This summer my executive development company will celebrate it's 23 year anniversary. As I reflect back I notice today's leader has different challenges than he or she did in 1992.
We live in an ADD world. With literally billions of bits of information bombarding us every day the new currency is attention and the new survival mechanism is to ignore. If we paid full attention to all the emails, advertisements, billboards, texts, meeting requests, and other demands on our time we'd probably go mad. In order to survive this cacophony of chaos we've become experts at the art of marginal listening by ignoring low priority items and tuning-out a world clamoring for our attention. Today leaders are challenged with the task of engaging their employees while the rest of the world is like a 5th grader, raising its hand for attention: Pick me. Pick me! Before the internet we left work at 5 or 6 and were able to engage with our families, instead of hopping back on e-mail after the kids are in bed.
We are connected but lonely. Our smart-phones, tablets, and virtual meetings have increased our productivity but reduced our human connection. Gossip and political correctness have gone up while our ability to have face-to-face healthy conflict has gone down. Leaders today struggle to find ways to get their people together and build a team based on trust and healthy debate. Is it just me, but did people take things this personally in the late 90's? Is this also why we are so politically divided? We've gotten scared to trust and soft to confront.
We're losing our top talent. As Baby Boomers begin their retirement at an alarming rate the younger generations haven't replaced them fast enough. The economic and innovative engine that Richard Florida calls the "creative class" is shrinking and migrating to new spawning grounds. Today leaders need to find ways to develop the talent they have while making senior employees mentors to the new and the young.
There is, however, good news. Venetians didn't know they were shaping what later would be called The Renaissance, and I believe the changes in society and leadership are no less dramatic. The common challenge and opportunity is engagement. The benefits of a fully engaged leader and his or her team go far beyond the known list of productivity, service and efficiency, and reduced absenteeism, turn-over and healthcare costs. These people help shape their company, and their industry. To reach these ideals a leader needs to start with leading themselves: Know your life stories and how they've shaped you; know when to say no and develop your leadership brand by identifying what you really believe in. As author Simon Sineck says, "People will follow you not for what you do but for why you do it" Engagement is the key to solving many leadership challenges, and it starts by engaging yourself in a journey of self awareness.
Dean Newlund is CEO of Mission Facilitators International, a boutique executive development firm. He can be reached at 623.444.2164 or www.missionfacilitators.com