written by Mick Ukleja

LEADERSHIP IN AN AGE OF INNOVATION

(Millennials: Play To Their Strengths)

When I was in high school the creative kid was someone out on the fringe. We (and their instructors), would say, “Boy. Does that kid have their head in the clouds!” The intended meaning was that they were hopelessly disconnected from the real world.

How things have changed! Today “living in the cloud” has become the best connected way of life. It amazes me how cloud computing has integrated all my apparatuses and made my computing a little more seamless. It’s a game-changing technology and has helped me to appreciate my electronic gadgetry even more. No more synchronizing all my devices to get my music, documents, photos, etc., from one system to another. It’s automatic. As long as my wireless is working I have instant access—you guessed it—to the cloud.

This has also impacted leadership. The style has shifted from the necessity of leaders as the storehouse of information, to the employees having access to that information from other sources than the leader. The leadership evolution is taking place, and those that don’t make the shift will—like the dinosaurs—become extinct.

The manager as one who assigns tasks, controls information, trains employees to do their jobs, authorizes actions, then checks up on the work, has changed. The shift in technology has also created a shift in how we lead. The storehouse of knowledge, innovation, decision-making has filtered down the line. This is also true in the military. Young adults (18 and up), are given digital devices, and along with those devices, much more responsibility for input that goes into making strategic decisions.

In our own research, my colleagues and I discovered that one of the nine orientations of Millennials is that they are highly imaginative. The intrinsic value that drives that behavior is self-expression. They have both a desire and a need to make their mark on the world. And they are!! Technology has boosted this orientation. They embrace change and thrive on brainstorming. They love to create and they love to problem solve. They have the tools—mentally and technologically—to do it.

The innovator is no longer the weirdo drawing cartoons during class and pretending to be a superhero. In the workforce of today, the more innovators, the better. It’s innovation that will drive companies and give them competitive advantage-not just top down, but also bottom up. It needs to be cultivated in the rank and file. Why? Because they have the desire and the devices to do it.

Even a lack of experience can be advantageous to creativity. Experience is helpful when it allows us to use shortcuts in getting a job done. But it can bind our imaginations into certain patterns of thinking that squelch creativity. Roger von Oech, author of Whack On The Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative put it this way: “The hard part is letting go of what worked for you two years ago, but will soon be out of date.”

Today’s workers are capable of having as much information as their managers, and in many cases, have specialized skills that are more advanced than their bosses. Rather than being threatened by that, the smart boss leverages those skills. Rosabeth Moss Kanter said, “After years of telling corporate citizens to ‘trust the system’, many companies must relearn instead to trust their people—and encourage their people to use neglected creative capacities in order to tap the most potent economic stimulus of all: idea power.” The good news is you don’t have to convince young employees to use their drive for self-expression and creativity.

Today’s young employees have some allergies that need to be recognized. For one, they are allergic to environments that require them to seek permission before making a contribution. They are wired that way. Self-expression is a part of their software. It was put in at an early age and is constantly being updated. The cloud is just one more download. YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook has not only allowed, but also encouraged them to express themselves. So why would anyone expect an abrupt about face in an organization. The surefire way to get them to search for optional employment is to put them in a passive position waiting for instructions from above.

So what is a company to do? What good companies ARE doing.

1. Acknowledge the shift in the style of leadership. Looking at the landscape and embracing the shift(s) will serve an organization well. The problem named is the problem solved.

2. Have a vision that is clear and compelling. If it’s not meaningful it will not be compelling. Rather than barking out orders, create meaningful work. The young employee gravitates to this. Come to think of it, so does the older employee. It’s just that younger ones will leave quicker.

3. Make sure the organizations values are aligned with behavior. Rather than making every decision for your young employees, values help drive their decision-making. The world is moving at an accelerated speed. It’s impossible to have a rule for every nuance. A better strategy is for the leaders to model the core values. The value-driven organization equips their people to make on the run decisions when a rule might not be readily available. Good judgment will be served by those values. Like the military, values enable decision-making to be pushed down the line.

4. Take an interest in your people. Even though young employees are LinkedIn, they can feel Left-Out. It’s in the relationship that your experience and core values will be contagiously caught. Authentic leaders who truly care about their people add to the well-being of the employee and the productivity of the organization.

Innovation is the implementation of ideas. It’s in everyone’s DNA. Is it in your organization’s DNA?

Share your ideas with us.

(Mick Ukleja is the co-author of the book Managing the Millennials: Discover the Core Competencies for Managing Today’s Workforce)

*We have partnered with Red Tree Leadership to deliver training in Managing The Millennials.

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01.31.2012

One response to “LEADERSHIP IN AN AGE OF INNOVATION”

  1. Bill Shumard says:

    This should remind us all who are leaders from the Baby Boomer generation to work diligently to form relationships with the Millenials who work with/for us. They don’t have to rely on us–their superiors–to provide them with “institutional knowledge” that is now available at their fingertips. Concentrating on mentoring and coaching our young superstars could turn out to be invaluable.

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