The game we are playing has changed. The way we operated in business twenty years ago, even ten years ago, is different from how we operate today. Significant factors are driving a change in the way leaders communicate and lead, with the ability to engage and inspire now being one of the most important skills someone in a position of leadership needs to possess.
Every day, leaders need to communicate. They need to talk about everything from organisational strategy and values to messages of change. They have to deliver tough and unpopular decisions and they have to communicate triumphs and successes. They have to motivate, engage and excite. They have to inspire and ignite.
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The reality is that this is becoming increasingly difficult, and skills used in the past are fast becoming redundant. Leaders need to not only be aware of this but also understand why this is happening—so they can then do something about it.
Shifts in leadership
Two major shifts have occurred that leaders need to comprehend in order to flourish and grow as leaders.
First is the arrival of generation Y into the workforce who will make up the majority of the workforce by 2020. Many senior leaders I work with tell me that one of their biggest challenges is to manage and lead generation Y.
Over the past few years, comprehensive studies have shown how generation Y is different from previous generations. For example, Deloitte’s third annual Millennial Survey, conducted in 2014, polled nearly 7800 members of generation Y from 28 countries. The findings of this survey outline the significant challenges that business leaders face when trying to meet the expectations of generation Y.
Generation Y have a beautiful and healthy disrespect for authority. They are prepared to follow but that will not be based on title or position, it will be based on our ability to inspire and ignite them. They want to be challenged; they want to be inspired and they will not accept the status quo. It’s this innate sense of curiosity and their ability to question tradition that has given them the moniker ‘generation why’. With so many options available to this generation, if leaders are not providing a workplace that challenges and inspires them, they will seek to work somewhere that does.
Leaders who think they need to have all the answers because they are in a position of authority will not relate to this generation. Just as leaders who feel they need to be bullet proof and not show any vulnerability and emotion will also not relate. This generation is looking for leaders to be real, not perfect. Perfect leaders are not real and real leaders are not perfect.
Shifts in information
Besides Generation Y demanding leaders to be more real, another shift in the game is information. There is nothing new about informational overload but it is not going away and it continues to grow at an exponential rate.
Humans are creating, transferring and storing an incredible amount of information every day. Information fatigue syndrome (IFS), or information overload, occurs when we are exposed to so much information that our brains simply have trouble keeping up with everything. When the volume of potentially useful and relevant information available exceeds processing capacity, it becomes a hindrance rather than a help—and this is when we start suffering from IFS.
Information overload has been around for a while and we are certainly not the only generation to experience it. In fact, in the very first century Seneca said ‘distringit librorum multitudo’, which means ‘the abundance of books is distraction’.
With the groundbreaking invention of the printing press (along with other factors), books started to become more mainstream from the 17th century and this led to concerns. French scholar and critic Adrien Baillet wrote in 1685, ‘We have reason to fear that the multitude of books which grows every day in a prodigious fashion will make the following centuries fall into a state as barbarous as that of the centuries that followed the fall of the Roman Empire’.
Herbert Simon (1916–2001), an American scientist and economist, is most famous for his theory of ‘bounded rationality’ and its relationship to economic decision-making. In describing his theory, Simon coined the term ‘satisficing’ — a combination of the words ‘satisfy’ and ‘suffice’.
Simon’s theory is based on the premise that people cannot digest or process all the information required to make a decision or take a course of action. He believes that not only are people physically not able to access all the information required but also, even if they could access all the information, they are unable to process it.
Simon labelled this restriction of the mind ‘cognitive limits’ and it is these limits that mean we seek just enough information to satisfy our needs. For example, when you are looking for accommodation for your next holiday it is almost impossible for you to find out about every form of accommodation available. You may look at three or ten places and then make a choice based on that information you have deemed to be ‘enough’.
An overabundance of information actually makes it harder to get people’s attention—or, as Simon expressed it, ‘A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention’.
Where to from here?
Today, we are experiencing this overabundance of information more than our ancestors ever did. We have so much information available that people do not want more information. Rather they are looking for leaders to create meaning and relevance to this information for them. In turn, they want leaders to stop with the corporate jargon and communicate in a way that is genuine. In a way they can truly connect with. The way we currently lead in this unreal way is not working for them.
Generation Y isn’t going away and judging them will not help. We need to understand them, and adjust the way we lead them accordingly. Information overload is not going away so consequently we need to change the way we communicate.
Leaders who have the ability to engage employees and inspire them are needed and sought after more than ever before. Organisations are looking for leaders that can inspire this generation. Therefore the leaders that have the courage to step into real leadership will be the ones that are sought after and rewarded.
Gabrielle Dolan works across corporate Australia helping leaders humanise the way the lead by being more ‘real’. Her latest book Ignite: Real leadership, real talk, real results, is available online at all major retailers. To find out more head to www.gabrielledolan.com