.  I thought back to the family reunions I attended in my twenties and how despite our differences, I respected and loved my family.  I still remember the wonderful family stories that were told that I still remember today.   I had just forgotten where I first heard them.

Here’s the twist:  20-somethings today really like to hang out with their parents.  They didn’t congregate in a group removed from the older folks, they got right into the conversation and the action.  In  my twenties, I distinctly remember how the younger group would separate themselves from the older folks and hang out separately.  Not so today.  Here’s an even bigger shocker – these 20-somethings didn’t even mind if their parents hung out with them at the bar or late into the night.  That NEVER happened when I was in my twenties.  Parents were simply not allowed into our space.  Not so with this crop of 20-somethings.  They include everyone… at least to a certain point.

It seems like every day I read or hear someone highlighting how different or strange these 20-somethings are.  After spending seven fun-filled days with nine of them, I can tell you they are more like us than we give them credit for.  It’s just very hard to think back to the days we were their age.  Also, they have their own unique twist that makes them unfamiliar – but not different.  From the generation that lived the  sex, drugs & rock n’ roll mantra, imagine how frightening we must have been for our very proper and “square” parents?

I think that if we start from a place of acceptance and commonality, the differences among us aren’t so stark. They add flavor to the rich fabric of our personal and professional lives.  And we are all the more blessed because of it.

To all the 20-somethings out there – You ROCK!!

I was reading the February edition of Success Magazine and an article written by Beth Douglass Silcox titled “Perception is everything: As a salesperson, your social skills can open doors – or slam them shut” caught my interest As  you can tell by the title, the article centered around selling techniques.  As I reading the advice that the sales gurus were sharing, I realized that a lot of the advice was relevant to leaders.

According to one of the sales experts, Gary Hankins,  author of  “The Power of the Pitch“  perception is reality and the difference between a successful salesperson & a mediocre one is that the successful ones know how to control another person’s perception & understands the value of building relationships & social behavior.  That made me wonder how many leaders truly sees themselves as their employees do?

When working with leaders & their teams, I see this disconnect time & time again.  The leader always thinks the team sees him/her in one way when they actually see him/her in a very different way.  The team’s perception is usually not as flattering as the leader’s perception of him or herself.  The article is full of great advice that I think leaders can apply just as much as salespeople.  I would actually add that in today’s world, leaders are salespeople, too, because they need to constantly influence others – stakeholders, clients, bosses & employees – to get the work done.  The more we show the love, the more successful we will be.  I’ve heard leaders actually say they don’t have time to show the love.  They are too busy getting the work done.  Well, as the article shows, the more you show the love, the more people will want to work with you and actually, the easier it will be for you to get the work done.

So, as we celebrate Valentine’s Day today, and we show the love to our spouses, parents, children & all the special people in our lives, let’s remember to show the love to the people we spend a lot of time with everyday: our employees.  Here are some great ideas gleaned from the Success Magazine article that I think leaders can apply immediately to show their appreciation of their staff;

  • Foster relationships with your team by giving rather than receiving
  • Take an interest in WHO your employees are & not just WHAT they do or can do for you
  • Listen empathetically to what your employees say
  • Put your social ego aside & be natural with your employees
  • Lighten Up! Bring a little fun & humor into your relationship with them
  • Ask them questions & enjoy the dialogue
  • Focus on building a relationship with each employee rather than just “managing” them

The more we, as leaders, can connect with our team,  the more we can show them the love, the more we help them succeed and consequently, the more they will help us succeed.  In the end, that’s a beautiful legacy for a leader.

So what about it?  Ready to show the love to your team?  Today, Valentine’s Day is a good day to start.

Happy Valentine’s Day , everybody!

    Any time there is an opportunity to have Gen Yers share how they feel about their corporate experience, about work or the future of work, my ears perk up. It’s so important to give Gen Yers a way to express their views  &  it’s even better when it’s done in a collective fashion. That’s why I have to tell you about an exciting opportunity for you, Gen Y, to share the good, the bad & the ugly about work.

    Stacey Randall, founder of SBR Consulting, LLC in Charlotte,  NC shares my passion for listening to Gen Ys and leveraging the amazing talent you  bring to the workplace.  Her company is an employee engagement HR consulting firm specializing in understanding generational diversity. 

    During the month of February,  her company is conducting a survey to determine how you, Gen Y,  feel about working in corporate America,  about future employment decisions, what’s important about work and the future.  Much has been said about your generation in the past five to 10 years but has the recession and slow recovery changed your thoughts, perceptions and behaviors in regard to work? 

    The survey taking place now is actually Phase II of  the project.  In January,  2010 SBR published their  findings from a national survey of Millennials who had been laid off in 2007, 2008 or 2009.  To find the results and download the whitepaper visit www.sbrconsult.com & register to get a copy.

