Category Archives: Managing Teams

Bridging the Learning-Doing Gap: Rethinking Corporate Learning and Development

We all remember the concept of the Three R’s, (Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic)?  Well in today’s world of corporate learning and development, these have been replaced with the Four C’s, which stand for today’s new survival skills in business:

  • Critical thinking and problem solving (making decisions based on information, and dealing with risk and uncertainty)
  • Communication (both seeking to understand others, as well as improving your own ability to make a persuasive case)
  • Collaboration (cutting across silos, forging alliances and managing diverse groups toward a common goal)
  • Creativity and innovation (understanding problems better –more deeply–and developing better solutions that are unique and potentially “game changing”)

These four have been researched pretty extensively (see the links at the end of this article), and if your corporate learning strategy isn’t targeting these, you may want to ask yourself why.

According to the highly touted AMA survey on critical skills, 75% of executives surveyed feel these are of growing importance today because of the increasing pace of change in business today (91%), the increasing need for global competitiveness (86.5%), the changing nature of how work is accomplished today (77.5%), and the way organizations are structured (66.3%).

It is estimated that we spend approximately $60 billion per year in North America alone, on corporate learning and development, which seems like a lot of money being thrown at the problem.  But what is the impact?  (Perhaps before we criticize the effectiveness of K-12 education, we might ask whether we need a corporate version of “No worker left behind”!).

Curriculum’s are Too Broad, and Too Shallow

I believe a lot of the corporate training is poorly conceived, designed and executed . . . a waste of money.   The way many companies approach this is to come to someplace like the Xavier Leadership Center with a list of topics that came from some form of internal needs assessment.  Then a curriculum is designed to cover all the topics for the amount of budget available, with many topics covered only in a superficial way (say a half day program).   Trying to teach communications or critical thinking skills in a ½-day (or even a 2-day) bucket results in only scratching the surface.

Learning Seldom Occurs in a Classroom

We can deliver certain concepts in a class.  Heck, with 40 PowerPoint slides and a couple of readings, you can deliver a lot of content.    But most of us LEARN it when we apply the content by ourselves in our own work environment.  If the outcome is favorable, then we may be inclined to try it a second time, and then gradually it becomes an acquired new behavior.   So forget a 1 day communications skills class.    Instead, follow it up with 3-4 days of coaching so people are challenged to actually practice creating and delivering presentations, writing position papers, or making a persuasive argument.    The coaching piece is the key.   When we try something new and fail, our natural instinct is to go back to the old way of doing things.   If a coach can help re-direct, or refocus you, thereby improving your rate of success, then you will be more encouraged to keep at it.

Sure adding 3-4 days of coaching time is more expensive,   but why not cover fewer topic s in your corporate learning curriculum and go deeper?   Your focus should be not on LEARNING OBJECTIVES but on BEHAVIOR OBJECTIVES.   Who cares if you learned the concepts if you can’t successfully apply them?

Consider Nonconventional Learning Strategies

If you accept the idea that a classroom is not the only place learning can take place, you are almost there.   Think about it, from the moment of birth, we instinctively learn by trial and error, observation, curiosity and personal experiences.   So shouldn’t we leverage ALL of these learning mechanisms?   So have you considered things like:

  • Formal mentoring and coaching experiences. Connect less skilled people with other more practiced individuals to help them develop new skills.
  • Job rotation experiences.  Deliberately assign your new talent to new work assignments that will broaden and deepen their experiences.  Put an operations person in a customer service assignment.  Put an engineering person in a sales assignment.  Make designers take an operations job where they must execute what they designed. They will be transformed. (I had a fantastic boss once who insisted I leave the corporate office and take some assignments as a factory supervisor, materials manager, and CFO.  All these were a stretch for me based upon my formal education as an engineer with an MBA.  However, he knew I would throw myself into each assignment with boundless energy.  While I hated some of these assignments at the time, they all taught me a variety of vital lessons that better prepared me for ultimate general management roles I would one day take on.)
  • On-the-job training.  Be willing to throw people into the deep end of the pool – under the eyes of an experienced person to guide them.  Be willing to accept some mistakes.  Learning-by-doing is very effective.
  • Live Projects.    Teach strategy, when people need to create one.   Teach LEAN when you have identified some processes that urgently need re-thinking.   If you want people to learn collaboration, then make them work with an eclectic group of colleagues who bring different skills to the table from different departments.  Then go back and for the between teaching and doing as the participants do real work. It takes a little more planning on your part, but the impact will be greater.  Here again, the key is to have an experienced facilitator to guide them if they start to get off track.

