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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.

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

July 9, 2017

Youth 1

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.

Youth 2.jpg

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.

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

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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)

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Coping with a Ballooning Older Population: The Looming Inter-Generational War

June 25, 2017


And you thought the world had enough problems already? Just wait, it’s going to become a lot more tense, especially among generations.

The world is going through a massive demographic transition that will reshape nations, economies and markets over the next 100 years. Forecasts by the United Nations show the world’s population peaking and then stabilizing in the next 40 years (around 2050). Why the sudden halt to what has been exponential growth since the Industrial Revolution? It has to do with the improvement in economic conditions around the globe, most recently with emerging economies. China, in particular, has finally brought under control its population growth as a result of its one-child policy.

However, with any substantial global shifts come other challenging issues, most notably a radically changing demographic composition that varies from region to region. For example, between 1950 and 2000 those older than 60 years of age grew as a percentage of world population from 8 to 10%. However, by 2050 this age group’s share will leap to 21%. But that’s only the world average. Here’s the shocker: in Japan and some Western European countries those over 60 will account for over 40% of their respective populations!

I’ve noted China’s situation, but which comes with a dual price. First, the country faces a rapid rise in the 60 plus age group, from a current 11% to 28% by 2040. Second, it’s estimated that because of the country’s repressive one-child policy and the desire to have boys and not girls (encouraged through horrific accounts of female infanticide), there’s an imbalance of an excess of 40 million males. The long-term social costs stretch one’s imagination. To put this in context, Canada’s TOTAL population is a mere 37 million.

In many other developing countries birth rates are still elevated. Examples include Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Africa, the last of which is expected to experience a jump from 9% of the world’s population to 20% by 2050.

Over-PopulationSo have I bored you to tears yet? “Who cares!” you might say. Well, we should all care.

If there’s one issue on which corporations and governments are asleep it’s that of population change and the implications for policy development and markets. It’s well understood by most economists, business people and academics that human capital development is the key distinguishing factor when it comes to competitiveness. Without it, technological progress is stunted, achieving much less of its potential. As a consequence productivity growth is limited.

This is the big picture view, but what of the effects within countries and at the firm level?

Let’s take a look at the impending pressures on Western society. Elderly people (yours truly is 62 with a 97 year-old mom) use up over six times the medical resources as young people. In the past this wasn’t an issue, with an age pyramid that reflected a strong base of youth and working age people. Now, the pyramid is getting inverted, moving from a bulging middle as we Boomers get older to a top heavy situation. Here are two basic questions:

1) Where are the money and resources going to come from to fund the growing healthcare needs of an ageing population?

2) How are Western nations going to address the human capital issue?

ElderlyIt was suggested by one sage at a World Economic Forum a few years ago that perhaps in the spirit of saving pension (social security) dollars that the elderly be relocated to lower-cost countries, such as Libya, where the standard of living is albeit lower but where you can really stretch a dollar. I can just imagine telling my 97 year-old mom that the government wants to move her to Argentina to save a few bucks. Dream on.

But when you look at a country such as Japan, you can understand the enormous pressures the government is under. The Japanese government did attempt a few years ago to place more of the financial onus on the elderly over age 75 for their healthcare costs, but it was soundly rejected. This is a country with an extremely serious ageing population problem. I recall one population forecast a few years ago which concluded that based on Japan’s current birth rate and zero net immigration, that its population would totally disappear by the year 3000.

The lesson for me from all of this is that we’re in the infant stage of addressing the looming ageing crisis. As the old adage goes: “Money talks…BS walks.” It’s time to do something about the problem.

For one, the leadership challenge is enormous but not impossible. Within organizations, managing and leading in the context of a four inter-generational workforce is not for the faint-hearted. Generation Y, creamed by the Great Recession and the ensuing slow recovery, has Gen Z on its heels. Gen X is slowly taking over the reins of power from the outgoing (but not-yet-dead Boomer generation), and a small portion of the Silent Generation (72 plus) is lingering around, now that their 401Ks have been decimated. So I suppose we’re actually on the cusp of a workforce spanning five generations.

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There are two paths when it comes to how people will work together in the future: either we continue maintaining the fences and silos around our respective generations, or we flatten these barriers and figure out how to collaborate. There’s an enormous amount at stake, with respect to our collective future and quality of life.

At the heart of this is leadership, how it’s perceived and practiced by all. Effective leaders tear down barriers to communication and collaboration, articulate a shared vision of the future through enrolling others in its creation, take action to make things happen, and sustain this action over the long-term.

• Where do YOU personally stand on the challenges facing society and organizations from an ageing population?

• Do YOU want to play a role in finding solutions, whether it’s dealing with mushrooming healthcare costs, encouraging the elderly to remain an active part of society or becoming an inter-generational barrier buster?

