Archive for ‘Leadership’

March 26, 2012

MY development, MY career. What, I’m selfish?

They say one of the reasons why a New Normal for jobs needs to be established is the generational shift in our workplace. Often the conflict is characterized as the struggle between the different working styles of the Boomers, GenXers, and Millennials but I think there is also an interaction with the different workplaces that can be characterized as such as well. The cultures, independent of the time they were founded but informed by them, can be influencers on the individuals who work at these organizations as much as the employees’ impact on the cultures. And that complexity is easily lost in translation.

A recent article in Forbes laments the shift (“Millennial Generation’s Non-Negotiables: Money, Fame And Image” to the ‘me’ generation workforce. I don’t argue that there has not been a shift, but I am not so sure about the assumption that people’s attitudes towards work has a cyclical nature.

I see some links between what is perceived as individualism and work that leadership development and talent management professionals have been doing to get people to own their development and own their careers. We tell leaders to help people help themselves, and that management has turned the corner from paternalism to a more cooperative and innovative values-based situational framework. This sets the stage for people to find what they want to do for a living based on what they are good at, and for companies to recruit workers who expect to be developed and nurtured.

And then we call them “millenial” and “selfish.”  I’m not saying that some of the broader critiques of the Kardashian generation aren’t justified – but the interplay between the observed phenomena and what structures, policies, and procedures are considered to be the cutting-edge of human resources and organizational development also needs to be considered.

An extreme example of this is the CultureRx organization’s ROWE (Results-Only Work Environment) initiative that’s getting quite a bit of attention lately (  Their position is that as long as an employee is getting her job done well, then the organization should not control her time, resulting in greater ownership of the task and the goals of the company. I’m not skeptical but I know this may only work in some environments. But if this is where even a portion of our organizations are going, why should we fault the up-and-coming workforce for expecting it as such?

March 14, 2012

It’s really all about the prime directive…

Today’s New York Times has an op-ed ( written by a fellow who is resigning from Goldman Sachs due to ethical concerns that is causing quite a buzz at work. I was facilitating a session with some rather senior bankers from another firm this morning and many thought the move quite outrageous. Maybe for different reasons, but certainly outrageous nonetheless.

For them, it’s a no-brainer that you need to serve the clients and give them the best options for their growth, and that not everybody, nor every firm, does that. The taboo of writing an op-ed and what the possible repercussions may be was another topic.

For me, it’s a continuing though process about ethics in our society and whether or not having a good moral compass is mutually exclusive with having profit-based goals. I’ve spent years reading philosophy and literature on the subject and am constantly evolving in my own opinion on the matter. When I was in my young 20’s I felt the world was a zero-sum game. By now I’m feeling like I see a more complex relationship between the have’s and have-not’s but as far as what is possible I am still searching for answers.

There are many organizations who have sprung up since the most recent recession began that have business models based on the greater good and that are able to make a profit. Heralded as the new entrepreneurs for a modern age, these companies are mixed bag as far as I’m concerned. Well-intentioned white people, self-empowered to make the world a better place, make me a little uncomfortable sometimes (see discussions on White Savior Industrial Complex,, via The Atlantic). To the extent that self interest is a necessary component of acting on the behalf of the hungry huddled masses, as we all feel better when we are being appreciated for being so selfless and giving. It’s like a Miss America pageant, world peace and all of that. I’m sure you do want that, dear.

And isn’t everything commerce of one type or another? Where is a pure egalitarian society, no greed, no hierarchy, and no popular cliques? Even the most radical organizations I have known have social hierarchy and favored cliques. Instead of money the currency of these social groups is still hoarded, spread out unevenly, and scarce.

I’d like to think we could rise to the occasion and be both ethical and engage in the current global marketplace. It would behoove us to figure out what baby steps we need to take, even if the full picture of how we get there is a bit murky.

It’s like the prime directive in Star Trek. They had a moral rule, don’t interfere with anyone’s development, that they really tried very hard to follow on the Enterprise. And more times than not, they failed. But in trying, they were able to come to the most ethical solution that they could, given the information that they had. And most of the time, most of the people were better off for the experience. Well, as long as you weren’t the anonymous ensign nobody had seen before. It never turned out well for him.

February 11, 2010

On developing a culture of excellence.. a start

It has been found that organizational culture is difficult to influence; when attempting to breed new behaviors success often depends on a mixture of strong leadership/followership and the institution of intuitive and relevant process and structural initiatives.

When considering the bigger picture, often the multi-dimensional value of consistent training and development is overlooked.