Think Differently About Choosing Your Teachers

There is a difference between teaching (delivering planned content), and facilitating (guiding people in the application of it in an imperfect world).   I have seen many professional “trainers” who consistently receive high marks from participants.   They are engaging, have many great stories, demonstrate enthusiasm, and make learning a vibrant experience.   They have what we call “stage skills.”    While teachers who have these abilities are fantastic at delivering content in effective ways, they may not be experienced in applying the ideas in practice.   Conversely, I have seen some extraordinary facilitators who could coach a group through live project, who are not so impressive in front of a class.   The different skills (teaching and facilitating) are sometimes mutually exclusive.   So my advice is to:

  • Think about what you are trying to accomplish (produce learning or change behavior) and choose our trainer/facilitator wisely.
  • Pay attention to the credentials of the person.   Writing a book about something may demonstrate knowledge, but does not always make you an effective practitioner.   Ask them about their work and consulting experiences and select them in the context of what you are trying to accomplish.
  • Consider that most of us have experiences and knowledge that allow us to teach others.   Sometimes your best teachers/facilitators are not professional educators, but could other employees, managers, or colleagues who bring a wealth of experiences to the table.  Make them a part of your learning and development strategy.

Remember: We Are All Born with the Ability to Learn

It is automatic and instinctive.  So why isn’t learning and development as much about helping design experiences for individuals and fostering interactions among colleagues that produce deep learning, as it is about organizing an array of classes?  We all learn differently, and learning should acknowledge that fact.   The choice is not  about the difference between on-line and in-classroom, but about bridging the learning-doing gap.

Other Resources

Workers of the Future will Need Different Skills than In the Past, by Lisa Quast, Forbes online

Critical Skills for the New Workforce, by Leslie Allan,

AMA Critical Skills Survey, American Management Association


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Some Paradoxes of Leadership

Leading is about balance.  Effective leaders must intuitively manage the many paradoxes in business.  Short vs. long-term.   Commanding vs. collaborating. Controlling vs. empowering. Individual vs. group needs.  Customer satisfaction vs. profitability. Etc.

Striking the right balance between these often opposing goals is tricky, made even more challenging when you consider the right answer in one circumstance may not be right at a different time or under slightly different situations.  It seems a little daunting doesn’t it?  It’s like playing three-dimensional chess on 4 game boards simultaneously while balancing on a unicycle.

One of my favorite new reads today is a book called Management of the Absurd, by Richard Farson. The book does a deep dive into many intriguing paradoxes of leadership.     He calls into question many beliefs about what we should focus on, but these are often based on flawed perceptions needing more unconventional thinking. Here are some of my favorites to think about:

1)      We think we want creativity or change, but we really don’t.  . .  at least, not when it impacts us.   Our current state is one in which we all derive a sense balance and a definition of who we are, how we fit, and what role we are to play.   Change, then, challenges our identity, and that does not make us comfortable at all.  What we seek is validation for our own sense of identity and personal pride.  We as leaders must learn to reframe our agenda into personalized initiatives that allow people to fulfill their lives by exercising more of what they feel they are already good at.  (Also see item 3 below.)

2)      The opposite of profound truth can also be true.   Almost all actions have intended consequences. Opposites can and usually do exist together.  Empowering others does not diminish your own authority any more than giving away information makes you know less.   Organizations need truth, and sometimes distortion.  (Aren’t tact and diplomacy needed behaviors when we feel that sparing feelings of others is the better than harming ones sometimes delicate sense of self-worth?)

3)      We want for ourselves not what we are missing, but more of what we already have.  Conventional change theorists talk a lot about creating win-win scenarios by suggesting new things that you “get” as a consequence of agreeing to my change project. But what if people aren’t looking for new things, but more of the “good” things they already think they have?