Please take a moment to share your thoughts and ideas on this post.

Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together. (Vincent van Gogh)

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

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Gen Y, Are You Ready to Reinvent Yourself? Six Tips to Ride the Wave

June 18, 2017

Job Seekers

Okay, I admit I’m one of those Baby Boomers detested by Gens X and Y. “Ah feel yo pain,” as President Bill Clinton liked to express when pressing the flesh. We’ve inundated you with non-stop rock-and-roll for far too long. (I admit that I still love Hendrix and Led Zeppelin). To be frank–and hopefully helpful to Gen Y (and also to my fellow Boomers)–it’s time to get over the inter-generational resentment.

Gen Y (Millennials) was sucked into the group Kool-Aid think that as Baby Boomer exited their organizations that the world would be their oyster, where they could tell their ageing boss to shove it and where they’d have lattes served on golden platters at work every morning. It’s understandable why Generation Y is confused and resentful, due to their ongoing deplorable labor market conditions, whether in Canada, the U.S. or Europe. Gen Y has a right to feel cheated and mislead.

Sue and I have four adult kids, three daughters and a son, between 27 and 37, and six grand kids. My son likes to say to me, “Dad, suck it up!” Indeed. Sue and I have sucked it up aplenty during our 40 years of marriage. I’m sure that many of my Boomer cohorts have done the same.

We got married very young and started a family shortly afterwards. We sold our second-hand Volkswagon Rabbit when I quit my job with a finance company (collecting money at month-end from single mothers eventually wore on me) to return to do a Masters degree in economics. This occurred while I was helping raise our first born. Quitting a full-time job to go back to school came with risks, especially when I graduated during the 1982 recession. We went three years without a car–but we were happy.

UnemployedFar too much Kool-Aid was drunk during the early 2000s by policy wonks, economists, politicians and demographers, who collectively enthused that Gen Y would have its pick of the jobs and that employers would have to adjust their managerial practices and workplace conditions if they wished to have a hope of attracting talented young people. So-called experts and purveyors of the job market proved to be way off the mark on the subject of Gen Y’s role in organizations.

So where does that leave Gen Y, whose labor market status remains vulnerable and uncertain? The urgency has increased as the youngest of Gen Y are entering their family formation years. Far too many young people are unemployed and underemployed. What’s especially distressing is that failing to get a foothold in the job market in your early twenties, despite having gone to college or university, is a predictor of stunted career development and lower lifetime earnings.

Let’s take moment to look at some data provided by The Economist, based on the OECD’s survey on education:

For college and university graduates aged 25-29 working in low skill jobs, the percentages compared to total graduates by select countries are (the numbers to the right are average labor costs in U.S. dollars):

Spain 44% ($38,100)

Canada 38% (50,500)

United States 32% (70,900)

Poland 28% (14,800)

Britain 26% (70,000)

Australia 24% (23,000)
OECD Avg. 23% (49,800)

Canada was in second place, followed by the U.S. This is clearly not a good picture for youth, not just in regard to unemployment but also underemployment.

Since 2007, the OECD reported that the number of unemployed young people (15-24) rose 30% to about 26 million. The International Labour Organisation also reported that some 75 million young people globally are looking for a job. And the World Bank’s analysis revealed that a staggering 262 million young people in emerging markets are not engaged in the job market.

What clearly does NOT help the job situation are some of the self-serving practices of organized labor, in which retirees are not only able to return to the public trough but actually encouraged. Retired teachers in Canada have the opportunity to boost their pensions to close to 100%. In America, teachers earn typically lower salaries and have been getting whacked by state governments on the verge of bankruptcy. Retired teachers in Canada may wish to reflect on thinking beyond yourselves and give up supply teaching to provide a helping hand to those just entering a profession with a saturated labor market.
SurfingMaybe what I can offer Gen Y is to find someone who has some perspective. Forget about seeking out your bureaucrat boss as a mentor; find someone who has had to make a go of it on his or her own resources, whether an entrepreneur, artist or an accomplished musician. You want someone who won’t give you the answers to your challenges but who challenges your self-reflection and personal inquiry, and who stimulates your creative thinking.

It’s evident that the lengthy recovery, with uncertainty at every corner, has no end date. Tens of millions of Americans have had their 401K retirement plans decimated over the past decade. North of the border the picture has been less brutal. The irony, however, behind this is that as much as Boomers are seeking to extend their participation in the labor market, they’re feeling increasingly sandwiched as their ageing parents place greater demands upon them. It’s almost beginning to feel that the inter-generational war has begun in earnest, where Dad at 61 is telling his mid-twenties Gen Y kid to hit the road to find a job because his pension is now toast. Unless something changes radically in the next few years, the picture will not be very pretty.

