Leadership: Avoiding an Attitude of Innocence

Whether or not you’ve ever held a formal consulting role, I’m willing to bet all of us have been asked to provide advice, expertise, or guidance on a work project of some sort.  In these situations, we’re faced with exciting, exhilarating, and sometimes exhausting opportunities.  After all, it’s nice to feel needed, right?

One of the most common hurdles to succeeding in a such a role, however, is dealing with resistance.  Push-back, whether overt or underhanded, is not an if, but a when.  You’re going to get resistance, so you might as well expect, anticipate, and plan for it.

“It’s because these younger employees don’t understand the meaning of hard work,” Felipe complained.  At 47, he’d been with the company for his entire career, moved up through the ranks, and had celebrated his promotion to Vice President of Operations a year ago.  “They don’t want to put in their time.  They want to be in charge now!”

His frustration was palpable, and the pressure on him to better engage his 300-member department had intensified when his division’s engagement scores revealed it to be among the lowest in the entire company.

Felipe’s reaction is typical, but entirely counterproductive.  His was an attitude of innocence.  Low engagement was due, he believed, because of the Millenials’ lack of work ethic.  Instead of taking accountability as the leader, his instinct (not unlike that of many of us) was to point the finger everywhere but at his own role in the circumstance.

Moving a client from innocence to accountability is a formidable task, but success is critical to address the underlying problem.  And a first step in taking a client in this direction is to first understand the emotions underlying the problem.  After all, if you don’t address the emotions of a problem, all you will be left with is resistance to any recommended change.

Was it really about the fact that Millenials are incapable of being strong followers, that their technology-driven ADHD prevents them from being engaged, strong individual contributors?  I don’t believe that.  But I similarly do not believe that traditional, transactional leadership is the best fit for this generation of employees.  They do need to be challenged.  They do seek out more autonomy than some previous generations did (in general, of course).  And it’s natural for them to feel stifled by the logjam of Boomers who have yet to really begin exiting the workforce.

So, what can Felipe do?  First, he can acknowledge his role and that of his leadership style in engaging (or disengaging) his employees.  He can take accountability for his role in their engagement…avoiding believing himself to be innocent.  Second, he can actively understand and seek out ways to fulfill the changing dynamics of Millenials, to providing them with both increased autonomy and heightened accountability (for the two go hand-in-hand), and he can pursue ways to continue to develop their skills and abilities, not only in a way that directly benefits his division or the organization, but that also fits into their career and personal goals.

For any leader, this shift in mindset from innocent to accountable is only a positive one, albeit sometimes challenging because of the potential blow to the ego it may entail.  But the transition is vital for continued growth as a leader and ultimately for success in any organization.

One thought on “Leadership: Avoiding an Attitude of Innocence

  1. Great advice Trevor, stepping back and taking the time to really evaluate all parties involved and how you role can either motivate and connect them or do totally the opposite is a key move. Thank you for the post and have a great weekend.

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