Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke

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Leadership Starts Young

Last week I attended a piano recital showcasing children ranging in age from six to twelve. On the surface my destined activity does not seem to call out as a compelling evening. Oh contraire. During a fast-paced 45-minute program, the performance of 15 youths riveted the audience and held us spellbound. The program culminated with a 12 year olds performance of a complicated arrangement from the movie The Piano. The beauty and passion that she poured into the piece left many audience members in tears – it was a tingly moment. This is supposed to be a piece on leadership, so why do I wax poetic about a piano recital? At which my six and eight year old sons were amazing, by the way. The answer: I want to highlight that the future is in good hands. In addition, I want to drive home the point that leadership does not begin when someone is appointed a manager or team lead or starts a business sometime in their mid-twenties or thirties. Leadership starts young! Returning to the recital for instance, prior to playing, each participant stood in front of roughly 50 adults and announced their name and their selection of music. Without exception, each youth exhibited poise and fine public speaking skills. Then, they executed beautifully – under a fair amount of pressure. Do I worry about the future? Naw, I'd rather listen to a little Beethoven.

Posted by Doug Van Dyke on 2009-05-25 at 09:28 AM
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Leading Boomerville

Okay, so you are young, brilliant, and entrepreneurial. So confident, you decided to start your own business. Bravo! You are part of a growing section of business owners known as Gen Y Entrepreneurs. Perhaps your business is growing and you have added staff. Many of your team members may be your age and possess similar technology skills. Some, however, may be boomers. That’s right. You may be finding yourself in that precarious position of leading boomerville! This 50+ age group is not always warm to the prospect of being led by the techno-savvy. So just how do you, a Gen Y, cope with leading team members who are baby-boomers? Other than putting a shot of Kahlua in your coffee each morning, keep the following six behaviors in mind:

  1. Respect begets respect. So what if you think you are smarter and can run rings around a boomer’s technology skills? Work experience carries a lot of weight. Trust me, the more you sincerely show respect for an older generation, the more of their experience will be bestowed upon you. Sometimes, old tricks can help young teams blow away their production goals.

  2. Be inquisitive. Commit yourself to being a life-long learner. As such, seek to learn a broad array of things. Some viewpoints or work processes that boomers embrace may not interest you in the least. But if you think creatively you may be able to put a new spin on some things that will result in greater productivity for everyone.

  3. Don’t play the age card. Obviously you are not going to openly state age differences, but this item deals with more subtle conversations. For example, you spend a glorious part of your weekend at the hippest nightclub on the planet. Don’t throw that fact in the face of your boomer teammate. They might have been at soccer camps all weekend long, during which they were teetering on the edge of losing their will to live. Respect their lifestyle. Even if they ask about your social life – give them the G-rated version, not the high-octane one.

  4. Make it their idea. Just because you have ideas out the wazoo doesn’t mean squat if no one follows your lead. Take a humility pill and frame your ideas in a fashion that allows boomers to discover them, seemingly on their own. How do you do this? Easy, just follow these steps:
    • Communicate ideas and initiatives by the use of questions rather than statements. Think of yourself as an attorney who is leading the witness down a path of discovery.
    • Stroke the positives. When you like what your team members are saying, provide them with lavish positive reinforcement.
    • Question misreads. If your people begin to go down the wrong road, don’t immediately offer correct direction, rather, ask questions such as:
      • That’s interesting, but what about ______?
      • Or, what are two alternatives we could ponder?
  5. Coach and develop. As you build rapport and respect with boomers, they will become open to your coaching. Initially engage in one-on-one coaching, and then move to group training. The initial topics should focus on improving their core technology skills, an area where you are, more than likely, perceived to be excellent. Slowly move to other important areas such as social marketing that will potentially increase sales and strengthen brand.

  6. Calm sense of urgency. I was tempted to say “Be patient”here. However, patience is a luxury in which fewer and fewer industries now indulge. By the same token, we can’t show just how stressed out of our gourds we are. Seek to find a middle ground, where you can maintain an even tone, but imply that the pace of work needs to continually quicken.

Bottom Line: The right boomers, led the right way, are a valuable component of your business. They have experience, a good work ethic, and they are pretty darn competitive. When led by younger professionals they need to be finessed rather than strong-armed. For Gen-Y leaders who embrace this, the sky is the limit. Who knows, you might learn a new trick or two along the way.

Posted by Doug Van Dyke on 2009-05-11 at 06:19 AM
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