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Leading in a Post-Heroic World: Do You Have What it Takes?

August 13, 2017

tough kid flexing muscles

Date Line: 1994, Forbes Magazine

THE NEW POST-HEROIC LEADERSHIP ”Ninety-five percent of American managers today say the right thing. Five percent actually do it.” That’s got to change.

Post-heroic leadership has gone by many names: shared leadership, participative leadership, distributed leadership, and servant leadership. The point here is that people across, up and down organizations and communities play an active role in leadership.

Positional power and authority – namely those in management positions – no longer have the monopoly on leading. The key distinction is that managers are appointed to their positions; leadership is earned. Since the late nineties, my mission has been to promote the benefits of embracing a shared, post-heroic mindset in organizations. My Master’s thesis at Royal Roads University was on shared leadership, entitled A Leap of Faith.

While some organizations understand the big benefits of engaging employees and actively involving them in demonstrating leadership, most unfortunately do not. And when one is in an economic downturn, the mind tends to shut out long-term, strategic thinking; the focus is on the here and now.

When an organization does embrace a shared leadership mindset, everyone accepts responsibility for the future of the organization. It’s not just a senior management responsibility. However, managers have to realize that they’re not abdicating power or responsibilities.

Woman FlexingPost-heroic leaders are completely engaged with their followers. This type of leadership is more difficult because it’s more dynamic and requires courage by the manager. However, it’s also easier because once it’s internalized it becomes part of all managerial elements. In other words, it becomes embedded in the organization’s culture.

There are those who are cynical about Post-Heroic, or shared, leadership, believing it to be a weak and ineffective form of leading. David Stauffer wrote an article in defense of Post-Heroic leadership in the Harvard Business Review in 1998 on what he called the 10 Myths of Post-Heroic Leadership:

1.There should be little conflict at work since people want to get along well.

2. The Post-Heroic manager is a “soft” manager.

3. Collaboration is in, competition is out.

4. The post-heroic leader is a facilitator and does not make decisions.

5. A leader who makes independent decisions is acting heroically.

6. All decisions must be made through consensus.

7. Team commitment to a decision overrides its quality.

8. Only the organization’s top leader is allowed to have vision.

9. Managing as a post-heroic leader is slow and inefficient.

10. Post-heroic leadership does not produce short-term benefits.

The bottom line, two decades ago, was that Post-Heroic leadership delivers the results that are needed in the economy. It requires, as Stauffer put it: “…decisiveness, sangfroid, and results-oriented thinking in small measure….a leader with a solid sense of self-worth and self-confidence.” And to do this – well – means that a manager needs to have the self-confidence and self-worth to embark on this process.

If you’re in a senior management position, ask yourself this question: “Am I creating owners or dependents in my organization?” If you want people to act like it’s their business then make it their business.

So ask yourself if you’re in a position of authority: “Do I have what it takes to embrace Post-Heroic Leadership?”

And if you’re in a staff role, ask yourself: “Do I have the courage to assert myself to insist that I be taken seriously as a leader?”

You never find yourself until you face the truth. 
– Pearl Bailey


holisti-leadershipClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.


Jim BeachVisit Jim’s e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

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Paddling in Organizational Whitewater: Is it Technical Skills or Wisdom that you Need to Lead?

August 6, 2017

First Post Pic Whitewater Caneing

The slow job recovery from the 2008-09 Great Recession has been a tough workout for people trying to cope with upheaval in organizations: increased workloads, new technologies to adopt and understand, global competition from emerging economies, the outflow of corporate knowledge from retiring Baby Boomers, balancing the demands of parenting and helping ageing parents, and the list goes on. For those in managerial positions, attempting to function as good leaders during this turbulence is especially challenging.

There’s no shortage of advice from the self-appointed experts and countless writers on leadership. Everyone has their own angle or perspective. The purpose of this post is to zoom in on one particular aspect of leading people during what can be described as organizational whitewater. I’ll use one analogy as an illustration.

First, however, let’s look at how new university graduates from business schools have been set up for failure as leaders when they enter the real world. While a few management writers over the past few years have noted this problem, McGill University management guru Henry Mintzberg has consistently hammered away at it.

Management and leadership are intertwined. Mintzberg explains that leaders cannot be “trained” in MBA programs; it comes only with experience – falling down, picking yourself up, learning from the experience, and then moving forward.

What has occurred in the business world is that new grads don’t possess the contextual knowledge and life experiences to handle complex problems. Yes, they’ve acquired technical skills and a foundation for building their careers, but to say that they’re ready for dealing effectively with inter-related issues affecting, for example, suppliers, customer needs, unions, staff relationships, foreign partners, and production schedules is unrealistic.

