On Leading Employees…
Steve Schwager, Regional Manager
I recently attended a conference where one of the speakers talked about how to connect with, and understand, the “Millennial” generation. He made some very good points, not the least of which is that this group of Americans born between 1981 and 1996 is 80 million strong, and currently makes up about 50% of the workforce; and by 2030, it will be 75% of the workforce.
I think most would agree that people born and raised in different periods behave differently in society and in the work place. They have different priorities, desires, and expectations. To make matters even more complicated, we could also introduce cultural or ethnic differences which especially impact dairy farms because of the large number of workers who were born in other countries. Based on this observation, I would like to propose another way to look at it…instead of splitting people into different groups based on how they are different, why don’t we focus on how they are similar. After all, wouldn’t it be much simpler to understand what actions and behaviors appeal to most people, regardless of whether they are Millennials, Gen Xers, Boomers, or even whether they are Hispanic, eastern European, or African?
I believe there are things that appeal to all workers because we belong to the same group – we are all humans. In the book called The Leadership Challenge (Kouzes & Posner, 2007), the authors outline five practices of exemplary leadership which, I believe, can be implemented to lead and motivate all of your employees regardless of when or where they were born. The five practices are: model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act, and encourage the heart. Following are my thoughts about each of these 5 practices.
#1: Model the way: As a leader, you are a role model and your employees look at what you do and how you do it to serve as their example of how you want things to be done. According to the authors of The Leadership Challenge, you can manage from behind a desk, but to lead, you need to get out in front of your people leading the way.
#2 Inspire a shared vision: There are many skill sets needed to get this done, but when your employees understand and share your vision, they will care more about accomplishing it, and their job has more meaning. Your workers will be more engaged (and more loyal) when they are invited to be part of something with a higher purpose. In addition to knowing ‘what’ and ‘how’, people want to know ‘why’.
#3 Challenge the process: The idea of management is often geared towards stability and status quo, but leadership is about changing things for the better. Don’t settle for the status quo, always be looking for better ways to do things and invite your employees to contribute their ideas. Employees are your best resources for new ideas for making processes better, easier, or more efficient.
#4 Enable others to act: Give your employees the right to make certain decisions. Listen to and implement their ideas. Increasing employees’ freedom to act increases their self-worth and improves their confidence.
#5 Encourage the heart: There is a lot that can be rolled up into this one, but to me it is about motivation, recognition, but most of all encouragement. Letting someone know you believe in them almost always results in extra effort. All humans, no matter when they were born, want to be liked, appreciated, respected, approved of, etc. When you take the time for encouragement, people will generally have a desire to pay you back with positive results.
Putting it all together: It is important to understand that your employees all have different needs based on generational and even situational differences. At the same time, people are people no matter what these differences might be. I think the philosophies expressed in the five practices of exemplary leadership can be simple and effective tools for motivating all of your employees regardless of their differences.