Archive for May, 2010
Los Angeles is a long way from Venezuela. But somehow, Gustavo Dudamel never looks more at home than when he is on the platform as the new conductor of the LA Philharmonic. Dudamel is currently one of the most sought-after conductors in the world. Have I mentioned that he is 29 years old?
The Millennial Generation, or Gen Y as it is often called, is generally defined as those who were born between 1978 and 1996. They comprise more than 25% of the U.S. population. And in addition to being amongst the youngest in their workplaces, they are frequently the colleagues who are expressing strong views about the importance of brainstorming, their ability to generate creative solutions, and their interest in making a significant mark on the world. This is a generation who holds themselves and their organizations to a high standard.
Whether you are a leader of a team with a diverse age range or a team member who wants to learn more about what drives your colleagues, learning to work together effectively is about more than workplace satisfaction; it is about business growth and sustainability too, as more members of the Baby Boomer generation prepare to retire. Millennials and their slightly older colleagues from Generation X (born between 1965 and 1977) represent the blend of ages that will exist on the senior leadership teams of tomorrow. There are two new books on the shelves that I’ve found interesting on this topic. The first is What’s Next, Gen X? by Tamara Erickson. The second is Managing the Millennials by Espinoza, Ukleja and Rusch. Both books include helpful research and practical tips to foster greater understanding and synergy between members of the multiple generations that are in today’s workplace.
Dudamel’s list of expectations and accomplishments grows by the day, by the way, as does his trademark curly hair, which he is known to toss about passionately while conducting. An accomplished violinist, Dudamel is the former Music Director of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra and an important factor behind YOLA (Youth Orchestra Los Angeles), which makes it possible for low-income children throughout Los Angeles to participate in a first-rate musical education program. Dudamel credits his early days in a similar program, El Sistema, as the place that first nurtured his talent and his passion for music. His experience at El Sistema also inspired him to make a similar difference for children around the world through programs like YOLA. High expectations? Yes. But to a Millennial, big dreams and bold actions are an everyday expectation. If your organization hasn’t found a way to leverage this energy yet, now is a great time to start!
P.S. To watch Dudamel in action with the kids from YOLA, click here: http://www.laphil.com/gustavo/about.html
The field of leadership has invested in services and skill building areas such as mentoring, coaching, team building, role modelling, and didactic exercises to enable people to repeat and paraphrase conversations in order to replicate significant information or actions in the hopes of understanding others. The business world uses these various services and skill sets to further enhance skill development, relationship building, doing things the “right” way, and being effective communicators. This entire suite of services and training rely on the support of the brain’s mirror neuron system in order to work effectively.
Mirror neurons are important for understanding the actions of other people, and for learning new skills by imitation. Recent research published in Spring 2010, confirmed the presence of mirror neurons in the human brain.
The brain’s mirror neuron system plays a critical role for effective leadership as it provides people with the blueprint to follow desired norms or preferred behavior within their organizations. The body language, the method of speaking, the norms on dress and time management, the implied expectation to work 10 or 12 hours a day all fall under “follow the leader” in modeling key norms for an organization. Key norms are further observed and demonstrated through the healthy activity of the brain’s mirror neuron systems in people throughout the organization.
Whenever there is power in the room in the form of leadership at any level, people pay attention. Every action and behavior is noticed and assessed. It is then replicated, because the “leader” did it, it must be okay! Cultural norms are demonstrated and mimicked to set direction in organizations. The mirror neuron systems in the people that make up an organization serve to propagate observed behavior.
When leaders communicate, there may be a specific style they use in one-on-one dialogue or when addressing an all-hands meeting to share information. What people throughout the organization notice is whether or not the leader is a great speaker and demonstrates phenomenal skills in articulating the direction of the business. The very act of observing the speaker helps the audience capture the actions in the mirror neuron system. Then they associate the message with the behaviors demonstrated while standing in front of the group. As other leaders who’ve observed the speaker move to the front of the room located in other areas of the business, their mirror neuron systems replicate the demonstrated and desired skills seen from the original speaker. This will spread throughout the organization like a ripple in a pond. Mimicking the observed behavior in lower level staff meetings may strengthen communication skills.
You can take that scenario and apply it to facilitating an important stakeholder meeting or delivering a performance appraisal. Any professional skills that leaders use as part of doing the work or working on the business, are subject to activating the mirror neuron system and influencing the business. Leaders have to be accountable for their actions, as they will influence anyone and everyone by their highly visible actions.
Leadership modeling exemplary behavior in the organization, or on the flip side, unethical behavior will set a standard for which the mirror neurons will follow. Poor behavior is often tagged with the phrase, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”, really isn’t true! What happens in Vegas will be replicated in the brain’s mirror neuron system by everyone who observed it and or participated in it! In the same vein, what happens in the conference room, good or bad, doesn’t only stay in the conference room! The mirror neuron system replicators are watching! Therefore, the behavior will show up somewhere in the organization, somehow when you least expect it!