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One of Mintzberg’s big beefs with business schools is their heavy reliance on the use of case studies. This artificial reality in his view gives graduates a false sense of capability. Learning through experience is what counts. I’ll provide an analogy that will help drive home Mintzberg’s point.

In my younger years (30s and 40s) I was very heavy into outdoor recreation. One activity I loved was whitewater canoeing (I tried kayaking but didn’t like it as much). I was fortunate to have excellent instructors, fellows in the 40s, who had been paddling for over 20 years. They were masters at what they did. It was inspiring to watch them navigate whitewater, displaying not just power but more importantly grace and wisdom. It’s not about brute strength when whitewater canoeing or kayaking. Obviously, a certain measure of technical skills is required to become proficient in the sport; however, it’s only one component of a bigger picture.

The same applies to organizations. A manager cannot expect to just force his or her ideas and will upon others. While technical skills are important, such as what was learned at business school (e.g., accounting, quantitative methods and marketing), to effectively lead people requires accumulated knowledge and wisdom.

One of the most important things I learned from my canoeing instructors was that while you could learn technical skills fairly quickly, it took years and years to build a knowledge base from your experiences. For example, there have been numerous news stories on young paddlers (typically males) who became technically proficient in handling a canoe or kayak but ran into serious problems when they got in over their heads. They didn’t understand well enough how to read a river or to take the time to map out a route, including identifying hazards (e.g, partially submerged logs). Patience is what’s critical here, and a measure of humbleness knowing that Mother Nature deserves respect.

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Unfortunately, each year canoeists and kayakers drown or become paraplegics or quadriplegics when they exceed their technical capabilities. And it’s often the less experienced who end up in these situations. The message my instructors gave their students was to respect the river because it is unforgiving. The same applies to organizations, especially during times of economic stress.

In the context of today’s organizational whitewater, the message for new and less experienced leaders is to be humble, watch and listen for the signals, and learn from your experiences. Of particular importance is to practice patience. Do this and you’ll emerge at the other end of the whitewater a better leader and intact.


Photos by Jim Taggart (Penobscot River, Maine).


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The Youth Conservation Corps: Has Its Time Arrived?

July 30, 2017

Youth unemployed.jpg

Little is being done to address the job plight of younger workers in Canada and the United States. Yet they have a lifetime ahead of them in the labor market and will be expected to help support the huge numbers of Baby Boomers and seniors in their retirement years. The slow job recovery following the 2008-09 Great Recession (almost a decade ago), combined with the steady introduction of automation (and increasingly artificial intelligence), is raising an urgent call for creative public policy responses.

Take the time to both read this post and share it with friends. There are lessons from over 80 years ago from which society–and the economy–would benefit greatly.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt—FDR—is one of America’s most revered presidents. He had his faults and flaws just like any other human being. However, he was an incredible visionary who could also quickly put into action new initiatives for the benefit of the country. One such initiative, the focus of this post, was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

The CCC is referred to in biographies on FDR. However, the PBS documentary on the CCC,  American Experience, provides a much fuller appreciation of the genius of FDR. The documentary is fascinating to watch because it was based largely on interviews with men who had worked with the CCC when they were teenagers. A few quotations from these men are included later on to hear it in their own words. This is a remarkable story, and one that has applications to the plight facing young people in today’s tough economy and job market.

In conjunction with this post is a brief mention of a second American Experience documentary that complements the CCC: Black Blizzards, a terrifying occurrence during the Dust Bowl of the Dirty Thirties.

FDRWhen President Roosevelt took office in March 1933, he faced a country in dire straits with an official unemployment rate of 25%. FDR was deeply aware of the ticking time bomb that underlay the masses of unemployed men, many of whom were unable to feed their families. When famed economist John Maynard Keynes was once asked if he’d ever seen a situation as desperate as The Great Depression, he replied: “Yes, it was called The Dark Ages, and it lasted for 400 years.”

President Roosevelt knew that something had to be done quickly to prevent social unrest and to also produce something tangible for America’s future. As a conservationist, he conceived the idea of a corps of American men who would address the country’s decades-long abuse of the environment, while simultaneously providing employment. The CCC would be America’s fastest and most competently executed mobilization of citizens in its history. As FDR biographer Jonathan Alter put it: “The lessons for today could hardly be fresher.”

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Conceived in early 1932, FDR unveiled his idea to Congress on March 21. Both friends and foes argued that what he proposed was not possible on logistical grounds. Calling it Roosevelt’s “Tree Army” (because it was run by the U.S. Army), many compared FDR to Italy’s Fascist dictator Mussolini, while others referred to the Corps as “Storm Troopers.” However, FDR barrelled ahead believing in his vision and his personal capabilities to make this new program a success.