One aspect is motivation.  A consistent and perceived-fair training and development program is a great motivator in helping people realize their potential.  When there is institutional pride in the work being done,  it has been found that people are more motivated to accomplish even the most mundane of tasks.  Giving someone a training opportunity makes them feel like their work is important in the eyes of their managers, and that sense of appreciation goes a long way.

People need to feel like they are doing well, but sometimes that doesn’t leave room for improvement.  When training opportunities arise, it stirs the pot up a bit, and shows people more of what they do not know in a way that empowers them to achieve. As opposed to what some organizations do when they pit employees against one another in what some think is a ‘healthy’ competition. For example,  “Bob over there is performing fantastically. Just look at his numbers. You need to make your department more productive, like his.”  A motivation-minded leader would find out what Bob is doing differently and provide others in the organization with a learning opportunity.

I have seen poorly-planned and unfair training initiatives as well, and the effect is generally one that creates even more displeasure and distrust. “Aww geez, I have to go to that training, ” I’d hear, “might as well take me out and shoot me.”  Or, “Why does he get to go to all of the professional development courses? I’ve been here longer and have been begging for a class for years.”  I suppose with everything that might benefit people there is a chance if done poorly it could harm.

As this is just a start of the conversation, I’m trying to figure out where to go after motivation. I think it’s good to invest in the intellectual capital of the organization, and see it as a long-term investment, but the economy and workforce is in a state of unstable uncertainty right now. Sometimes I think we should create a new type of guild system, in which people with different skills need to belong to professional organizations and hold one another to account for the excellence in the profession as a whole. That might open up a very large can of worms.

Whether the training and development takes place through a workplace or professional organization, however,  I believe it is going to make the difference between success and failure for many people. The landscape under our feet continues to change at an ever-increasing pace, and agility as we move shall be measured by how much we know about what is around us.

January 28, 2010

The State of the Union

I’ve been re-reading “Primal Leadership,” and it seems timely in light of tonight’s State of the Union address.  The speech was so wonderfully crafted to represent a leadership model espoused by Goleman, et al.,  an emotionally-intelligent, values-based leadership. I heard a little Stephen R. Covey in there also,  as President Obama seemed to want to convey that he ‘sought first to understand, then to be understood.’

While the President was speaking, I couldn’t help but grab the laptop and start taking notes. Some of the moves were elegant, like chess, others were a bit Hollywood in the appeal to baser emotions.  Overwhelmingly, the style he spoke with was exciting to watch and I think upon further analysis I can learn a lot.

The outline I made while listening is as follows:

1. Celebrate past triumphs over the daunting and uncertain, stressing that, at the time, nobody knew if the struggle would end in triumph.

2. Acknowledge that real emotions are being felt and that there is pain in the struggle, right here and now.

3. Set a broad goal that speaks to hope and faith, still owning that improvement needs to occur.( ‘government that matches American peoples’ decency’)

4. Owned difficult unpopular decisions, made a case for what worked and what didn’t. Used humor to release tension in room. (bank bailout was ‘about as popular as a root canal,’ lightly teased Republicans for not standing when he spoke about tax cuts)

5. Again acknowledged that there is real emotional loss and that change is imperfect but crucial.

6. Laid out plans, both specific and general, using examples, for how to proceed with recovery.

7. Made the case for change;  created burning platform using emotionally charged language. (‘time to act is now’… comparing US to foreign competition, posing image of US in second place as untenable)

8. Laid out more plans, more specific, told more stories.

9. Spoke of a lack of trust and faith in the followers, challenged leaders to rise to the occasion. (‘we have a deficit of trust,’ ‘we need to close the credibility gap,’ give the people the government the deserve’)

10. Acknowledged challenges in moving forward, differences of opinion and diversity that make the leadership strong. Gave examples of how faith was lost in bits over time. Added specific areas that need work in order to regain faith. (don’t ask, don’t tell, equal pay laws for women, broken immigration system)

11. Closed with an argument for the values that drive the leaders and followers,  spoke to the resilience of the followers through hardest times, raised a call for people to gather together as future heroes.

I am a supporter of the President’s change initiatives, but I worry about the long-term value of some of the tactics he’s using.  In goading people to fight together, it may be triggering a fight-or-flight response and those who do not agree or need some time to get swung, will go straight for the flight.  Finding a common enemy outside the US might work to unite us on a shallow level, but in the end it is with acknowledging our differences and embracing our common values we shall be truly joined in struggle. I can see how he used both of these messages, but I am unsure if there is potency in the latter when trust is an issue.

This brings up some important questions of leadership that I’m trying to wrestle with in regards to mourning organizational loss, regaining trust, and building confidence in systems. I’m going to have to chew over this a little (and maybe crack a few more books) but I’m going to use this State of the Union address to launch from. It’s as good a place as any…