You may manage processes but you lead people.
By Ron Slee
I have been spending a fair amount of time recently thinking about leadership. And I have been looking at it from the
perspective of the millennials.
You know them. They’re the much-maligned younger generation many people deem lazy, narcissistic, entitled, impatient, and expecting of the world. I find that interesting, particularly since it was not too long ago we were them and the world we entered thought much the same about us.
I’ll agree, though, this next generation, the people born since 1984, are different than we were. They want to learn. They are impatient. They won’t wait if they don’t think they are learning—they’ll leave! And seriously, who can blame them?
Wanting to Know Why
I remember starting out at a dealership and asking almost every day, “Why do you do it that way?”
I know I was considered a pain in the derriere. But—just the same as my bosses were—we have to be patient and understanding of these fresh-faced, smart, ambitious people joining us in the workforce.
I think every employee goes through a series of stages:
- Enthusiastic beginner
- Disillusioned learner
- Capable but cautious performer
- Self-reliant achiever.
Everyone wants to succeed. Everyone wants to do a good job. So, it is up to us to make sure each employee is given the opportunities to succeed. They are excited about starting a new job, but can become disillusioned or extremely cautious—depending on our actions . . . and reactions.
Imagine hiring a new employee, and after putting up with all the difficulties that come with finding people today, you don’t spend enough time with them to ensure their success. Why do that?
And what would you think if you were them?
Being a Chameleon
It is against that backdrop I want to address leadership.
We must present ourselves to our employees in the manner of a chameleon. We have to be what they want us to be. This follows a pattern.
- They want to feel honored by us.
- They want to be appreciated.
- They want to have a personal connection with us.
- They want to be known by us.
- They want it to be about them, their situation, or circumstance.
- They want us to be inclusive to everyone.
- They want us to be sincere.
So as leaders we must take people to a place where they might not go by themselves. We are getting results. We are serving customers. But we need to develop a culture of service in order for that to happen.
This culture must be based on a vision we present to the employees. And this is not something that can be dictated. This follows the usual pattern:
- Everyone has to understand what we are trying to do.
- Everyone has to accept this is the right thing to do.
- Then we can have everyone committed to making it happen.
That also follows a pattern. You have to expect the right things will be done, everyone will do their best, and we will all treat each other with respect. The employees need to trust you. They have to know you care about each of them. And they must understand you are committed to excellence.
This also means you embrace change, and expect they will as well.
We can never accept the status quo. There can be no sacred cows. You know what those are, don’t you? They are the processes and procedures that have always been there. So then, when the question “Why do we do it that way?” is asked, the answer can never ever be . . . “We’ve always done it that way.”
Creating the Culture
That is the culture we want. The Japanese use a method I embrace called Kaizen. They want everyone to improve what they do every day they do it. However, in North America we train people to do a job and then we want them to become really good at it.
A leader has to allow everyone to collaborate. But for everyone to be committed to the goals and objectives, they have to be involved in the process. They have to feel a part of the team—a valued part of the team.
Leadership is exciting. It is an honor, and it is also a huge responsibility. The leader has a chance to change people’s lives for the better.
And this brings me back to millennials. That is exactly what they want you to do. They want you to help them become better at what they do, what they know, and how they approach their work.
Are you ready to embrace this new generation of employees? They are the most educated and one of the smartest generations to arrive in the workforce.
The choice is yours. The time is now.
Ron Slee is the founder of R.J. Slee & Associates in Rancho Mirage, California, a consulting firm that specializes in dealership operations. He also operates Quest, Learning Centers, which provides training services specializing in product support, and Insight (M&R) Institute, which operates “Dealer Twenty” Groups. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.