The CCC was launched in 1933. It should be noted that it was just one of several jobs programs initiated by FDR during The Great Depression.By the summer of 1933, just three months after being launched, a quarter of a million men were part of the CCC. The requirements to be part of the CCC included: U.S. citizen, male, under age 25, unemployed, and willing to spend six months with the CCC earning a dollar a day. Organized labor balked at the daily wage, so FDR in typical strategic fashion appointed a union person to head up the program.

Each state was part of the CCC and had a quota in the number of work camps, where each one had 200 men. African Americans were part of that quota, reflecting the 10% of the country’s population. However, in keeping with the prevalent attitudes their camps were segregated.

In addition to the massive number of unemployed Americans, the situation in the heartland of the United States was becoming desperate. Early settlers to the Southern Plains saw the land as the Garden of Eden, where crops were bountiful. The attitude was to go forth and challenge the land, and during World War I and the 1920s that’s just what the settlers did. Millions of acres of grasslands were ploughed under as the federal government pushed for more crops to be planted to feed the rapidly growing urban populations. In 1931, for example, a record was set for wheat harvest. Texan Melt White explains what took place in blunt terms: “They abused the land…they raped it; they got everything out of it they could.”

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Then in the summer of 1931 the rain stopped. No one was prepared for what was to come. Winds blew constantly, raising massive “Black Blizzards” which transported the extremely fine dust particles as far away as the Eastern Seaboard. The dust accumulated to such heights as to barricade the doors of houses. People coughed up black goo. What took 1,000 years to build up one inch of topsoil was scoured away in days. A visiting journalist labeled this horror “The Dust Bowl.”

Between 1932 and 1933, the number of dust storms increased from 14 to 38. Bizarrely, farmers kept ploughing their land, worsening the problem. By 1934 the number of storms had increased further. The incoming clouds had different colours, depending on from which state they originated. Farmers resisted help from Washington because they believed that it was their responsibility to provide for their families.

However, in 1934 the government began destroying cattle since they were worthless. As one old-timer put it, the Southern Plains began to resemble the Sahara Desert.The Civilian Conservation Corps was therefore launched at one of the most critical times in America’s history, and as noted earlier, has never since been replicated for its effectiveness and positive impact. Let’s now hear from those men who were part of the CCC.

Clifford Hammond, who was raised on a farm, joined the CCC in 1934 at age 18. For him, life was about chores and eating cornbread at every meal. His father knew nothing about crop rotation, fertilization or soil erosion. One of Hammond’s teachers tried to teach modern farming practices, but was ignored by the farmers in the community. As Hammond put it: “If it hadn’t been for Roosevelt in establishing the CCC, I don’t know what a lot of us young guys would have done. I don’t know what my next step would have been.”

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What appealed to Hammond was having two pairs of shoes and three “squares” a day. Plus you only worked six hours, in contrast to the 12 hour days he’d been used to on the farm. He also learned how to live and work with others who were different from himself. He admitted that in growing up in Illinois he was used to playing only with White boys and girls. By working with people from other racial groups in the CCC he came to understand that they were “…just like anybody else.”

Harley Jolley joined the CCC as a teenage in 1937. He recalled “…playing in gullies two stories high. That was my playground….all that erosion and that much good land gone. The soil erosion we were losing annually was enough to load a series of boxcars seven times around the earth.”

Jolley recalled their hard work. Returning to their barracks in late afternoon, they’d eat supper and then engage in courses in the evenings. As he put it: “I became much sounder in body, built good legs, that territory as well. And I wound up a fairly good, healthy young teenager.”

It was the evening courses that helped these young men later in life. Many were illiterate, and as Jolley stated: “FDR said ‘they will be taught to read and write. Nobody, no boy will leave our camps illiterate.’” Courses included electrical and plumbing, including typing classes.

Vincente Ximenes, born in Texas, joined the CCC in 1938 at age 19. He remembered the soil as being totally depleted, with cattle being rounded up and slaughtered because there was no market for meat. And he recalled clearly the growing anger among people with the government: “The seeds were there. I mean, the people were there who were angry enough to do it. I would say that FDR is the one that saved this country, you know, from having a revolt.”

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Ximenes echoed Hammond’s comment about racism being an issue with some of the CCC workers, but he learned the value of human rights: “It stayed with me the rest of my life.”Houston Pritchett moved to Detroit in 1929 and joined the CCC in 1939. One of his main memories was the soup kitchen and having to eat all their meals there: “You’d line up, you’d go there and just sit down and you’d eat.” For him, “Roosevelt was the best thing that ever happened. He didn’t only do something for the poor black man, he did something for the poor white man, too….They were teaching us to work, and we learned something.”