4)      Big changes are easier than small ones.   Seems counterintuitive.   A constant stream of small changes can create feelings of never-ending stress and a sense that the tide is always flowing against you.   In extreme cases such incrementalism can produce resentment. Big changes, especially those born out of crisis, are easier for people to swallow.   They believe that once the big event is past, then things will settle down into a state of normalcy and stability. Never let a good crisis go to waste.  (As for making small changes when these are self-initiated, they work.   Create a culture of celebrating what we at Xavier call MAGIS (Meaning more . . . which is the idea behind continuous improvement).

5)      Planning is a terrible way to bring about change.   In a dynamic environment, most planning is ineffective.   We plan based on looking backward at past lessons, which may not be valid in the future.  We all have blind spots.  We can overreact.  We can focus on what’s trendy.  Leading change needs to be much more organic.  Choose a direction, and start moving along your path.   Then be ready and willing to learn from what happens next and adapt quickly.   You will figure it out as you go.

6)      Every strength is a weakness.  We are training (as in performance appraisals) to think about ourselves and others in terms strengths (what we are good at) and weaknesses (a separate list of skills or attributes) at which we are not.  However, the truth is that every one of our strengths has a flip side and can lead to danger.   Courage can lead to excessive risk-taking.   Being a great visionary may lead to pushing bold change faster than your organization can absorb.  Intelligence can lead to arrogance.  The best strategy is to surround yourself with people able to speak truth to you. Combine that with your own discipline to listen carefully to them and then act in tempered ways.

7)      Effective managers are not in control.  Control is a myth.   We can control only one thing in life . . . ourselves.  (And some of us have plenty of trouble with that).   When in your life have you had more control than in the case of your own kids?   You could take away their allowance, ground them, stop their allowance, take the car away, or even physically dominate them (if you chose).   And yet our kids have this amazing ability to be their own unique selves no matter what you want.  While we do not have control, we DO have influence over things and people.   We exercise this through our leadership — through how we act.  For better or worse, what we do influences the way people around us think, feel, and act.  That is what leadership is really about.

8)      The more we communicate, the less we communicate.  Most of us live in a state of information overload.   While we THINK it is important to bring people in on everything, we all reach a saturation point where we don’t read all emails (don’t even open many of them). We tune out in meetings, and even avoid interacting with others.   Organizations are built on TRUST more than information.   When I really trust my boss, I know he or she will share with me what they feel I need to know, and I am quite ok with that.

9)      Praise does not always motivate.   The act of praising others also carries with it a subtle message that you have the ability to “pass judgment” on them.  Many people in our leadership programs have mentioned that they have experienced the praise – criticize – praise again cycle which leads us to always be listening for the “but” in any sentence.   Sure, sincere praise can have some positive impact, but the driving forces are trust and respect.

Leading takes reflection, practice, trial and error, open-mindedness and a willingness to adapt as we go forward, learning from our mistakes.   I believe good leaders are often deep thinkers to whom the paradoxes of leadership are a source not of frustration, but of excitement and positive challenge.   Think deep!

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Leading a Team of Super Heroes

When XLC surveyed visitors to its website with this one question: “What % of your talents are used every day at work?” a full two-thirds replied that their employers were using “less than half” of what they had to give or said  “they have no clue what to do with me.”


To some senior executive groups we teach at XLC, these findings seem hard to believe.  But I would suggest that if you think about it more deeply, these findings are not hard to believe.  It starts with recognizing that the problem has more to do with your leadership than the limitations of your team members.

As a leader, wouldn’t it be great if all on your team were like Super Heroes?  Well this may be more possible than you think.

Consider the graphic below which lists a spectrum of skills that a person has (the darker ones represent areas of strongest ability).   At the same time consider a spectrum of things that you value as important, and overlay the two.

There is an intersection point between what you are good at, and what you feel is important.  This represents for us a point of deep personal pride.   It is the place from which we derive our own sense of self-identity and indeed, self-worth.    As such this runs pretty deep in us.

Let me illustrate with a personal example.

If you were my boss, and criticized me for being “careless with details” that would be an accurate depiction of me.   I’m not really good at that. I admit it.   Instead, I see myself as a “big picture” person . . . a strategic thinker . . . visionary . . . an innovative problem solver.

