I Learned to Be a Leader Playing with Makeup

Everything I learned about true leadership came from a job I had in my early twenties as a Counter Manager for a department store cosmetics company. It seems pretty scary, that after spending so many years in the corporate world, that I have not really learned anything  that was more effective than what I learned in this job, that some might consider less than professional. The reality is that this company really knew what they were doing as they created their leaders.The fact that I learned more about leadership in retail than I did working for major corporations  led me to ponder what makes people successful as leaders of cohesive well functioning teams.  I also wonder how we can in turn breed more leadership success?

Being a good leader is not difficult.  You need to be decisive: decide who you are as a leader, what you will stand for and what you won’t stand for. Give people the tools that they need to be successful.  Tell them what you need done and then give them the autonomy to do it.  Be there to guide but not to stifle. Allowing your direct reports to teach you as much as you teach them, makes you  the kind of leader who inspires and engages your team. Being a leader who has the ability to change your mind when given new information helps your team respect you. Sticking to your guns but explaining your rationale works well too. In a nutshell, being a good communicator is one of the best ways to create a successful team.

Since I am a  big fan of the female adventurer who defies the odds and often competes with men in a rascally fashion, I created my leadership Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (KSAs) for success with Picara as the acronym.

Comfort with the success of others
Risk (influencer)
Awareness of self

PASSION: A Passionate leader is a driver.  They love the people, they love the work and they want everyone to do well. They are driven by the way they feel but have the balance of the other KSAs to keep them from becoming overly emotional about everything.

ACCOUNTABILITY: An Accountable leader is not afraid to fail. They make mistakes but they don’t make the same mistakes. They stand up and say, “yes, I thought it was a good idea at the time”, or “yes, I was responsible for what went wrong.”  The key is that when something is successful, they are not the ones who take all of the credit.

COMFORTABLE WITH THE SUCCESS OF OTHERS: A leader who is comfortable with the success of others is not concerned with rightness or control of every situation.  They instead understand that their team’s success says a lot about they way they lead. When a leader knows this, they create a team of people who have different strengths than they do and then leverages those strengths to create a highly productive and cohesive team.

ADAPTABILITY: Adaptability  is more important now than ever.  With everyone espousing change management and change leadership a leader that is hesitant to change is not going to be very successful in driving it.  As the old adage says: the only constant we have is change. A good leader welcomes and embraces change and understands that sometimes we need to have a funeral for the old processes in order to get our people to move forward.

Risk Taker/Influencer :A good leader is not afraid to take risks or be an influencer.  Calculated and well planned risks may be something that happens daily in a leadership role. Part of taking risks is understanding the importance of giving constructive feedback to your team.  Many leaders fail because this is not a risk they are willing to take. People want and value feedback, so if this is an area you struggle with, this is one risk you cannot afford not to take.

Awareness of self : The ability to be self aware is a very important trait in a leader.  It is a sign of emotional intelligence and the ability to understand where your passion and emotion is taking you. It is being mindful and focusing on the facts. It is also recognizing whether or not you are “in the moment” with a team member or colleague.  With everyone claiming that they cannot succeed without multitasking, it is important for a leader to understand how they pay attention.

In a nutshell, great leaders communicate effectively and understand how their team functions best.  They have positive attitudes and are not afraid to ask questions and give feedback.  They are focused on results and on people. I’ll sign off by sharing a couple of my favorite quotes on leadership!

“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” — General George S. Patton

“Nothing so conclusively proves a man’s ability to lead others as what he does from day to day to lead himself.” – Thomas J. Watson Sr.

Talkin’ About My Generation

Lately everyone has been talking about the different generations in the workplace and everyone has an opinion about who is the worst group to work with. Like it or not, there are currently four generations working together and they don’t always see eye to eye.

How do you motivate people with conflicting ethics and/or work styles? What do you need to know to get everyone working toward the same goal?

Let’s start by defining the generations.  Keep in mind that dates may vary by source and for this purpose we will use the following:

Traditionalist- Born 1920’s -Mid 1940’s

Baby Boomers- Born Mid 1940’s – Mid 1960’s

Generation X- Born Mid 1960’s -Mid 1980’s

Millennial/Generation Y- Born Mid 1980’s – Mid 1990’s

Research shows that organizations with high levels of generational diversity have worse employee engagement and satisfaction scores than organizations where people fall into similar age categories.  Are we in trouble?

The group that seems to get the most flack is the Millennial group also known as Generation Y. In my business life, I enjoy the fresh-faced Millennials with their grand ideas and their tenacity, but not everyone does.

I set out to see if what research says about the challenges from generation to generation hold true in how the groups think about each other.  This is not scientific research but merely a recap of a focus group of people I have direct exposure to.  If you are one of those science people hold your thoughts and commentary until the end and I will note it!

The Millennials shared that the Generation X leaders they report to are: bitter, jaded, aloof, and unable to delegate tasks. The Generation X folks told me the Millennials were needy, demanding overly confident job hoppers who were entitled and incapable of a good work ethic. Interestingly enough, the Traditionalists had the same thoughts about Millennials but they added that kids today are too focused on social media and that they have a blatant disregard for corporate structure and hierarchy. A few of the Traditionalists mentioned Attention Deficit Disorder. The Baby Boomers had similar sentiments but added that kids today are so eager to rise to the top that they want a checklist and think they should be promoted once the boxes are all checked. All groups agreed on the technological expertise of the Millennial group.

What did the Millennials think of the other groups? They said Baby Boomers are rule bound, unable to innovate and limit themselves by being slow to adapt to social media. They mentioned that Traditionalists were rigid and incapable of changing their minds and were inaccessible as leaders.