FDR: “First, we are giving opportunity of employment for a quarter of a million of the unemployed, especially the young men who have dependents. Let them go into forestry and flood prevention work….in creating the Civilian Conservation Corps, we are killing two birds with one stone. We are clearly enhancing he value of our natural resources. And, at the same time, we are relieving an insatiable amount of actual distress.”

One of the important aspects of the CCC was that $25 of the $30 monthly pay was sent to the workers’ families. These remittances were extremely important to helping distribute income during the Great Depression, and as well helped ensure that the men didn’t squander their earnings.

The CCC was responsible for building a number of well-known American sites, such as Camp David and Carlsbad Caverns, not to mention state and national parks. One major impact from their work in later years was the advent of recreation as a major industry in the U.S.

The entry of the United States into World War II was responsible for the phasing out of the CCC. The huge demand for men to enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces resulted in the program ending in July 1942. However, America now had a large contingent of men who had been part of the CCC and who were ready to serve their country.

As Vincente Ximenes bluntly put it: “Without the CCC, I really don’t know what we would have done. We did not have an army prepared to go to war. And here was approximately two and a half or three million men who were prepared and had been organized to work together. I joined the Air Force in 1941, and they didn’t have to do a hell of a lot of training for me. I was prepared.”

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Houston Pritchett adds: “The CCC made me a man; it made me respect discipline and how to work and get along with people.” He recalled when he visited many years later the camp where he had worked. He brought along his granddaughter. “I went back up there and seen them trees, where they got them where you can’t cut them down. And my little granddaughter, she was telling them: ‘All these trees, she said her grandpa planted all the trees up there.’”

Clifford Hammond remembered meeting a woman at an event for seniors not long ago. Once they started talking, she knew exactly which CCC camp he had worked in many decades earlier. As she said to him: “You couldn’t visualize what a change you guys made.”

FDR: “I am thinking of you [CCC] as a visible token of encouragement to the whole country. Through you, the nation will graduate a fine group of strong, young men, clean-living, trained to self-discipline, and above all, willing and proud to work for the joy of working. That, my friends, must be the new spirit of the American future. And you are the vanguard of that new spirit.”

What became of these four men?
– Harley Jolley became a professor of history,
– Vincente Ximenes built a career in government and served in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations,
– Clifford Hammond owned and operated Cliff’s Amusement Park in Albuquerque for 50 years,
– Houston Pritchett worked for Ford for 31 years.

A FEW QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND ACTION:
1) What lessons can we draw from the success of the Civilian Conservation Corps?

2) Are there relevant applications to today’s economy and job market?

3) To avoid what has been labeled “The Lost Generation,” what should we do to ensure that youth in all socio-economic strata across North America are able to contribute productively to their countries’ futures?

“Give me your help, not to win votes alone, but to win in this crusade to restore America to its own people.”
— Franklin D. Roosevelt


holisti-leadershipClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.


Jim BeachVisit Jim’s e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

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What Can Gen Y Teach Baby Boomers?

July 23, 2017

teacher.pngTeaching in the traditional sense has involved a linear power relationship between the ‘master’ and the student. The same principle has applied to organizations, where new employees (usually in their twenties) yield to the authoritarian structure to learn “how we do things here.” Leadership, in effect, was akin to command and obey, and not about enrolling people in a common mission and vision.

That model worked reasonably well in the 20th Century, or at least for the most part. But now in a world of increasing complexity and unpredictable events, combined with bursts of technological advancements, the old teaching model is an anachronism. One could argue that it will impede the ability of North American society to expand its knowledge and innovation capacity.

Now that Boomers are steadily matching towards the retirement door, or at least transitioning from working in repressive authoritarian organizations to other more enlightening pursuits, it’s time to take stock and reflect how we pass the torch to the next generations: Gen X and Gen Y.

Gen X is already moving steadily into management positions, with many holding senior positions in business and government. This generation (35 to 49) has had to figure things out on its own as it’s had to suffer in the looming shadow of Baby Boomers. Fortunately, they’re the best educated generation in history. With the massive, imminent exodus of Boomers, Gen X will have advancement opportunities that Boomers could only have dreamed of years ago. So you guys will get your cake in the end.

But then there’s Gen Y (20 to 35). This is the generation that was being told that they’d have the world by the tail. Then the financial system almost collapsed in 2008, followed by the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It’s taken several years to restore economic growth, as modest as it has been. In the interim, Gen Y has been hitting the labor market in growing numbers. Many have large student loans.

Digital Teaching
The meter’s running. Before more damage is done to this generation we need to figure out how to engage them more fully and to also learn from them. We need to turn the old teaching model on its head and throw out the power relationship mindset, both for the education system and organizations.

