7 Leadership lessons,I learnt from youngsters

I always start my “Leadership” sessions by drawing a small organizational pyramid (three layers with 1-2-6 people ). I ask the participants “How many Leaders do you see here”. Majority of the participants say 1 or 3. I ask them “why have  you excluded 6 at the bottom”. Typical responses I get :

  • They are followers
  • They are at operating level
  • They are learning from leaders
  • They will become leaders in future
  • They are youngsters – have lot to learn

Let us have inverted view of the organizational pyramid – with 6  (youngsters) at the top and say “let us learn from these leaders”. I have personally experienced that there is so much we (the experienced folks) can learn from youngsters. Organisations today are very different compared to what they were 20-25 years earlier. I started my professional career in 1985 and as I compare youngsters of today with myself (when I was management trainee), I find big differences :

– In aspiration levels

– The way youngsters approach work

– The way they engage and socialize with others (including senior leaders)

– The way they express themselves without much fear

It’s a great joy observing youngsters at work and a great learning lesson as well. Here are some of the lessons I have learnt from Gen-Y or millennials whatever you choose to call them as:

  1. Youngsters approach problem solving in a very simple and straight-forward way – that itself makes the problem less complex (I have experienced this innumerable times). On the contrary the problem loses its original character as its passed on to an experienced person – s/he adds new dimensions to the problem – superimposing her/his own thoughts/experiences on the problem thus making it more complex.
  2. They are very passionate about change(s) at work place and hate status quo. This I feel is one of the greatest advantage of working with youngsters. Change for them means joy, excitement, fun whereas for others (experienced folks) change could be perceived as a risk – something which disrupts steady state and normal flow of work.
  3. Younger generation is more vocal and will not shy away from speaking up or expressing freely if they are not in sync with something. They are not afraid to speak up or express divergent views in front of senior leaders, whereas those who are experienced, follow the tried and tested formula that “Silence is Golden”. This ability to speak up, could be attributed to the way youngsters have been brought up by their parents (most of them come from nuclear families and have been nurtured with lot of freedom).
  4. Willingness to explore new things is another thing which fascinates me as far as youngsters are concerned. I remember when I started my career, our company had imported few desk tops. I got access to one but was afraid to press the keys thinking that it could be catastrophic if I pressed the wrong key. Today you give a new device to youngsters and within an hour, s/he would master it.
  5. I find them impatient as well – they want quick results. I think this could be attributed to the way business organisations work these days – I find a typical business quarter these days as what used to be a full year, 20-25 years earlier. Their impatience though is well directed – they (youngsters) want to see quick resolutions to business issues.
  6. They are informal and leverage social skills very well. This helps them cut across functional boundaries with ease and makes cross functional teams very effective.
  7. Last and equally important, they have very high level of aspiration – youngsters would want to rise to the top faster, become rich faster, change organisations faster, get bored (with repetitive work) faster.

Experience at times cuts both ways – you can undoubtedly leverage the experience to solve complex techno-business issues but at the same time experience may lead to “fixation” – we (experienced folks) may  continue to do things in the same way and continue getting same (sub optimal) results.

As I wrote this piece, my intention was not to stereotype “Youngsters” and “Experienced” folks. I would say that experience as well as inexperience goes hand in hand and as leaders, we need to learn from everyone (and treat everyone a leader). So I go back to the question I started my blog with – how many leaders do you see in the org pyramid. I am sure you will agree with me that there are 9 leaders not 1 or 3.

Do share you experiences/views.

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