So if you criticized me for my lack of attention to detail, while true, it wouldn’t really bother me too much.   I don’t really care about that and I absolutely would not aspire to be good at details.  To me, details seem boring.

However, if you criticized me by saying “Len, your business plan lacks vision” or “your solution to that [big problem] seemed very superficial” . . . OUCH!   These criticisms would really sting me because they connect to the essence of how I see my professional self.   I would not see your comments as a criticism of my “plan” or my “solution” but as an attack on me personally.

However, if you came to know me well enough to assess my sense of deep personal pride, and saw your leadership mission as influencing others, you would be in a position of great personal power.   Think about it.   If you really understood what makes me “tick” all you’d have to do would be to approach me something like this:  “Len, we have this critical problem, and I can’t see anyone other than you who would be able to come up with the kind of solution we need now.” THOSE WORDS would be about the most energizing way you could approach me.   It would be the equivalent of injecting me with a mega-dose of caffeine.  I’d be out the door in a second, grabbing my laptop and a flash drive with data and then heading to a room with flip charts and white boards . . . and I’d still be going as strong at 8 P.M.  as I was at 8 A.M. when you gave me the problem.   And for me, it WOULDN’T EVEN SEEM LIKE WORK!

What’s more, I’d likely be thinking about it all weekend – even while I was cutting the grass.   My unconscious mind would be continually on it even while I was asleep, sometimes propelling me to wake up at 1 A.M. to go into my home office and put a few more ideas down.

Have you ever thought it would be a good idea if you could get 120% out of your employees?   Well what I just described is one way to do that.   All you need is:

An understanding of who I am. Leadership is not only about standing up and delivering the inspiring speech, issuing new policies or assigning people to work on aspects of your agenda.   It requires that you consider yourself UNIMPORTANT.   Those you are leading matter . . . not you.  Your job is to serve them and their needs.   This is the essence of “Servant leadership.”  This means you need to invest some personal energy getting to know your team in more than superficial ways.  Talk to them.   Listen to them.   One great exercise we like a lot in this regard is asking people to create and share their “Personal Leadership  Story” (feel free to contact me at XLC to receive the assignment description).

Some thought about how my spiritual gifts could most benefit your mission.  Once you know the places of greatest personal pride for each of your employees, then, execution planning for you takes on a different complexion.  It now becomes about designing work assignment that tap into the core strengths of your team members.   This means adapting your plan to them, rather than asking them to adapt to it.  Too often we let arbitrary job descriptions get in the way of assigning work to people.   There was I time when I would create an organization chart that made sense to me, and then pushed people into the boxes.   It took me quite a while to figure out that this was completely backwards.

A flexibility to assign work based on my needs. There is  a Jesuit principle called Cura Personalis, which means caring for the WHOLE person with a special appreciation for the OTHER person’s gifts and insights.  In a leadership context, it means we are obliged to lead others NOT the way we think is best or convenient for us . . . but to lead others based on how THEY NEED to be led.   That means it is extremely personal, and uniquely adapted to each of your direct reports.

Leadership should be personal . . . belt-buckle to belt-buckle, eye-to-eye, soul-to-soul.  All you need is to think a little differently about your leadership.

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Building Your 21st Century Workplace: TALK BACK

In my last article called “Building Your 21st Century Workplace,” I referenced an article from millennial observer, Dan Schwabel. In it he posited 5 new rules for the workplace, about which I gave my observations.

I received this interesting email from a reader that I felt was so compelling I wanted to share it with you. After reading these comments, I invite comments from other readers about whether you see these rules in a negative or positive way.

Anyway, here is the email for your review and consideration:

“I enjoyed your positive spin on the 5 new rules of the work place. When I first read them, my instinct (as an employee-type) was to automatically see them as all negatives (as did many of my friends/siblings who all weighed in when I posted this on my own Fb page).

Here’s how we saw it:

1. Everyone is a free agent. Translation: Your workplace doesn’t care about you. They care about their bottom-line. If it comes down to choosing between money and a valuable employee, most employers will go with money….leaving employees in the lurch (for evidence look no further than the unemployment rate in this country or the number of companies outsourcing or the rate at which employers are dropping benefits). So the message is clear: Don’t feel too loyal or any sense of obligation to your employer, because they don’t feel the same about you. If push comes to shove they will drop you.  (With the exception, I guess, of those companies you mentioned like Google who take great care to cater to their employees.)