One person who has done a lot of research on Gen Y and who clearly subscribes to the belief that we Boomers can learn from them is Canadian Don Tapscott, author of several books on technology. His book Grown Up Digital talks about how Gen Y is changing the world (Tapscott uses the expression Net Generation).

From his research, Tapscott identified eight distinct traits which he calls “The Net Generation Norms.” By understanding these norms we Boomers will be in a better position to work with and help Gen Y build their careers, but equally we’ll also learn from them. For Tapscott, Gen Y (Net Gen) has much to teach us. Here’s a summary of the Norms.

1. Gen Y wants freedom in everything to do – from expression to choice. They make ample use of technology to achieve this; for example, in creating flexibility in how they work.

2. They personalize and customize everything, whether it’s their wireless device, services from government or entertainment.

3. They scrutinize and question the product information they receive from companies.

4. They expect corporations to operate with integrity and openness if they are to work there.

5. They want to combine play and entertainment in their work, education and social lives.

6. They value relationships and collaboration, and influence one another when it comes to purchasing products and services.

7. They thrive on speed, making effective use of technology to communicate with their peers and to share information.

8. They innovate, seeking out innovative companies and contributing eagerly to improving things.

Granted, after Tapscott’s book was written before the the Great Recession of 2008-09 and the ensuing very slow and long recovery. However, the above norms are very important to helping us better appreciate Gen Y, and especially now with the weak job market for not just this generation but Generation Z.

To return to the initial point on teaching, here’s a short passage from Tapscott’s book on which to reflect:


“We can listen to their views on the world. We can learn from their effortless mastery and application of new tools, ways of working, and methods of collaboration. I believe, by listening, we can envision and enact the new institutional models required for the twentieth-first century.”


holisti-leadershipClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.


Jim BeachVisit Jim’s e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

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Inter-generational Leadership: What’s Myth and What’s Reality–and Does it Matter?

July 17, 2017

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The literature on inter-generational differences is in hyper-drive. Think tanks spew out analyses; book authors produce their take on the situation; bloggers (like yours truly) convey their perspectives; and consultants beat the bushes for contracts to tell organizations how different the generations are and to instil anxiety (to secure more contracts).

I’ve written many posts on inter-generational leadership. Because this topic is a critical issue for society and economic growth, I’m again wading into the demographic swamp. In this post, we’ll look at some of the commonly held myths, and also bring into the conversation what’s called the Silent Generation (those 71 to 86 years of age). The past decade has witnessed the decimation of the retirement plans of millions of North American workers, with the result being an increasing number of them now having to work well into their sixties, and in some cases seventies.

Too much of the literature and news articles concentrate on Baby Boomers (born between 1948 and 1965), Gen X (born between 1966 and 1979), and Gen Y (born between 1980 and 1997). So in reality we’re talking about a four inter-generational span, and not just Boomers and Generations X and Y. But before I delve into this, let’s take a look at previous generations and how they perceived and functioned in the world. I’ll use my late dad as an illustration.

My dad emigrated to Canada from Glasgow in 1920 at the age of three. He arrived with his parents at the port of Halifax, Nova Scotia, but grew up in Winnipeg. After completing high school he worked as an apprentice machinist in the Canadian National Railway shops. When World War II broke out he wanted to sign up, but his dad told him that he first had to complete his journeyman papers.

In 1942 he joined the Canadian Navy. He was promoted to Chief Petty Officer, in effect running the engine rooms on two Canadian Corvettes. These were, by the way, nasty vessels on which to work, bouncing around like corks on the ocean. And by way of interest, it was Sir Winston Churchill who was influential in naming the later sports car the Corvette.

After the War, he completed a mechanical engineering degree at the University of Manitoba. After graduating, he continued working for CN, working his way up into a management position. Along the way, yours truly was born in 1955. What I remember of my dad while growing up in Montreal and Toronto was someone who travelled extensively, spending considerable time in Africa and South Asia as a consultant. Indeed, in 2006 at his funeral one of his former bosses said to me: “Your dad sure knew locomotives.”

Dress CodeIn contrast to today’s very relaxed dress code in organizations, it was always a suit and spit-polish shoeshine for my dad when he went off to work. When he retired from CN in 1976 and went to work for the former Canadian Transport Commission (CTC), he was amazed at how sloppy people dressed. He found that wearing a sports jacket to work was nothing short of an abomination.

 

Nowadays, anything goes. Maybe that’s good, maybe not. I’m not one to judge. But it does succinctly tell us about different values. When my dad was forced by CN into early retirement at age 60 he was devastated. He went on to work for the Canadian Transport Commission for another seven years before entering international consulting. He finally retired at age 72. His retirement plaque from Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau acknowledged his 45 years of consecutive service with the Government of Canada.

