The Census Bureau reported that 48% of Generation Z is non-Caucasian. Today's youth and young adults represent the most diverse generation in our history. In addition, they live in a world of globalization and technology that connects us to diverse people in our communities and around the world. As we seek to engage the next generation in our ministries, workplaces, and communities, we must be leaders who value and embrace diversity, and who model effective multicultural leadership. This month, Charlotte Kassis and Bethany Peters joined me on The Leading Tomorrow Podcast to discuss tips and strategies for growing as multicultural leaders. Here are a couple of key takeaways from our discussion:
As we discussed multicultural leadership, Charlotte reminded us that it can be harmful to ignore differences that exist, to work alongside someone and not know their story. It is important to acknowledge diversity, appreciate it, and seek to understand the perspectives and stories of those who come from different backgrounds. It is also critical to ask ourselves, "Do my activities, interests, relationships, and learning pursuits show that I truly value diversity? How can I grow in this?" To hear the full discussion, check out this month's episode of The Leading Tomorrow Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts.
May we continue to develop our cultural competency as we engage a diverse Generation Z!
There is an African Proverb that states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Healthy, productive teams, however, require time, energy, and intentional leadership. This is especially true of multigenerational teams. I appreciate the perspective of former basketball coach, Pat Summitt who once said, “To me, teamwork is a lot like being part of a family. It comes with obligations, entanglements, headaches, and quarrels. But the rewards are worth the cost.”
The level of complexity and change in our world is increasing the need for self-directed and empowered teams. In his book, Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, General Stanley McChrystal, explains, “Much of what a leader must be, and do, has fundamentally changed. The heroic “hands-on” leader whose personal competence and force of will dominated battlefields and boardrooms for generations has been overwhelmed by accelerating speed, swelling complexity, and interdependence.” McChrystal and his co-authors describe the need for team leaders to begin viewing themselves more as gardeners, and less as chess masters. The new environment in which leaders today must operate requires less of the “move-by-move control” of a chess master, the approach more common in traditional team leadership. Instead, team leaders today can be more effective when they operate as gardeners, “nurturing the organization—its structure, processes, and culture” to allow team members to function with confidence, resources, understanding, and support that enable maximum motivation, collaboration, and innovation.
Tony Dungy, in his book, The Mentor Leader: Secrets to Building People & Teams that Win Consistently, echoes the importance of the leader’s role in creating an environment where teams can thrive. He explains that leaders must “engage, educate, equip, encourage, empower, energize, and elevate. Those are the methods for maximizing the potential of any individual, team, organization, or institution for ultimate success and significance. Those are the methods of a mentor leader.” Tony Dungy encourages leaders to walk alongside their teams. He explains, “If you want to make a difference in the lives of the people you lead, you must be willing to walk alongside them, to lift and encourage them, to share moments of understanding with them, and to spend time with them, not just shout down at them from on high.”
A lack of support from the leader is a key reason young people struggle on teams. Multigenerational teams thrive most when they have a leader who nurtures like a gardener, caring for the individuals on the team as a gardener cares and provides for the plants in a garden.
Reflect on teams where you lead or have influence. What about the culture or environment is healthy and empowering? What is unhealthy? Do you lead and influence like a gardener, who nurtures and supports the individuals and team? How could you do this more intentionally?
This month, we are celebrating the release of Daniel Generation in Spanish and Audiobook (English)! The print edition of the Spanish book is now available on our website. The Spanish ebook and English audiobook are coming later this month. Watch for updates! To celebrate, we are including an excerpt from the book below. Check out this month's The Leading Tomorrow Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts for more on Gen Z's pursuit of happiness!
From Daniel Generation, chapter five:
In 1985, 25 years before the iPad, NYU professor, Neil Postman wrote an insightful little book titled Amusing Ourselves to Death. In it, he discusses the power of technology to create a culture of “uninformed pleasure seekers.” He further explains how media has slowly infiltrated our culture resulting in the promotion of entertainment as the standard of truth. Postman discusses writer Aldous Huxley’s vision described in Brave New World. The book was published in 1932 and set in London in the year 2540. Huxley understood that no “Big Brother is required to deprive people…people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.” In Brave New World, Huxley depicts the reality of people controlled by their desire for pleasure, rather than by tyranny or pain. A century ago, Huxley feared that what we love, our need for pleasure, would ruin us.