2. You’re only good as your last project. Translation: Everything you’ve worked for and achieved during your career doesn’t matter. Your employers have short-term memories. They remember your last mistake or your last achievement. In this dog-eat-dog business world, your job is on the line every day. (Again, refers back to no. 1).

3. Work is not confined to 9 to 5. Translation: Get over having a life outside your career. If you want to work and stay working, you better be working (or thinking about work or leveraging your work or networking) 24-7.

4. Make change or be affected by it. Translation: See 1-3 above. Your head could be on the chopping room floor every day…so be very, very careful. Get out ahead of the pack and stay there.

5. You are accountable for your own career. Translation: You’re on your own, buddy! No one wants to help you succeed. Every man for him/herself, so do what you can to survive! No one is going to promote you, pay you more or help/mentor you in this economy. Everyone is fighting for the same few measly jobs.

I know this is decidedly negative perspective, but it gives insights to how a lot of young people feel—especially in this economy.

Yours sounded much more positive and upbeat and gave a nice perspective that I had not thought of before.”

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The Millennials Speak Up

My last article “The Millennials are Coming (What do we do now?)” prompted some email responses from some readers who wanted to add further perspectives or to respond to points I made.  In general, I think they agreed with my observations, but added some rich commentary about why these points are so.     It reminds me that it is very difficult to generalize about something as complex as an entire generation, and there are as many perspectives as there are people.

One person wrote:

“So, I will start with the caveat that I am extremely defensive about this topic also I have read a lot of articles but disagree with most of the approaches or data findings. My issue is that I read article upon article that states these generational preferences and I think that the statements lose meaning without further exploration.”

Extreme Flexibility

“For me,, she continued, “there is a lot of value in understanding ‘why’ the generation is different because I think the rationale as to ‘why’ exposes one of the most positive generational differences which for me is ‘extreme flexibility.’”

This generation has seen dramatic changes in technology use and has adapted to it as experts (where I would say baby boomers are just adapting as learners). The generation has been exposed to extreme changes in the work force and corporate responsibility and will likely have the most exposure to globalization. The flexibility the generation exhibits is the most impressive to me and is further explained using the next points:

  •  Gen Y-ers want flexible work hours – of course! We lived through a time when our parents missed our concerts and games and missed the connectivity to family events that our grandparents demanded with such norms as stores being closed on Sundays.
  • Furthermore, we grew up in a time when moms stayed at home and families could afford that setup and therefore a working adult didn’t need the flexibility of coming home to meet the cable man, etc.  Today, more economics has made dual career families a necessity.  So we have to learn to balance many more issues than did our parents.

The issue of More “Me Time”

  •  “I’m not sure Gen Y-ers need more “me time” at work.  My colleagues started working at a time when going home truly meant that your focus moved from work to home.  Now, we are constantly connected and interrupted by work during all hours of the day at night with little transition between focuses.  So my perception is not that we need more “me time” at work but rather that we need to make a choice (at some point) to take care of ourselves because we never get to turn our work-life off.”

On this point, another reader added:

  • “It also seems like “me time”/flex time might be more a consequence of technology than of generation–since more people are able to work from home or check email outside work hours, people expect that in exchange for that, they should be able to take time off during the day to go to the gym or to deal with personal stuff. I know people who work at Lockheed where everything’s so classified you can’t have a cell phone or bring work email home who have a much cleaner work-life boundary.”

Constant Flow of Feedback

  • “Gen Y-ers expect a constant flow of feedback – I think this is true, but again I think it is interesting to think about where this comes from. Since I have been working (not yet 5 years) there have been at least 3 down-sizing’s that could have impacted my job. My perception is that this was not as common for our Baby-boomer colleagues. So I need to know how I am doing because it may impact my job! And frankly my Baby-boomer colleagues are the ones who taught me to constantly get the feedback because they are sitting in the same position as me. We all need to validate our work to ensure our job. This is just a change in the workforce and I think it impacts EVERYONE, not just the Gen Y-ers.”