So why am I telling you this? Because I want to illustrate how an earlier generation in North America stepped up to serve their countries and how they later went on to help build their countries’ economies. For an excellent accounting of how this generation served their nation, read Tom Brokaw’s book The Greatest Generation.

The employment contract has long been broken in North America. Baby Boomers have been the ones who were nailed with this development, while Gen X (named for it being the excluded generation) has struggled to create its own identify in the presence of the Boomers’ looming shadow. It’s Gen Y that seems to have the best grasp of the four generations that the world is indeed changing, and that corporate loyalty, slavish work hours and authoritarian power are outdated traits.

What’s my biggest concern? Is it that Gen Y can’t cut the mustard? No, absolutely not. What Gen Y faces is the lingering effects of the 2009-10 Great Recession: last in, first out; not valuing what they bring to organizations; not providing coaching and mentoring. BusinessWeek a few years ago labeled Gen Y the Lost Generation. Layered on top of sluggish growth for the past decade is the steady introduction of automation, from manufacturing to services to hospitality, with the advent what could be called artificial intelligence (AI) 1.0.

CoachingThe meter’s ticking. But this time the situation’s different. The emergence of new global competitors is completely changing the economic landscape. Forget the stats that China and India have much lower percentages of their respective populations earning diplomas and degrees, compared to Europe and North America. The key here is they collectively have a population of about 2.7 billion people. It’s about absolute numbers, not percentages.

When looked at through the organizational lens, it all boils down to this:

• If there were ever a need for coaching and mentoring in the workplace, it is NOW.
• If there were ever a need for knowledge transfer in organizations, it is NOW.
• If there were ever a need for shared leadership in organizations and communities, it is NOW.
• If there were ever a need for embracing inter-generational differences, it is NOW.

So what’s holding us back? Is it ego, self-delusion, or just plain stubbornness?
We either come to terms with our inter-generational differences, finding common ground and moving forward collectively, or the world will pass us by, leaving Canada and the United States in its wake. It’s our choice to make.

People don’t grow old. When they stop growing, they become old.
 (Anonymous)


holisti-leadershipClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.


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Generation Y’s Job Plight: Top 12 Tips for Gen Y

July 9, 2017

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It’s amazing how fast things can change in the economy. Not long ago, writers, trainers and speakers on Generation Y couldn’t stress hard enough to Baby Boomers how they were were going to have to adapt to the different values and work preferences of young people. Plenty of “experts” wrote and spoke on how organizations would have to change, from being hierarchical and control-oriented to being more lateral and power-sharing. Well, that’s a work in progress.

Then something happened: The financial crisis of 2008 and the ensuing Great Recession of 2008-09. All bets were off for Gen Y.

BusinessWeek wrote in October 2009 about The Lost Generation. This was an emerging issue for the media; yet while subsequent reports have been produced by various media and experts on labor market Generation Y continues to struggle to gain solid footholds in the economy. This cohort now spans between 20 and 36 years of age.

As the old adage goes: “Last in, first out the door.” Gen Y has become very familiar with this practice, unfortunately. And while some out there may say that life’s not fair and to suck it up, it’s actually a myopic view. Here’s why:

It was Baby Boomers (51-71) and the Silent Generation (72-86) that were responsible for the financial liquidity crisis. They make up the power players in industry and government. Generation X is steadily working its way into senior leadership positions as Boomers retire in increasing numbers.

Irresponsible lending practices were ignored by supposedly highly educated and informed people in positions of influence.

Baby Boomers have fuelled insane consumer spending for years, getting themselves overextended to the point of financial collapse—serving as poor role models for younger people.

When the financial crisis struck, companies retrenched and began throwing overboard whatever they could find. Gen Y was a popular target.

NYCIn 2016 and continuing into 2017, concern has been expressed in the U.S. that Gen Y is having difficulty finding homes to buy on top of stricter lending requirements, while in Canada the modus operandi seems to be to further extend one’s personal indebtedness.

In addition to the plight facing Gen Y, another crisis is looming in the distance that will have a strong impact in the coming years: the collapse of pension plans in North America. A few years ago Toronto’s Globe and Mail ran a week-long series on Canada’s pension emerging crisis.

Some key highlights were:
— 84% of public service workers have pensions.
— 78% of these plans are defined benefit pensions
— 25% of private sector workers have a pension plan
— 16% of these plans are gold plated defined benefit pensions
— 11 million workers, or 60 per cent, of Canada’s workers have no pension at all
— 8 million or 45 per cent, have no pensions or registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs)

Since this series was written, the pension issue in Canada has continued to squeeze workers.