    In Phase II,  you get to weigh in on how you feel about work today & what you want it to look like in the future.  It’s your turn to tell everyone what you think instead of letting them tell you what you think or think you should think – :-) .

    So here’s the deal:  The survey is for Gen Yers only – those born between 1980 & 2000.

    Here’s the link:  bit.ly/fnN2tF 

    Don’t worry.. The survey is completely confidential & you won’t get spammed.

    The important thing about surveys is the number of people that complete it – the more, the better the results. So feel free to share the link with ALL your friends – the more, the better.  Do it today so they can share it with their friends & everyone can give their opinion before the end of the month.  The survey will be live through March 1st so hurry…

    Don’t miss this great opportunity to share your opinions & make a difference.  Take the survey & be counted!

    Can’t wait to see what you say as a group… I’m sure it’ll be eye opening !!!

    As 2010 was slowly winding down last week, I read so many great articles about the hopes and aspirations people have for 2011.  I was reading a lot of interviews that magazines and blogs were having with corporate leaders.  From the many that I read, it appears that corporate leaders are cautiously optimistic about 2011.  They talked about their goals to invest again in new projects or expand their product lines or market segments. 

    While I was filled with optimism at what I read, I couldn’t help but wonder how many leaders were looking inward & planning to make that same investment and expansion in themselves.  I wondered how many of them would test their abilities, experiment with failure & really reach outside their comfort zones.  I don’t mean, the typical little “corporate” reach which usually is a pretty safe bet.  I mean the really scary ones.  The ones for which you don’t have a roadmap, the ones that could make a significant impact to the bottom line,  the ones that no one is thinking of, the ones your team is dying for you to take on so they can show their brilliance.

    When you get back into the office tomorrow, the daily rut will be there waiting for you, the daily challenges & problems you left behind in 2010 will greet you in 2011.  The circumstances of our daily corporate existence is a tough nut to crack.  It wants to envelope you & keep you focused on the same old thing you’ve focused on forever.  It’s not easy at all to experiment & get out of your comfort zone when you have to deal with these daily challenges, the detours that take you on a tangent & the obstacles that are commonplace in a corporate setting.  Those very things are the reasons many leaders don’t grow or really invest in their professional development.  I don’t mean attending a workshop or a conference.  I mean, going inward, taking stock of where you are as a leader & compare it to what will be needed by your team going forward.

    I guarantee that when you take time to really look & evaluate yourself as a leader in today’s workplace,  you will be surprised by what you see.  I know that when I did that very same thing a few years back, I had to come to terms with the fact that I needed to update my leadership techniques.  Those techniques at which I had worked so hard to excel were quickly becoming outdated &  I simply had not realized it.  I was doing nothing to give my leadership techniques, prinicples & style a much needed update. Once I did, the results were amazing. I took baby steps but I made sure that everyday I was doing something outside my comfort zone.  Whether that was giving up some of the control to my team, or whether it was creating a lab where it was okay to fail as long as we were learning new things or whether it was joining forces with other teams to break down silos, I was outside my comfort zone A LOT. 

    I had a choice as you do going into a brand new year, a brand new decade.  I could have chosen to allow the daily challenges I faced and the circumstances around me to get in my way. After all, it certainly wasn’t easy to get out of my comfort zone & I worked hard at it and I didn’t have a clearly illuminated path showing me the way.  But I did it anyway. Because to me the choice of staying in the status quo,  of leaving things the way they were, of going with the flow was a choice I could no longer live with.  As a leader, it was up to me to change, to get up to speed with a new workforce that was different than what we had in the past, in a world that is very different than the one where we learned the leadership skills we are so comfortable with today.

    My hope for 2011 is that all corporate leaders choose discomfort over comfort.  I hope you choose experimentation over the sure thing.  I hope you choose change over leaving things the way they are because we need to change it.  Our future workforce needs us to guide them & show them how to lead in the 21st Century NOT the 20th Century.  There is a lot we can learn from our young workers but they need to learn so much from us and they want that more than anything.   Start small and build from there.  You will be surprised at how far a little discomfort will take you and your team in 2011.

    Happy NEW Year everybody!!

    Well, Steve Tobak’s recent article on BNET’s Corner Office section may help you determine if you are or not.  In case you don’t read the Corner Office, Steve Tobak always looks at corporate America through a humorous but yet very honest lens.  In this article he argues that being a manager closely resembles the stages of human development.  Sometimes we get stuck in one stage instead of evolving to the next.  The only problem is when we do that as managers we affect a lot more people than just ourselves & our immediate family.

    He has identified the 5 Stages of Management Development & briefly describes each one.  Read through & see which stage you fall into and more importantly, if you feel like you’ve been stuck in any particular stage. 

