Ed Stetzer recently stated that “the coronavirus crisis will be the most significant historical event of our lifetime. It will be bigger than 9/11.” As a generational researcher, I agree; especially critical will be its impact on Generation Z (b. 1996-2010). Living through this global pandemic, and more importantly, watching the adults around them live and lead during this time, will undoubtedly influence the next generation for life. So, how can we—as leaders, mentors, and parents—ensure that there are positive takeaways for the next generation during this time?
In asking this question, I have found myself drawn to the story of Jochebed. She was a mother during an incredible season of crisis for the Hebrew people. In Exodus 1:22 we read, “Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: ‘Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.’” During this period, Jochebed gave birth to her third child, a boy, Moses. Her two older children, Miriam and Aaron, got a front row seat to watching their parents navigate this crisis.
In Micah 6:4, God says to His people, “I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.” I am struck by the significance of three siblings being used so powerfully by God during such a critical time in a nation’s history. What prepared them for such an important role? I think Jochebed’s parenting and mentoring of her children was one strong influence. There are four things that stand out to me from her story.
The classic tale by Hans Christian Anderson of the emperor without any clothes illustrates a powerful lesson on the need for honest feedback in the life of a leader. The emperor in the story is duped by two garment makers who claim to make him a robe that is invisible to those who are stupid or unfit to rule. Of course, the robe does not exist. The garment makers simply go through the motions of dressing the emperor and he, along with his subjects, are too insecure or embarrassed to admit they do not see it. Not until a young child, unencumbered by his ego or social pressures, calls out that the emperor is naked does anyone acknowledge the fact.
As leaders, especially in intergenerational contexts, it is critical that we remain honest and transparent with our teams and colleagues. Just as the emperor’s nakedness was apparent to his subjects, our weaknesses or faults are evident to those who follow us. Even in cases where we may think we are hiding certain flaws or fears, our teams experience the consequences of these buried secrets through our actions and interactions with them. Effective leadership does not require perfection, but rather humility and honesty on the part of the leader to acknowledge areas for growth, solicit feedback, and request help and support from others. Had the emperor asked several trusted subjects for honest input on his robe, he may have discovered his nakedness before parading before a large, public crowd.
Whether you are a young leader with experienced individuals around you, or an experienced leader with younger colleagues, respect is earned and retained when others see you are willing to humbly and gratefully accept constructive feedback. Leaders with courage to make changes, or engage team members, to help mitigate harm that could occur from their own lack of knowledge or skill in a particular area earn the trust of those around them.
Soliciting and receiving feedback as a leader can be uncomfortable and difficult. An initial step might be to ask one or two trusted individuals in your life for honest and constructive criticism regarding how you engage with others. When you receive feedback, it is essential to listen carefully and accept it without excuses. Take time to reflect on what is said, ask clarifying questions if needed, and express appreciation to the individual sharing with you. It may be that the other person’s perception of something that happened is inaccurate, but the fact that they perceived it that way may be indication of the need to improve communication or bring clarity to a process or expectation. As a leader, it is necessary to communicate regularly that you welcome constructive feedback and provide an opportunity for people to give it...either through an open door policy, availability for meetings, conducting a 360 review, or responding promptly to emails or phone calls providing feedback.
Currently, as many of us are working virtually, in some cases for the first time, it can be helpful to actively seek out feedback from those on your team to find out what about your leadership is working well in the virtual context, and what might need to be changed. What contributes to effective in-person teamwork may need to be adjusted for this season. Eliciting the power of feedback is a great way to find leadership success amid change and crisis.
The following is a guest post from Josiah Cassellius, a Millennial writer and producer. --Jolene Erlacher
Humanity has always compartmentalized the different aspects of life; let’s call them our different faces for different occasions. This is the idea that we treat our mothers differently than we treat our fathers. We say things to our friends that our grandmother would chastise us for repeating to her. For most of us, only a handful of people ever get to see our vulnerable side. We are good at it, you see, very good at adapting to our surroundings. So good, it seems, that we have decided to enter ourselves into the next level of competition.
In the past we fragmented across our home lives, friendships, and work. Generally, it was a very small community, but that has changed. Today, thanks to technology, we interface with people everywhere, and the fragmentation of our identity has expanded. This reality can make it hard to prioritize our focus.
One could be forgiven for being uncertain in what order to place the dozens of fragments of our lives, it is, after all, a very complicated question. It used to go something like this: faith, family, friends, work, then everything else. Such a simple, yet elegant, system. Except that now work has been sub-divided even further for most, and friends and family are more spread out than ever.
In the midst of such fragmentation, we often resort to tribalization. It is a phenomenon that helped people survive harsh environments and threats. While it worked for hunter/gatherers, in an increasingly interconnected world, one that overwhelms us, it may not be effective. Much the same way that there is a sense of peace and security in our homes during a storm, we enter into our sacred bubble and push the world out, and when we do come out to see what is happening, it can seem like we are entering a war zone. The outrage, the accusations, the controversy we see around us all lead to alienation. We run to our tribe, what feels familiar and friendly, and we label anyone not in our bunker as the enemy and reconciliation becomes nearly impossible.
The reality, though, is that the circumstances do not merit such distress. People are becoming more self-aware as to biases and opinions that are destructive. However, we no longer sit down and read the news and digest and discuss it rationally with friends and family whom we trust. Instead, we read headlines and tweets and use them to reinforce our narratives and we scream out into the void, and if we are unfortunate enough to receive an answer that contradicts us, we lash out.
So, what can we do? When we read something online that we disagree with, we need to not assume ill-intent, that only breeds more anger. Give the benefit of the doubt to a person, and maybe we will see them, and their ideas, in a new light. A positive approach may even open the door for healthy dialogue. Let’s turn our online spaces into the homes and meeting-places of old, where we come together to express ideas, and to help each other understand the true meaning of what a community can be. Be open to hearing dissenting views, and be prepared to admit fault, and potentially, we may just escape unscathed.
As a toddler who is overwhelmed by emotions cries out in frustration, so also adults who are stretched too thin react poorly to push-back. When we feel ourselves becoming overwhelmed, we need to reconnect with our fragmented selves, identify what is truly important, and remember that reality is not online.
Dr. Jolene Erlacher is a wife, mommy, author, speaker, college instructor and coffee drinker who is passionate about empowering the next generation of leaders for effective service!