The Need for Mentors

  • “They are looking for mentors – who isn’t? I actually think this is more common for the mature generations then the green ones….But if I humor the concept for a moment, then I would say that we have to find mentors because we are so worried about fitting in.  We need feedback and we need connectivity because people constantly tell us how our generation is bad/wrong/not grateful etc.  So, we exhibit proactive behaviors to prove these perceptions as wrong.”

I find it interesting to read how some of these people feel defensive about criticisms they hear, I presume, from older people.   I don’t think that is anything new.   I can surely remember my parents commenting that my generation was getting it all wrong.  They didn’t understand how we dressed what we saw in Rock and Roll, or how we could be so disrespectful to our country to protest.   I also saw that my aunts and uncles at the time agreed with them.

Sure Millennials are different.   And so they should be.   We all learn from our parents and want to make our own way.   Looking around the planet, it’s hard to argue that the Boomers got it all right.  There are surely many serious problems we are leaving for the next generation to solve.

I believe that those of us in positions of power (older people) build our organizations – including all our policies and procedures – to fit US.  We build our companies around what WE believe, think, and value.

The fallacy of this is that in just the blink of an eye, our children are our employees, and our customers.   So we need to think more about how to build our organizations around THEM.     This should prove vital as they seek to attract and retain the best talent.  This is especially so in industries where technology can be a differentiator.  Millennials are extremely tech savvy, and are better networked than any preceding generation.  There should be a way to harness this skill set and turn it into a competitive advantage . . .

I find it interesting that when I show examples in my classes about companies like Zappos, Netflix, Google, etc., the common reaction is, “Wow that would never work in our organization.”   People seem to think it is some weird California thing.   I suspect these tech companies are more generational focused on younger employees and it is setting a new bar in how graduating college kids are thinking their future employers should look.    My hypothesis is that the less “Google-like” your business looks, the more of a disadvantage you are at in attracting this increasingly important age group.

Other Related Articles

The Millennial Generation


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The Millennials Are Coming! What Do We Do Now?

Plenty of surveys like the IBM Global CEO Survey, and a similar one from GE’s Global Innovation Barometer are uncovering the need for more creativity and innovation.   GE’s last survey reported that “95% of respondents believe innovation is the main lever for a more competitive national economy and 88% of respondents believe innovation is the best way to create jobs in their country.”

So if innovation is a growing imperative, we need a talent pool rich in innovators.  One of the fastest growing groups in the corporate world is the Millennials.    For many these people are a rich source of innovation talent — because they have grown up in the digital information age and are highly experienced in using technologies to learn, connect, collaborate and create on a daily basis.

But many organizations struggle with getting the best from them and are somewhat perplexed about the best ways to attract, motivate, reward, and retain them.  This young army of tech-savvy knowledge workers just doesn’t think the same way as do the Boomers of Gen X’ers who came before them.  It seems strategically important that executives everywhere learn about what makes them tick.

Who are the Millennials?

The Millennials are the generational cohort born from roughly 1980 to 2005, in an “echo” of the Boomer generation.  But as with other generations, it’s not the exact date of birth that matters as much as their mindset and transformative experiences.  The other names that the millennials go by illustrate: Generation Y, the 9/11 Generation, the Facebook Generation, etc.  Even prevailing popular culture neatly illustrates the difference. Which resonates more to you: the Beatles, Pearl Jam or America’s Idol?  How you answer is a pretty good indicator of which generation you belong to, not just because of differing musical taste, but because the symbolism that these three different types of music each evoke reveals the different mentality that Boomers, Gen X and the Millennials bring to the world.

The demographic power of the Millennials is far greater than many realize. This generational cohort is about 30% larger than the Baby Boomers in terms of raw numbers and three times the size of Generation X.  According to a recent article in TIME magazine, “right now, there are about 80 million Millennials and 76 million Boomers in America.  Half of all Millennials are already in the workforce, and millions are added every year. Approximately 10,000 Millennials turn 21 every day in America, and by the year 2025, three out of every four workers globally will be Gen Y.”

So if Millennials are an important future pool of talent in our organizations, how are they different from older generations?

What Attitudes Distinguish Millenials?