Here are two main concerns:

a) As Boomers face the financial wrecking ball of over-indebtedness in their senior years and failing pension plans their retirement plans are going out the window. Coupled with this is changing technology that is putting many of younger Boomers’ (in their fifties) occupational skills out of date. How is aggregate demand to be sustained if spend-crazy Boomers stop spending?

b) Gen Y (and Gen X) will be expected to step up to the plate to help pay for government pension plans as Boomers zoom around in their walkers. The prevailing attitude of Boomers and the Silent Generation is this: Whether you guys ever get a pension is not our concern.

Feet.jpgThe picture is indeed ugly – and will get a lot uglier in the coming years. Here’s one factoid: The C.D. Howe Institute, a Toronto-based think tank, forecast that the “demographic bill” that will hit the federal and provincial governments over the next 50 years will amount to $1.5 trillion. Health, education and child benefit payments now make up 15% of GDP, but are expected to account for 19% of GDP by 2056. The US situation will be similar, expect that the absolute dollar amounts will be much, much bigger.

I worked for 30 plus years, most of that time as an economist and leadership practitioner. I know how labor markets function and in fact spent my earlier years in that field. I want to share some personal anecdotes that may help my readers get a better understanding of past events that have hit youth, but what I really want to provide is a list of tips that can help position you for the future: Top 12 Tips for Gen Y.

This is not the first time that young people have been creamed by a recession. Baby Boomers remember the 1981-82 recession which hammered the economy and jobs, coming on top of mortgage rates that were in the high teens.

Fast forward to today’s reality. Tuition rates are absurdly high, in comparison to wages earned by students. New college graduates face staggering student loan debt levels with punishing interest rates. Baby Boomers have set up Gen Y as patsies for a huge fall.

“Go to university…forget community college; that’s for dummies.” Almost 45 years ago that was the refrain in high school, and it’s still being sung for the most part. Yes, community college programs have grown in respect in North America over recent years, but they still don’t command the respect they deserve. In particular, building trades and others trades such as machinists, electricians, and tool and die makers get overlooked.

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A few years ago I learned something valuable when I had a hardwood floor installed in my home. I was fortunate to find an excellent installer, who I would call a master craftsman. His name was Slava and he was from Ukrania. Although he’d lived in Ottawa, Canada, for over six years his English was quite rudimentary. But over the two days he was in the house doing his work we spend a lot of time talking. I learned that he had been a professional boxer in Ukrania when he was a young man, ranked number one, and also boxed in the former Soviet Red Army.

On one occasion Slava asked me what type of work I did. I don’t think he was too impressed with my reply. But he then said something I’ll never forget: “Jim, a man has to have two professions. You have to be able to fall back on one if something happens.”
In addition to having installed hardwood for 16 years, Slava had also been a shoemaker in Ukraine – not just repairing shoes but making them from scratch. We then talked about the problems that Canadian youth were having finding work. To Slava, he couldn’t understand why more young people were not going into the trades. From his point of view trades are an honorable profession. I’m sure he thought that my profession, which involves sitting in a chair all day long looking at a computer screen, was bizarre.

So Gen Y, you’re living in a crappy job market. But the sun always rises, and so too will your fortunes. But to give you some inspiration and help I’ve prepared the following:
12 Tips for Gen Y:

1) Realize that this economic mess is not your fault…but don’t get a chip on your shoulder over it either.

2) Own your morale and attitude on how you perceive the world.

3) Never stop learning. When you think you’ve had enough, find another area in which to learn something new. Read a book – don’t just web surf.

4) Follow Slava’s rule: have two trades or professions

5) Working after high school or taking time off to work or travel during college may be a good idea, but it’s a personal decision. Only you can make the final decision once you’ve checked things out, including receiving constructive advice from family and friends. Oh, and tell your parents to chill out if they start to panic.

6) Make this time off a growth experience. Don’t rot at home or hang out with friends who are going nowhere.

7) Lower your material expectations (remember we Boomers will need you to help pay for our pension plans).

8) Post-secondary education is always a good thing (usually), but take the time to assess your interests and passions against what college programs offer.

9) Remember that there will always be ‘unknowns’ of which you’re unaware. Never be a know-it-all. Be humble and curious.

10) Be open to outcome, not attached to it.

11) Create your future by seizing opportunities and then allowing Mr. Luck in.

12) Sacrifice. It’s the ONLY way to initiate personal change and to systematically make a long-term improvement in your economic wellbeing.

Good luck in your journey!

When Nike says, just do it, that’s a message of empowerment. Why aren’t the rest of us speaking to young people in a voice of inspiration?
— Naomi Klein (Canadian author and activist)


holisti-leadership.jpgClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.