As a leadership consultant, executive coach, and trainer, I am constantly engaging in learning from situations that arise day-to-day, personally and professionally. I self-reflect and notice things about how I show up and how that impacts a situation. I was traveling to a client location and was unfamiliar with the train station and where I needed to go to catch my train. We’ll come back to this in a minute…
Flash back to sitting at home watching a talk show a few days earlier. The guest, Jerry Seinfeld and the host of his program, Marriage Ref were promoting their show. As comedians, they’re always ready with material that will garner laughter, so they generally have something humorous to offer the audience. What they were talking about was less humorous and more accurate in terms of people practicing courtesy when they interact with others.
As celebrities, they are often bombarded with autograph seekers and people wanting their photographs. “Look, I’m standing with Jerry Seinfeld!” Their status goes up and they have an interesting story to tell people the rest of their lives about how they “know” Jerry Seinfeld! These ordinary people tend to trespass on the celebrities’ personal space and invite themselves into conversations or impede the celebrity from walking any further as they shout out to sign an autograph. Jerry Seinfeld talked about his rules for signing autographs or posing with a fan for a photo. He said, “I will not sign an autograph or pose for a photo if the person does not ask me properly or say excuse me. Where has courtesy gone?” Of course his comedic delivery manifested laughter from the audience.
When people do offer the simple courtesy to ask permission, regardless of their position or status in society, they are sending a message. They are telling you that they will be extending civility, respect, validation that the person you want to interact with is important, and therefore, you SEE them and honor their contributions’ to meet a need you have.
Back to the train station – I was confused about where I needed to be. I had four pieces of luggage and was having a rough time of it. I couldn’t make sense of the signs and was seeking help. I saw a couple of older gentlemen standing near some gates for trains. They were Red Caps, and worked at the station. I approached them struggling with my luggage (most of it was material that couldn’t be shipped in time to meet the client’s delivery timeline for an unusual location. That’s another blog in the making!). I said, “Excuse me, could you wise men help me? I am not sure where to go and would really appreciate the benefit of your wisdom to point me in the right direction.” Do you know how they responded? “Well, you’ve said all of the right things! (with a smile), We’d be happy to help you. Here, let me give you a hand.”
They relieved me of my struggles with the bags, walked me over to a red cap that could take care of my bags, and then pointed me in the direction of my gate. They asked me if I needed any other help and then wished me happy travels. I felt like I was well taken care of and had peace of mind that I would make my train with a sense of certainty that my travels would improve and the challenge I was having with my luggage was solved.
The Red Caps could have pointed to the gate and left me with my bags to continue on my own power, struggling the whole time. I had already dropped two bags three times from the parking garage to the gate area. They could have continued their conversation and easily ignored me…but they didn’t. It is all about connecting with people.
The point of demonstrating courtesy and connecting with people as a leader is to know that no matter your position, status, or power…courtesy and valuing people creates a relationship that builds followership, loyalty and credibility. People will move in your direction if they feel a sense of reward in working with you. The reward here is being seen and validated for your contributions. When was the last time you truly took the time to acknowledge a staff member and offer the courtesy they deserve?
Here’s a little test: It’s Friday afternoon on a beautiful spring day, and everyone is ready to depart for a great weekend. You get some information and suddenly realize you need people reporting to you or working with you to work all weekend on a project you need to get out by Monday morning, 8:00. You are about to walk into a meeting to ask them to do this.
Quick: How are you feeling?
If you’re like many leaders, you might be experiencing dread, aversion or fear. Who wouldn’t? Well, some.
So let me tell a story.
Years ago, I had a boss who asked me to handle a project that took ALL my weekends in February – a mercifully short month (and at least it is in the winter).
But I wasn’t upset, didn’t push back, and actually got some pleasure out of knowing my work would help him.
Even more surprisingly, I last worked for this boss a decade ago. If he called me up today and asked if I would give up my weekend, stopping only for pepperoni pizza and Pepsi breaks, I would not even hesitate. In fact, I’d say “I’m on the way now, and why don’t I pick up the food on the way?” I would be there with a smile on my face.
I don’t even work for this guy anymore, and I would welcome the opportunity to help him.
What’s the secret?
The phrase “discretionary effort” is sometimes used, and I think many people are probably confused by it. Here’s what it means. It means that you will go above and beyond the requirements of your job – for whatever reason. It means the extra effort you willingly provide – not as a result of coercion.
It’s not about pay, it’s not about having a nice office, it’s not about getting a certain title, and it’s not about anything except . . . relationship.
Yes, relationship. That vague, hard-to-define, off-the-balance-sheet intangible. Relationship gets you commitment, effort, alignment, collaboration, communication and all the other things we know are crucial in performance in knowledge organizations.
You see, because my boss treated me the way he did, I would go the extra 50 miles for him.
So how did he treat me? With respect, openness, truth-telling, deep listening, a sense of humor and compassion.
This may shock you, but when I first moved to the city where I worked for him, we were talking on the phone one weekend, when I happened to be assembling my new barbeque grill. I knew him to be pretty handy with fixing things, and I asked him if he knew what a certain part name meant. He figured out what I was doing, and a few minutes later knocked on my door with his tool box. We had a beer and built the grill.
Twenty years after that, I would be happy to show up with the pepperoni and Pepsis.