According to a Brookings Study on Millennials, Millenials communicate differently, sending an average of 79 electronic messages daily (email, tweets, blog posts etc.) Their number one source of news is web sites of the various news organizations.  Their parents are the most influential group in shaping their political views (with celebrities and faith leaders at the bottom of the list).  They admired FDR and Abraham Lincoln most highly as leadership role models.   Who was at the bottom? . . . celebrities, business leaders, military leaders and media moguls.   57.6% of them felt that the US is currently too involved in global affairs, and almost 75% of them believe the U.S. is no longer globally respected; its standing in the world has been tarnished over the last decade.   They as a group are almost equally divided on the question who will likely rule the world that you live in … between the US and China.  And interestingly, 71.1% of them said they would be interested in attending a public service university scholarship program that then required five years of government service after graduation.

 What do Millenials expect from the work place?

Another study called “No Collar Workers”  commissioned by MTV focused more on workplace attitudes.  Some of the responses are not surprising.  As they grew of on all forms of digital technology, they expect their workplace to be equally well equipped.   In addition they:

  • Want flexible work hours
  • Need more “me time” at work
  • Expect a constant flow of feedback on how they are doing
  • They are looking for mentors and coaches to give them career and job-related advice

Oh, and the really feel they should be able to wear jeans to work.

Here are perhaps some more interesting observations that came out of the MTV study.

 1)      They value collaboration over revolution.  Boomers were the protest and revolution generation, and they were voices for change.   Not so much for Gen Y.   They are not as driven by individual achievement and like the collaborative diverse experience that comes from working in teams.

2)      They value the work more than the money.  Half of the members of Gen Y surveyed said they would “rather have no job than a job they hate.” Among the top options for job desirability, “loving what I do” outranked salaries and big bonuses.

3)      They desire chances to be creative.  If not money, what do Millennials want most? The vast majority (83%) are “looking for a job where my creativity is valued,” while more than 9 in 10 Millennials are “motivated to work harder when I know where my work is going” and want supervisors, managers, and executives to listen to their ideas.

4)      They expect to be listened to.   While Millennials as a group are respectful of most adults and authority, they also feel strongly that they can teach even the CEO a thing or two.  The MTV study found that 76% of Millennials think their boss could learn a lot from them, compared to only 50% of boomers. Generally speaking, Millennials want to feel as though they’ve been heard, and that their opinions and insights matter.

5)      They want transparency. Another report, this one by Life Way Research reveals that transparency was one of the four characteristics millennials wanted in a leader.   This makes sense when you consider that Millennials heard their parents talk openly about everything from family finances to sex.   So, they expect the same openness from their managers and bosses at work   Millennials want to feel like they are part of a community at work—nearly 9 in 10 want a workplace to be social and fun—and have a genuine desire to listen into organizational strategy sessions. Instead of being a small cog unaware of any larger mission, Millennials like being in the loop regarding their company’s vision, and how it is going to innovate to stay ahead of the curve.

6)      They believe the work environment should be flat.   They see no reason for hierarchy or bureaucracy.   They value environments where companies are agile and act quickly to enact programs.  They aren’t impressed by big titles and executive perks.  This may be why most of them cite their most admired companies as ones like Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon.

What does this mean?

Well, if your company is hierarchical, highly conservative, communicates poorly, doesn’t listen well to its employees, and operates in a top-down manner most of the time, you aren’t likely to appeal to this vitally important portion of the work force.   Did I mention that most millennials believe they will have multiple jobs (and employers) over their career?  They aren’t afraid to leave a job if it doesn’t enrich them.

Here is an enlightened TED talk called Millennials: Who are they and why do we hate them?

Other Related Articles

Managing Millennials: Be a Coach

What Does the Next Generation of Leaders Think?

Millennials Don’t Think Like Their Parents. How Do You Design For Them?

Millennials vs. Baby Boomers: Who Would You Rather Hire?

Or, Can you relate to this?


Filed under Innovation, Leading, Managing Teams

Shackleton’s Amazing Leadership

Every so often, a story emerges that just captivates the imagination for its incredible un-believability. One such story is Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing, which I first read some 10 years ago. It captivated me then as it did on my recent re-reading.

