Your younger employees annoy you, don’t they? That’s probably being kind. More likely, you are incredibly frustrated, thoroughly irritated and not at all happy with the new generation.
You’ve locked in all the common stereotypes — lazy, entitled, device-addicted — and you simply can’t believe they are the future of this country and your business.
Now that you have that out of your system, let’s get past the sweeping generalizations and transition into how to get the best out of the younger generation and set yourself and your team up for success.
Spoiler Alert: Doing so will require you to reset, adapt and improve your leadership practices. Your first intuition, of course, is that they should be the ones changing, and we wish you the best of luck if you continue that direction. Really, however, all you need in order to unlock the performance potential of the newest generation is to change some of your leadership habits.
Leadership, first and foremost, is the ability to influence others. This is the fundamental definition of leadership — the ability to cause others to act, not through force or coercion, but through influence.
So, how does someone acquire the ability to influence?
The short answer is trust. The development of trust within a relationship creates the opportunity to influence that relationship. And when this happens in the workplace, employee potential turns into tangible performance.
The problem is that business leaders often have the attitude that they must solve each problem, take control of every project and make every decision, which cannot and will not create trust with any employee, much less the motivated, talented employees. This command-and-control approach not only stifles learning and creativity, it leads to the death of trust. The more you do for someone, the more dependent that person becomes. The more dependent that person becomes, the more resentful he/she is because there’s no autonomy.
This problem has been around for a very long time. In fact, command-and-control habits have been the status quo for management practice since Frederick Winslow Taylor wrote The Principle of Scientific Management in 1911! It continues to this day, even though the world, and the workplace, is different in just about every way imaginable.
To put a fine point on it, if you practice this archaic form of leadership, the first casualty is trust, and people will not follow someone they do not trust. You don’t merit trust just because you’re a boss or the manager of a team. You have to earn that trust. And, without trust, your organization is on a collision course with high turnover, low productivity, shrinking margins and unfulfilled potential.
Here are four tactics leaders must develop in their efforts to earn their employees’ trust:
1. Adopt an “other people” focus. Before employees will invest in a leader and extend trust to them, the leader must first be willing to invest in the employee. Leadership is relational, which implies that the way you get things done is through investing in relationships with your employees and showing that you truly value them.
To demonstrate that your employees are valued as individuals, try expressing appreciation for their efforts, listening to their input and serving their needs. #revolutionary
For employees to trust you, you must first become trustworthy. And, just to be clear, lame recognition programs or insignificant workplace perks like Blue Jean Fridays just won’t cut it.
2. Practice next-level communication skills. All the tools that have been added to the communication arsenal in the past three decades have done very little to improve the quality of communication in the workplace. We’ve done everything we can to make communication easier and faster, but we’ve swung and missed on better (in terms of effectiveness).
Poor communication is the primary cause of employee disengagement. More to the point, the clarity that good communication provides is essential to allowing employees to build trust and perform at their highest levels.
However, the job itself doesn’t provide that clarity, the leader does. Imagine how much easier it is for employees when they know exactly what’s expected of them. Imagine how much more effective people can perform when they understand the “why” behind your decisions. Imagine how engaged employees are when they understand your expectations.
A lack of clarity, on the other hand, is like running a race in which the runners don’t know the distance, have no idea where the finish line is, and have no idea what their reward will be if they finish well.
3. Hold one-on-one meetings with direct reports. Great leaders realize that developing real, trusting relationships with employees requires taking the time to connect with them directly. One-on-one meetings are, without question, the best way to accomplish this. Don’t worry! We’re not talking about adding another onerous meeting to everyone’s already overburdened schedules. Done the right way, these can be powerfully and wildly effective.
A single 30 to 45-minute meeting each week with the people you manage will accomplish several objectives all at once: recognition, relationship, coaching and more. Make it the employee’s meeting, giving that person time to ask questions, get clarification and provide input. This means that you, the boss, are actively listening and available to offer direction, clarification and advice — but not it the sense where you jump into boss mode and solve every problem.
Investing in regular, face-to-face meetings with direct reports will enhance understanding, allow you to align expectations and dramatically improve engagement and performance. Leaders who invest the time to meet individually with their employees make an investment in the relationship, and employees will respond in kind.
The best part? This time investment has a positive return! You easily recoup the time you invest in one-on-one meetings because you virtually eliminate the need for dozens of time-robbing follow-up meetings, emails and calls usually required to get updates and understand issues.
4. Try coaching instead of criticism. There’s a significant difference between coaching and criticism. That difference is often not a difference in approach, but a difference in relationship.
Coaching is something you and your employee do together, not something you do for them. Creating a coaching environment involves setting clear expectations and addressing performance issues when them arise — agreeing on needed changes and focusing on the employee’s commitment to those changes.
Leaders who create relationships with employees are rarely perceived as critical, even when delivering tough, direct feedback. Effective leaders understand that they can be demanding and empathetic at the same time once they’ve laid the groundwork to be perceived as genuine, helpful and truly invested in the employee’s development.
Have you read?
Their new book, Counter Mentor Leadership: How to Unlock the Potential of the 4-Generation Workplace (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2018), offers practical, actionable advice that improves workplace culture and enables organizations to bridge the generational divide.
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Robby Riggs is an author, speaker, and corporate consultant specializing in strategic transformation initiatives and driving successful change in companies ranging from start-ups to Fortune 100s.
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