This brings to mind the importance for Gen Y to reframe how they perceive the world and how they approach the job market as they contemplate their careers—existing or future (for those still in college). Here are six tips to help you in your journey:

1) Be open to outcome, not attached to it. This means exploring opportunities when they present themselves.
2) Take calculated risks when deciding on a venture.
3) Avoid taking on unnecessary debt.
4) Don’t covet the material things your peers acquire (see number 3).
5) Embrace the mindset that less is more, and that simplicity enables a healthier and happier life.
6) Begin with the End in Mind: interlacing tip numbers 1 and 5 will help keep you focused on the path to happiness as you choose opportunities that align with your values.

Ride the wave!

Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.
– President Theodore Roosevelt

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

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Leading in a Virtualized World: 10 Traits of a Cyber Leader

June 11, 2017

Telecom 1

The world is getting smaller, shrinking steadily due to rapid advancements in telecommunications technology. Work is being distributed to countries that would have been scorned at a decade ago.

As much as telecom technology has been a key driver to accelerating work distribution, it’s been complemented by an amazing push by emerging economies to develop their human capital. Examples abound, of which China and India (combined population of 2.8 billion) is usually held up front and centre. However, smaller countries such as South Korea, Mexico and Brazil have made notable progress to build their human capital.

Many other countries are hungry to succeed: Turkey, Israel, Singapore, Chile, the Philippines, Indonesia, and the list goes on. In the context of a globalized labor market, this post zooms in on recent developments in technology that hold enormous promise for improving the functioning of virtual teams. However, these developments bring with them the need for what can be called Cyber Leadership.

I’ll share an experience when I was a  young manager some 30 years ago and part of a senior management team. The executive head, my boss, decided to buy video-conferencing equipment to connect three sites, cities that were a few hours drive from one another. His aim was to reduce the amount of time that managers and some staff spent driving back and forth for meetings. This was totally unproductive time since in contrast to airplane or train travel it’s rather difficult to work while driving. Not recommended.

This equipment was state-of-the art and VERY expensive. The problem was that it proved to be highly unreliable. The picture quality was poor and you had to refrain from moving, otherwise you ended up with a series of blurred images. The sound quality was mediocre as well. But the worst problem was the equipment’s tendency to crash during the middle of a video-conference. It was a lesson learned because after a while the equipment in the three sites gathered dust.

Digital Eye

Contrast that scene to an impressive improvement in telecom video-conferencing. Cisco’s Telepresence Suites enables organizations to connect with managers and co-workers around the globe. The connectivity is not what you expect on Skype. Cisco’s system requires up to 20 times the bandwidth as Skype, but the product is amazing. It simulates a conference room, so whether one group is in Mumbai, another London, another Chicago and another Toronto, the participants are able to observe body language and feel that they’re in the same room. The system is stable (as opposed to my early experience), with excellent picture and sound quality.

The hefty price tag ($300,000) that accompanies this technology, used by large companies, has a limited market, for now. Small and medium-size businesses can only dream of being able to afford this technology. However, as with technology expect continued innovations and price adjustments in the future.
Of course there are other ways to connect workers around the world, whether it’s Skype or another technology. I have Skype chats with people living on different continents. Use what’s available.

One recent development in open, collaborative workspaces is what’s called Co-working, where companies and freelancers share physical space. According to Strategy and Business: The Promise of the Cloud Workplace, only 70 locations using this form of work exist around the world in 2010. That number mushroomed by 2016. The concept is especially popular with workers in their twenties and thirties, and forward-looking companies are eyeing it because of the potential for not just operational savings but in particular in fostering creativity and innovation.

What’s fascinating is how virtual collaboration and teamwork will increasingly become the norm. There are huge implications for how teams are led, whether it’s a dispersed management team, production team, design team, call centre teams, etc.

Woman GlobeYes, it’s exciting to see these new innovations in communications technology, not to forget the growing use of social media (eg, Twitter and Facebook) in corporations. The challenge is the lag between what technology offers organizations, in terms of productivity gains, improved service or better product quality, and how people work at a distance from one another. Of special note is leadership and how it’s practiced in a virtualized world.

Much has been written in the past few years on telecommuting. It was the rage for a while. Then the dissenters came out of the woodwork to express either their skepticism or outright opposition to its use, arguing that the productivity gains were not present and that employees were sitting around in their bathrobes producing minimal work.

It’s ALL about effective management and leadership practices.

If you’re a manager of a team and its members are not aligned towards a shared vision and common purpose, if each member is not clear on his or her role, and if there’s not strong inter-dependency of effort among the members, then yes telecommuting will be a disaster. But then you’ll also have a poorly functioning group of people. Forget about calling your staff a team.

Don’t even waste your time pretending to trust your staff. You’ve got a lot to do create a team; working in a virtual context will come later. The latter is the easy part.