The story starts in England, where Polar explorer Ernest Shackleton is recruiting a crew to sail with him to the South Pole. By then, fabled British explorer Robert F. Scott had already perished with four of his colleagues in their attempt to be the first to reach it. Yes, such exploration was serious business. Lansing recounts that this is the classified ad Shackleton ran in London newspapers:


Kind of makes you wonder what kind of people would sign up based on that rosy depiction doesn’t it? In retrospect, they were precisely the right kind. The ship was named ENDURANCE, after the leader’s family motto “by Endurance we conquer.” I am sure Shackleton had no idea how prophetic that name would be.

The expedition would ultimately last nearly 25 months. For 19 of those months the crew would be trapped on the Arctic ice, hanging on to the slimmest chances for survival. Here is a brief Chronology of the Major Events during 1914-1916 Shackleton Expedition (A more detailed account follows on the map of the journey):

  • August 8, 1914: The Endurance sails from England. Spirits are high.
  • October 27, 1915: After nine long months trapped in the ice, the extreme pressures of the ice pack are more than the ship can handle. Endurance is crushed. The crew is in darkness, hearing water rushing in as they scramble out onto the ice. They are able to salvage some supplies and 3 tiny lifeboats as they abandoned ship and take up life on the foreboding ice. They are now even more alone, cold, without significant protection from the elements. Morale drops to a new low. Eventually, the crushed Endurance sinks, leaving the crew utterly alone with no hope of rescue or even communication with the outside world. Food is scarce. Eventually, they make it to Elephant Island.
  • April 24–May 10, 1916: Elephant Island may be dry, but it is frozen and without life to sustain them and away from any normal maritime routes. So, Shackleton decides to lead a small group of six who set off in the James Caird (one of the lifeboats) on a highly risky 800 mile journey in open sea. They are heading into a hurricane they had no way to know was coming. But they know that they must reach civilization if they are to survive. They also know that their navigation in that tiny boat over that great distance must be deadly accurate if they hope to reach South Georgia Island from whence they started in 1914. The storms take everything out of them, but they land (barely) on the opposite side of the island from the whaling station.
  • August 30, 1916: Shackleton secures a steam ship and is finally able to rescue the remainder of the crew he left behind 3 months earlier on Elephant Island. Not a single one of his 28 man crew dies throughout the entire ordeal.


So what do we learn from Shackleton?

Amazing Versatility, for one. You can imagine they trained extensively for the intended mission – a run to the South Pole. But once things went wrong, he knew survival dictated a shift in focus – at least two major shifts in mission as conditions went from bad to worse. He re-plans, and refocuses as needed in response to what he is facing.

Cool Objectivity. Once the initial mission was abandoned, he quickly and realistically assesses his new reality. He is prompt to recognize that idleness is a huge threat to crew discipline and morale. He responds by creating a new rigorous daily routine (even though we can imagine many might have asked “what’s the point?”).

Brave Front. He always projects confidence and hope when in front of the men. Several of his crew remark about this after their rescue. This seems remarkable given the circumstances. However he did leave a diary in which you see the insecurities and fears emerge. In one passage, he wrote “A man must shape himself to a new mark directly as the old one goes to ground,” he wrote. “I pray God, I can manage to get the whole party to civilization.” One difficult leadership lesson, it seems to me is that we have to feed not only the team in our charge, but we must also feed ourselves so we may remain strong in difficult circumstances. Shackleton found a way to do this.

Forward Looking. Even when the crew finally set foot on Elephant Island, Shackleton knew that this was not the ultimate solution for them. While the others took time to revel in what they had accomplished, survival was not then assured. He immediately set his attention to the next stage in the adventure – to attempt to sail in a 22 foot lifeboat to South Georgia. It took three different attempts before he could break through the pack ice around Elephant Island and make it to open ocean. He never lost site of the mission – returning his crew to civilization.

Unshakeable Faith. No matter what inner demons Shackleton considered in his private moments, he seemed to dedicate himself fully to the best interests of his crew. The crew seemed to instinctively know that their “boss” was there for them no matter what. Even when some considered mutiny, Shackleton was willing to do whatever was necessary to assure the stability of the crew.

I highly encourage you to read the book and reflect on what it must have been like. Ask yourself if you could have endured? How would you have led?


Filed under Leading, Managing Teams, Personal Leadership, Strategy