Where did Gen X fall?  They were quite vocal about the Baby Boomers overstaying their careers; micro managing and liking Millennials better because of their technological expertise.  They felt “skipped over” and lost because the Boomers have to “die before I can be promoted”. The Gen X group said Millennials are antsy to move up and are often selected because of technological skill.  The Traditionalists and the Baby Boomers really did not have much to say in the exercise, they were more focused on making sure goals were met and work was done.

Take a moment to think about each generation and you will get a better understanding of where their thought process comes from.  Traditionalists grew up during the depression.  They saw the sacrifices that their parent’s made and watched the Government create jobs and programs for the poor and elderly.  They are patriotic and loyal.

Baby Boomers, on the other had different exposure. They grew up focused on self.  Some studies even dub them the “me” generation.  They grew up in the Birth Control Era and saw Women’s Liberation come to fruition. Many were anti establishment. Looking at them in the workplace we see them as having an identity that is aligned to their work.  Many are loyal workaholics.

Compare them to the Generation X folks who were the first generation to have less than their parents and know it. Many were latch key kids raised in single parent homes.  They were taught that education was the key to success and they were the first mobile/ technological generation (think Walkman and really big cell phones). They lived in an era where technology changed quickly and job loss was rampant. They learned to always be ready for the rug to be pulled out from under them. In the workplace they see how they can fit any job because they have ‘”transferable skills” (even if they don’t). They have challenges with loyalty because they saw their parent’s lose jobs after 20-30 years of employment.

The Millennials are 80 million plus.  This is the largest group since the Baby Boomers. They were using technology by age two and technology changed and grew along with them. They grew up surrounded by Diversity.  In fact by the 1990’s 25% of new immigrants to the US were under the age of 19. Millennial kids were raised by Helicopter parents who hovered over them, scheduled them to death and got them involved with volunteerism, environmental consciousness and corporate social responsibility. This group was raised to think they could do anything and everyone got a trophy no matter how badly they played. They don’t understand the concept of compartmentalizing work and home because technology has always been accessible.

Interestingly enough, my focus group matched the research pretty darn well, with one exception. I found that the Millennials did not like the “everybody wins” mentality and that they prefer to be the stand out amongst their peers, even in a collaborative setting.

To help understand how to manage each group, I have some bullet points  that explain the main focus of the work life attitude. Please note that these are generalizations and they do not necessarily apply to all people in every group.

Work Ethic

  • Traditionalists- Hard workers who like a structured environment and a defined corporate hierarchy
  • Baby Boomers-Workaholics who are focused on quality and hoard information to protect their roles
  • Generation X-Self reliant workers who value autonomy, hate micro managers and are generally skeptical
  • Millennial/Generation Y-Tenacious workers who are goal focused multi-taskers who find it hard to separate work from life

Management Style (As leaders)

  • Traditionalists- Directive
  • Baby Boomers-Democratic
  • Generation X- Equality across the board
  • Millennial/Generation Y-Collaborative

Interactive Style

  • Traditionalists-Prefer 1:1 meetings
  • Baby Boomers-Love team meetings
  • Generation X-Entrepreneurial style-treat it like it’s your own business
  • Millennial/Generation Y-Lets collaborate, we are all in this together

Preferred Method of Communication

  • Traditionalist- 1:1 meetings, formal memos, telephone calls
  • Baby Boomers-In person meetings whenever possible
  • Generation X -Direct communication whether in person or by email
  • Millennial/ Generation Y – IM or Text

Here are a few simple rules to create collaborative cross-generational teams

1. Understand the differences in work styles, motivations and the way each group prefers feedback. In fact, when you hire a new employee ask how they would like to receive unpleasant feedback.  When the time comes and they need to be coached, remind them that they told you they preferred feedback in the way you are delivering it.

2. Seek a balance between building on the traditional procedures and looking at flexibility as an option.  Remember, it’s the Traditionalist view that built business as we know it today, but it’s the Millennials that are changing the world as we know it now.

3. Support the value that the Boomers and Traditionalists bring to the table. Recognizing that they are solid contributors motivates them.

4. Entertain new ideas and innovative thought processes.  Allow some thinking outside the box and changes in technology where you can.

5. Give opportunities for collaboration and ask employees to commit to a goal.

6. If all of this is new and you are just beginning to incorporate these tidbits of understanding you may want to decide what your vision and mission for the change is. Once you do that, be sure to communicate it.  We will be talking about this in a blog post all its own.

Happy Leading!

Hello world!

Hello world,

I have decided to start a blog. Why you ask?  Because I believe in managing people with tact and diplomacy all the time. Unfortunately this does not happen often.  My ultimate goal in this endeavor is to marry the understanding of human resources and business thinking and to supply information to people about the process of leadership, change management and how to work with people who are not just like you.

I have been lucky in my career. I have had the opportunity to sit on the business side where leaders think that HR folks live in Candyland and their way of thinking won’t work.  I have also been on the Human Resources side of the house, frustrated with the way the business went about things without actually considering retention, engagement, or the actual resources of the humans.

I have worked with people who subscribe to Six Sigma methodologies and those who believe that the only way to manage projects is with a PMP. This is one place where I have a significant opinion.  While the Six Sigma process is great at identifying the waste and streamlining processes, the PMP folks are ultimately goal focused.  In the end, it’s truly about companies making money for their shareholders.  No matter which focus you align yourself with, it’s important to note that people are often left out of the mix.

This blog is going to focus on people first!  You might agree with what you hear from me and you might have your own opinion.  Either way, I am open to hearing your thoughts.  I am a firm believer that we all have something to learn from someone else and that the best leaders are those who can change their minds when given new information.

Here’s to you, reader, I hope you enjoy and comment as we go along this journey.