Every time I get in front of a crowd, I invite people to share a leadership situation they’ve encountered that I might be able to use as a basis for this column. (That goes for you readers, as well; feel free to send me your ideas.) During the Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals (SMRP) Annual Conference in October, I gave a one-day version of my Getting Traction Through Productive Leadership workshop. The attendees were a good mix of young supervisors and more “experienced” managers. And yes, when I use the term “experienced,” I mean older folks.
One attendee asked what advice I would give to a younger person who is leading a team of much-older individuals. My immediate response is: You must foster mutual respect and have humility and a sense of humor.
I’d also say that while it’s easy to categorize all younger people as Millennials and older people as Baby Boomers (and to confess confusion over Gen Xers), we should not pin traits on individuals based on generalized tendencies of a generation. Aside from throwing jokes across age categories, there’s very little value in labeling people by generational titles. A leader leads people, not members of a monolithic age group. People are individuals. Within any generational group, a range of personalities is represented. Don’t assume that an individual will act in a certain way or have a specific motivation based solely on when he or she was born.
If you’re in your 20s or early 30s and you find yourself in the position of leading a team of people who are of your parents’ generation, how can you be a productive leader? What do experienced people look for in a leader? As the leader, you need to know what your job is. Your job is NOT to be a technical expert. Your job IS to be an expert at creating the conditions for getting the best performance from your team and then helping them achieve that top performance.
Most people want to be respected, and respect is earned. You show respect by demonstrating appreciation for the knowledge, skills, and experience of your team members. Ask for their opinions; listen to their answers; observe their vocal characteristics and body language to detect reactions behind what they’re saying. Adopt their good ideas. When team members have good ideas, give them the credit. Instead of giving explicit directions, ask your team members, “What needs to be done?” and “How will you do it?” Recognize when team members achieve good results by capitalizing on their knowledge and experience.
You earn respect when you take responsibility for things that don’t go well. If a team member or members fail to perform, look first at what you could have done better. Consider, “If my team did not succeed, it’s because I failed to put them in a position to do better.” Fight for them. Get the funding, tools, equipment, software, training, and time your team members need to do their jobs right.
What team members don’t like is when you aren’t consistent in what you’re asking of them or when you let poor performers slide. Failure to assertively deal with poor performers disrespects everyone who is performing to expectations. Experienced workers have B.S. meters. They know whether you know your stuff. If you don’t know something, ask for input. Give your team members all of the facts and constraints so that they can give you the best advice.
In my Productive Leadership workshop, I go over such critical elements of productive leadership as leadership roles, attributes, skills, and sources of power. Leadership roles include technician, manager/administrator, coach, and systems thinker. Leadership attributes are characteristics of a productive leader: consistency, attentiveness, respectfulness, the ability to motivate, and assertiveness. Leadership skills and activities that enable productive leadership are time management, communication, empowerment (delegation), issuance of feedback, and conflict resolution. A leader of any age also needs to know his or her sources of power and how to properly apply power. You should use referent power (based on your integrity and trustworthiness) before resorting to power based solely on your position.
I’d like to hear what you think of this advice. So if you’re a Millennial, tweet me @AlidadeMer. If you’re a Baby Boomer, call me from your rotary phone at (321) 773-3356. If you’re a Gen-Xer, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.