    I like what he says in the 5th Stage which he calls the Maturity stage.  He says that in this stage you realize you are like everybody else & that you succeed in some things, don’t succeed in others & you learn from everything.  The last part is the part I like best because it’s so applicable to leading in today’s times.  As our experiences have matured us & given us a roadmap to use in leadership, we have to always remember to learn and adapt how we do things.  Sometimes adapting means we have to stop relying so much on the roadmap & focus on creating new routes.  Sometimes, as Steve mentions, it’s being humble enough to look at yourself as others in your team see you & not like you think they see you.

    So what management stage describes you?  More importantly, what are you doing to ensure that you are learning so you can be an effective leader to everyone in your team?

    I came across this article in CIO Magazine written by Sarah Jacobbson Purewal titled “The World’s Worst PowerPoint Presentations” and it made me think of all the boring corporate presentations I’ve had to sit through over the years.  I don’t think I can even name a handful of good PowerPoint presentations.  In fact, none come to mind. 

    Look through the SlideShare presentation and see if you recognize any of the formats they show.  I remember a few.  If you’re in technology like I was you should see many that are familiar to you.  Then we wonder why we can’t get buy-in for our ideas and our projects.  The slides are so convoluted and full of either too many graphs or bullets that we’re lucky not to confuse ourselves not to mention our audience. 

    Years ago I heard this great phrase that says that the confused mind says NO.   That’s why I think so many people shutdown and don’t pay attention in corporate meetings.  They’re confused with all the busyness in the slides.

    Let’s do ourselves a favor and follow the KISS formula when we’re presenting.  Less is better.  By now I’m sure we’ve all heard about Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 PowerPoint rule. In case you haven’t, he has a great suggestion about making presentations.  You should only have 10 slides, present your stuff in 20 minutes & use 30 pt font.  I’ve used, it works & it forces you to be succinct & to the point.  Try it and see if you cure Death by Powerpoint in your next presentation.

    Happy Friday, everyone!

    I came across an interesting article in the September edition of AARP Bulletin. The article was written by Cynthia Ramnarace and it was called “Smartphone NationIt had some great statistics on smartphone usage that surprised me.  The biggest surprise was that 50% of all Baby Boomers sleep with their cellphones within arm’s reach.  I wouldn’t have guessed it was that high.  I would have thought that we were so attached to it during the day that the last thing we want is to put it next to our nightstands at night.  I guess only half of us agree with me. 

    Another interesting statistic from the Pew Research Center is how the IPhone has increased usage by turning the cellphones into what the reporter calls  “entertainment centers”.  I had never thought of cell phones or really smartphones in that light but I think it’s so true.  According to Pew in 2007, the year the IPhone made its debut, only 11% of people used a phone to access the Internet. By May of this year, that percentage  has gone up to 38%.  What percentage do you think it will be next May?

    But the article really warns about our addiction to smartphones.  Ramnarace quotes Patricia Wallace, author of The Pychology of the Internet” who describes smartphones as a “pocket-size game of chance”.  The author compares it to a slot machine where you never know whether you will be rewarded or not when you pull the lever.  What a great description.  Everytime I hear my IPhone alert me of a call, a text, a voicemail or email, I have to fight the urge to pick up the phone and look at the message.  Most of the time, I’m disappointed because it wasn’t anything urgent and it made me get distracted from what I was doing.

    I often hear many Baby Boomers criticize Millennials for their need to be constantly connected but truthfully, what about us?  Aren’t we doing the same thing with our smartphones?   Recently, I’ve forced myself to observe fellow Baby Boomers in  networking  events to see if they were overindulging their smartphones.  Over 70% of them took out their smartphones either while listening to a speaker, while engaging in conversation with a group of people or while standing off on their own.  That’s a lot of indulgence.  We talk about technology getting in the way of the Millennials’ ability to be in the moment but frankly, what about us?  We can apologize all we want for having to “take” this call, or respond ”quickly” to this email, or “answer” this text but we are engaging in the same multi-tasking activities that drive us crazy when we see it in the Millennials.

    Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to criticize Millennials?  Maybe the quick pace of today’s workplace affects all of us but we just don’t see it as well in ourselves as we do in others? Maybe we should try to stop overindulging the smartphone and overindulge in connecting and interacting with others.  That’s always more rewarding.

    The article has a quick quiz at the end to spot if you are hooked on your smartphone.  Take it and see if you need an intervention.  Chances are you will…

    Do you like trivia games?  I love them and if you do too, today’s post will be a treat.  There’s a Powerpoint slide on the Author Stream site that is called “Generation Gap Trivia“.  The author put together some great pop culture questions dating way back to the 50′s and as recently as the 90′s.  I love the quiz because by testing how hip you are on pop culture stuff, it shows where you fall within the 4 generational groups.  The questions you miss probably fall in the age group or generation you know least. It’s a fun way to remind us all to break out of our generational comfort zone and get hip with the pop culture and interests of the younger (or older) generations. It’s a nice way to connect or to even start a conversation with the generation that’s perplexing you.   Enjoy!

    Happy Friday everybody!