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The three leadership qualities for successful transformation

by Carley Bowman

Leaders are facing huge challenges in dealing with the scale and pace of disruption in our digital world. In our #UNTHINK series, we look at some of the strategies and solutions smart leaders have found to thrive on change. This week we focus on engaging the next generation.

The disconnect between leaders and their younger staff is widening. Our research tells us that very clearly.

The next generation no longer want to conform to old styles of hierarchical leadership.

They want to make a difference and not just fall into step with the system that – in their view – has left so many legacies of dysfunctionality and division.

Disillusionment of new generations is important.

The next generation demand greater social values and responsibility. Corporates can still make money but they need a different set of values.

As former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi said for Next Gen, it’s not just a paycheck. It’s ‘how can I go to work and make a difference in society’.

And what happens if they don’t like what they see? They leave and move on.

Money is no longer enough to lure talent and keep it. Mobility is increasingly a talent asset as opposed to a liability. It can be a sign of curiosity.

But organisations aren’t set up for a high turnover of key staff.

And there lies the existential threat – will there be enough new leaders in the next generational cohort? Incumbent leaders tell us they are very worried about that risk. But what can they to do about it?

There needs to be a change in culture, mindset and behaviour. There must be a space for views to be challenged without fear of comeback.

Our qualitative research data reveals three new qualities all leaders need to thrive on change:

  • Values
  • Courage
  • Humility

Engaging and motivating NextGen staff is critical. There needs to be a focus on Purpose that goes beyond profits.

Internally, there needs to be psychological safety in organisations. Encouraging maverick, wacky or bonkers ideas is vital. Crucially, without any fear of comeback.

Recruiting a diverse workforce from varied backgrounds is key. Just as important is listening to those staff and acting on their ideas.

Some of the strategies we’ve seen work are youth councils, culture champions, reverse mentoring and promoting values-based leadership.

The goal is to give younger staff a far greater voice in the running of organisations.

This level of change must be backed unquestioningly by the boards and C Suites and by senior officials in the public sector. Change has to come top down AND bottom-up.

What we’ve found is that many senior staff inside companies and the public sector are naturally sceptical and suspicious. But our case studies show organisations can thrive on change when they engage their Generation Z (born after 1995) and Next Gen.

Our key finding is that the Next Generation have great insights and instincts about what is going wrong and why. And what is needed to counter the often merciless new pressures from disruption.

They must not be ignored by senior staff regarding them as too inexperienced. They are a major new source of vision and enlightenment. It’s about intergenerational engagement.

By 2020 there will be five generations in the workforce. There are enormous opportunities to engage and transform organisations.

We’d love to hear your ideas. Please leave us a comment below or join the conversation on Twitter @Think_Unthink

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