To be a true Cyber Leader requires a strong and sustained commitment. Technology is proving to be a powerful enabler to bringing people together from locations stretched around the globe. The possibilities are endless to how organizations can develop partnerships, organize themselves, and produce products and services. Cyber Leadership brings with it exciting opportunities for personal growth. However, it’s also accompanied by certain challenges, and with any transformational change the human dimension is always at the centre.

Whether your organization is adopting virtual teams or is planning to do so, if you’re in a leadership role are you ready to lead in this new environment?

Are you willing to be a 21st Century Cyber Leader?

Here are 10 traits that are essential to effective Cyber Leadership. However, it’s not definitive; please add to this list. A 21st Century Cyber leader:
1. Embraces change enthusiastically

2. Keeps up with technology trends
3. Maintains a perspective on the balance between technology and people
4. Trusts that people will perform well when lead effectively
5. Understands the dynamics of teamwork

6. Is open to new ideas, possibilities and opportunities, even if they’re unorthodox
7. Values diversity and different cultures

8. Is an avid learner and continually seeks out new information

9. Checks ego at the door, realizing others often possess more knowledge and experience
10. Shares information openly and widely 

Can you suggest any other traits?

“Nowhere am I so desperately needed as among a shipload of illogical Humans.”
– Mr. Spock (Star Trek)

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

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10 Valuable Lessons for Aspiring Leaders

June 4, 2017

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The motivation for this post stems from my own leadership journey over the past 30 years. During this time I moved in and out of formal management positions, worked as a project manager, thought leader, and economist. After concluding a three decade career with the Canada’s public service in 2010, I did independent contract work for a few years and then returned to work in the private sector. Coincidentally, I began my working career in the private sector in 1978 in consumer lending.

In addition to learning a lot from a two-year Masters in leadership program in the late nineties, ongoing reading on new concepts and developments in the leadership field, and networking with like-minded people, many of my most powerful discoveries occurred earlier on in my career when I became a new manager.


We like to talk about learning experiences, but mine were especially jarring as a young manager. I fell on my face more than once. But I picked myself up, dusted myself off and continued on. It’s all about learning through trial and error. Yes, reflection is a key aspect of leadership growth; however, don’t live life looking in the rear-view mirror.

The following 10 lessons are not aimed at just those who wish to move into managerial positions; they’re also for those who work as project managers, team leaders, thought leaders, relationship builders, etc. And of particular note is that those holding senior positions in organizations should reflect on these lessons.

It’s important to remember that management is an appointment to position; leadership is earned. If you have no willing followers, then you’re not a leader. You may rule through dictate and compliance as a manager, but to have a true followership means enrolling others in your vision.

Here are the ten lessons. And please note that they’re not in any particular order.

1) Create and nurture a learning environment where people develop the skills and competencies that will become their toolbox for life. Don’t expect traditional loyalty to the organization. As a leader, your job is to bring out the best in people and to maximize their creativity, productivity and output.

2) Constantly walk the talk. Don’t be a cave dweller, hiding out in your office behind a closed door. And don’t just be physically visible but be present in body, mind and spirit. Oh, and park the smart phone when you’re at meetings and speaking to people.

3) Show that you really care about the people you lead and with whom you work. Don’t nickel and dime people on their work hours. If you set the right tone and climate in the workplace, you’ll see an impressive increase in people engagement, creativity and accomplishment.

4) Develop an effective BS meter, where you know fact from fiction, truth from hype. By avoiding getting swayed by organizational manipulators and by sticking to your values, people will respect you all the more.


5) Realize that organizational cultural change is not a tactical exercise in ticking off the task list. It’s about people engagement and relationships. It takes time and patience – plenty of the latter.

6) Link training and learning to job performance and when it’s needed. But it’s also necessary to take the long view: investing in people for the long-term demonstrates your commitment to them.

7) Be honest when you ask for feedback, whether from small or large groups. Bringing people together at workshops, conferences, town-halls, etc. to generate ideas and recommendations, and then to ignore them, is the ultimate act of disrespect. Honour and value people’s contributions.

8) Focus on results. Let people figure out how to do their work. Coach, but don’t smother them. Micro-management is for the insecure, and something to avoid at all costs.

9) Share the leadership. Step back when you realize that you’re not the best one to lead at the moment, regardless of how high you are in the hierarchy. Let go of your ego.

10) As a leader you’re also a change agent. Be open to outcome, not attached to it. Learn to love the unknown and the opportunities and challenges it presents. Know fear; respect it; value it; transcend it.

So there you have ten lessons for leaders at all levels. This is certainly not the definitive list of what leaders need to pay attention to, but it’s a start. It will help guide you through tumultuous times, keeping you focused, energized and centered. The last word goes to 6th Century B.C. Chinese philosopher, Lao-Tzu:

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise him. But of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: “We did this to ourselves.”

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.