Leadership in the Millennial Age of Execution

Have you ever gone to a motivational seminar where you left the halls charged and motivated to slay your next day only to find that when you get there, you actually don’t know what to do next? I’ve said it before. I’ve heard someone speak. I’ve seen a bunch of TED-X videos and said: “I am so inspired and motivated! Now what next?” Where is the take away? Leaders Wanted! Please!

The truth of the matter is that as much as we have these great learning events that expose us to charismatic and inspiring leaders, we simply cannot bring them back home to talk to our parents to convince them to support your strategic shift in careers. Unless you’re paying these speakers to talk to your boss for an hour on how to become a better leader (not that he would appreciate it), then perhaps you need to come to grips with reality. There’s a lot of work to do. You need to tell yourself: “Get Over it and Get it done!” Let’s face it; if you’re feeling the pressure and cannot seem to gather the strength and motivation to make it over that hill, then perhaps you do need a leader.

Leadership however is not what it used to be. Gone are the days of charismatic visionary and motivational leaders. According to a John Hopkins School of Education the new millennium has pronounced a paradigm shift on how we look at leadership. The Visionary leaders of the 80’s and 90’s have seemed to have a muted importance in the millennial workplace. Not that “Vision” has disappeared, but the importance has shifted in favor of “Execution”.

The demand on leadership has also expanded its dimensions. The working environment is marked with so much diversity that a leader needs to have both a deep and broad understanding of his/her working environment. The new workplace emphasizes on gender sensitivity, race, culture, religion, age, current events, and maybe even music. Leaders need to work within a greater context of complex social issues as everyone brings a piece of it into the working environment. It influences behavior, work outputs, and quality. It is said that during the golden age of the 50’s it was enough to be “competent” (IQ) but in this millennial age leaders also need a high level of Emotional Quotient (EQ). A leader needs to be emotionally strong to handle complex situations and also emotionally intelligent enough to manage the feelings of others.

Beyond the issue of EQ however, is a functional realm that focuses on implementation. With such, functional skills such as planning, resourcing, controlling, and documenting tend to have great levels of importance. There is a need for a leader/manager who has a meticulous eye for process management. A leader needs to be able to identify constraints, anticipate delays and creatively navigate immediate changes in course and direction. Knowledge, Skills and Experience counts! Leaders need to go to where bottlenecks are and have the knowledge to fix them. In a project driven enterprise as we have today, leaders need to have an understanding of the language and protocol of project management. It is not enough to cast a vision and expect people to buy-in expecting them to execute automatically; sometimes a leader also needs to bring his/her people through a collaborative process of gathering a situational appraisal, brainstorming on creative options and following-through with a concrete action plan. This takes both a diagnostic mindset and knowledge on the use of analytic and strategic development tools. It isn’t enough to cast a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) and say “Let’s Do It!” People need to know why and people would appreciate if a leader could go to the level and show them “How”. If you find yourself telling someone how to do his or her job without you knowing “how”, you will be in a lot of trouble. Credibility along with the trust that comes with it goes down the drain.

The challenge for the leader in the millennium is that we are living in an environment where every answer is just a click away. We live in a world of immediacy and access. Speed and convenience are no longer luxuries, they are expected. Technology has shaped the way we work, communicate, and think. Information is instantaneous. Gone are the days when we had to go to card catalog in a library to find the book that you need. Research took days, piles of books and red eyes zipping through miles of microfiches. The screen generation might not know what I am talking about, as research to most would be a matter of clicking the “search” button.

The phenomenon of immediacy also places similar demands on leaders. This gives a whole new meaning to the old term “Management by Walking Around” (MBWA). Leaders need to be accessible and teach. Leaders need to be a great source of knowledge and information. Just as they would love to see a YouTube video on how to do a particular task, it would be even better if a leader could demonstrate how things are done with a “hands-on” demonstration. This is not a negation of today’s workforce. While leaders are investing the time to teach, coach and mentor, they are also transferring skills and sometimes values into the workplace. Effective leaders of today invest heaps of praise and acknowledgment to their teammates, as they know it pays dividends in productivity. The role of leaders is more holistic than the old paradigms. A leader is that wise indispensable sage that empowers people in the organization. This is how things “get done” in today’s workplace.

The misconception about “execution” is that it is based on “hard skills”. The truth is that “execution” requires both EQ and functional competence from a leader. Getting things done requires both politics and skills. While you may have the “planning” tightly screwed down, you may find that it also takes a bit of politics to get your projects prioritized and resourced. You may be able to command a good and engaging presentation, but you may also need the data to back up your arguments. You might have all the data on hand, but many times you need a team behind you to back it up.

Leadership in the age of execution requires the ability to move laterally and vertically to get things done. A leader needs to have the integrity to exercise his/her influence in every level of the organization, even if it takes someone else to do it. It is not enough to have a big picture; a leader must be able to see both the forest and the trees. Today’s work environment calls for leaders with flexible roles where one can be a strategic leader in one situation and a field marshal on another, taking personal charge of a project with a team. Effective leaders know when to coach and when to mentor and actually know the difference between them. They know when to direct and they know when to facilitate. They know that leadership is less about talking and more about doing. They navigate through a whole slew of issues and eat them for breakfast in a meeting or over an afternoon coffee.

Today’s effective leader knows that “the task” is way beyond self and has no time looking down. The mission is more than the leader himself; it is more than what his lifetime could afford. Excellent leaders are always scouting around screening for talent and grit. They are always looking around searching for opportunities to work with the next set of leaders that will get the job done, someone to whom they could pass on the baton. That is the Leader of the Millennial Age of Execution. It could be you or the person next to you.
For all my mentors of the past, this one is for you: THANK YOU!!