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Back to the Future: Are You a Theory Xer or Yer?

July 2, 2017

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The leadership field—and its cousin management—has an over abundance of information, from books, periodicals, business articles, blog posts, web sites and more. Much of it is repetitive, and many prominent book authors have regurgitated their works in subsequent editions. One might conclude that similar to Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man, that we’re now in the realm of what could be called The End of Leadership: that all that’s been written and said on both leadership and management has been achieved.

Perhaps in a contemporary sense, yes. However, as the world evolves so too must those in leadership and managerial positions. New ideas and concepts will always be critically important to organizations and more broadly society as new technological, geo-political and environmental challenges present themselves.

It’s informative and reflective to occasionally look back in time to earlier concepts and writings on leadership and management. This meant re-reading of some of the more substantive writers on these two inter-related fields. So let’s take a look at Douglas McGregor, who wrote the acclaimed “The Human Side of Enterprise” in 1960 (I was five years old at the time living in Battle Creek, Michigan). In this post, Theory X and Y are briefly described, followed by highlights of some of McGregor’s observations 57 years ago.

The way in which managers interact with their subordinates is based on their assumptions about human behaviour. These assumptions (mental models) begin to be formed when we’re young, and as we age our various experiences further solidify them further. Organizations posses their own cultures, which are either sustained by passing down managerial assumptions and practices to new managers, or they are blown apart by new renegade CEOs who wish to recreate their organizations.

McGregor described the assumptions underlying Theory X as:

1) People have an inherent dislike of work and will avoid it

2) Because of this dislike for work, people must be ‘coerced, controlled, directed, threatened with punishment’ to get them to perform

3) People prefer to be directed in their work, shunning responsibility and ambition

He believed that these assumptions were not a theory but in reality determined management strategy in organizations. It was about the ‘tactics’ of control and telling people what to do in order to achieve organizational objectives.

McGregorIn contrast, Theory Y deals heavily with interpersonal relationships and the creation of a work environment where people are encouraged to commitment to the organization’s objectives. But to live and work in this world requires a very different set of assumptions:

1) People do not inherently dislike work, instead seeing it as a source of satisfaction, depending on the conditions

2) People will direct themselves in working towards organizational objectives, once they have committed to them

3) Committing to these objectives is directly related to the rewards associated with achieving them

4) Under the right conditions, people will not only accept responsibility but seek it out

5) People will usually exercise a high degree of creativity in attempting to solve organizational problems

6) The intellectual capacities are only being partially used in organizations

HandsOne of the more compelling sections in his book is on the climate of relationships. McGregor provides the example of a factory superintendent who was known for screaming and swearing at his men. He gives this boss the title ‘bull of the woods.’ The paradox here is that the personnel people, who were carrying out training for managers at the time, couldn’t understand why a manager who operated in this manner could still be highly respected by his staff. Sound crazy? Well, morale and productivity were at high levels in this factory.

Although the superintendent was tough it was in reality superficial. He demonstrated consistently his concern for the welfare of his staff, going so far as to helping those who needed some financial help until payday or others who had a family crisis. He was exceedingly fair in how he treated his subordinates, and in particular solidly backed them when he felt that management was not being fair. An example is when he resigned and walked out of his superior’s office when senior management would not back down on an issue. Management chased him out to the parking lot and immediately capitulated.

These actions lead to this superintendent being held in very regard by his staff, and one major consequence was strong morale and work output. However, McGregor adds that in addition to these characteristics that a manager must also have upward influence in the organization in order to achieve certain objectives.

McGregor makes another key observation, noteworthy because he’s addressing organizations in the late 1950s yet it’s highly relevant today. It’s the ‘P’ word – participation, a concept that became very popular in the nineties and which has resurfaced with Generation Y’s entry into the job market. When management uses the façade of participation to get employees to accept key decisions, and when used repeatedly, the result is cynicism and checking-out from further participatory exercises. As he states: “…[management] will lose far more than [it] had hoped to gain by ‘making them feel important.’”

McGregor’s work may seem dated in today’s service-oriented economy, combined with technology’s impact on how work is performed and where. In particular, the increased diversity of the workforce with women’s higher participation rate and people from different countries and cultures is changing the practice of managerial leadership. However, Theory X and Theory Y still provide a useful framework on which to study the intertwined fields of management and leadership.

Take a moment to share your views and experiences.

What would you identify as the most important things that managerial leaders must attend to if they wish to be effective in their jobs?

If you consider yourself a leader, be sure to check the rearview mirror regularly to ensure you have followers. (James Taggart)


holisti-leadershipClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.


jim-taggartVisit Jim’s e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

Take a moment to meet Jim.