Technology presents several real dangers for us today. First, is its highly addictive nature. Nicholas Kardaras, in his book Glow Kids, explains what he calls the “dopamine tickle.” “Dopamine is the feel-good neurotransmitter that’s the most critical element in the addiction process. When a person performs an action that satisfies a need or fulfills a desire, dopamine is released…into a cluster of nerve cells that are associated with pleasure and reward, also known as the brain’s pleasure center.” This triggers a signal to repeat the activity again.
Technology consistently provides a “dopamine” tickle. Simon Sinek discusses its addictive impact. “The youth of today want to do good…the problem is…they're all addicted to dopamine. We pretty much raised an entire generation addicted to the ding, buzz, beep or flash of their phone.” Text message and social media notifications give us the same dopamine reaction as gambling, drugs, and alcohol. In some cases, we can’t wait a few minutes to look at our phone. Playing video games, posting to social media, or watching YouTube videos can produce addictions if we fail to manage our actions and time.
Technology’s power includes its pervading influence. It guides our behaviors and perspectives by getting us to click on ads, buy things online, or read the articles fed to us. Technology today allows companies to track our every click and enables the constant barrage of personalized ads, products and information right to the device in our pocket or under our pillow. Daniel encountered a powerful program of training that sought to influence his loyalties and attention. He completed the training but controlled its power to inform or control him. We must do the same with technology. Technology provides us with valuable tools, but possesses the power to manipulate our time, attention, and loyalties. If we simply respond to, rather than manage, its influence in our lives we risk responding to the powerful dings, beeps, and flashes of our devices rather than to God.
The National Student Clearinghouse released their latest college enrollment numbers on October 15, 2020. They are showing that a month or so into the fall 2020 semester, undergraduate enrollment is running 4% below last year’s numbers. “Most strikingly, freshman students are by far the biggest decline of any group from last year, with a decrease of 16.1% nationally and a 22.7% drop at community colleges in particular. First-time students account for 69% of the total drop in undergraduate enrollment.”
It is not surprising that many undergraduate students may be putting their college plans on hold amid uncertain times. This means a lot of students who might otherwise be in college are doing something else right now. I couldn’t help but wonder what this season looks like for those who are waiting to reengage their college plans. While mental health risks for college students were high prior to the pandemic, we are now seeing an increase in depression rates for college students since the beginning of the pandemic. It is critical for students today to have support and encouragement in this season as they make decisions that will allow them to thrive amid the uncertainty.
If you know a college-aged student who has put their plans on hold, or who is reconsidering their plans, here are a few ways to encourage them:
I have missed seeing many of you in person this year as face-to-face events have been canceled and schedules have changed. Like many public speakers, my calendar looked strangely different after travel restrictions began to take effect in March. In this unique season, I have often found myself, like so many leaders, pondering what the future holds and how to navigate it. Amid all the uncertainty and change, I have been encouraged and challenged by the following reminders and questions:
As the complexity and uncertainty in our world increase, I am challenged to lead intentionally and find ways to help the next generation of leaders thrive. If I feel overwhelmed by the events in our society today, then our kids, teens, and young adults who do not have the perspective that comes with age and experience are even more likely to feel overwhelmed. In times like these, I seek inspiration from those who navigated change and uncertainty in the past.
Winston Churchill is one of my favorite leaders. Notwithstanding his rough childhood, unruly behavior, and peculiar habits, he was a man of conviction. When desperate times called for a determined leader, he rose to the occasion. On June 4, 1940, in light of devastating military losses in the Battle of France, he addressed the House of Commons. The speech he gave that day is one of his most memorable:
“We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender...”
And they didn’t surrender. Instead, Britain and the Allied powers went on to win a war that spanned the globe. We cannot even comprehend the valor, sacrifice, and conviction of many individuals whose names have been long forgotten. The WWII generation is referred to as the Greatest Generation. I too want to be a part of a great generation. I believe the current uncertainty in our world requires that we embrace an opportunity to lead with purpose and courage.
Our culture today has absorbed the values of deconstruction, tolerance, and entitlement. While not all bad, these influences have eroded and dampened the conviction of many. Perhaps more than ever before, we are in need of dedicated leaders. Are you one of them? What are the firmly held beliefs you would sacrifice for, die for, and lead others to be committed to? Do you lead like Churchill, pursuing your conviction despite the odds? Can others rally around you and receive encouragement and strength from your dedication? May we be leaders who inspire new generations to greatness.
Here are a few strategies to consider as we look to lead with conviction and commitment in a time of uncertainty and change. These strategies are invaluable as we model healthy commitment, and mentor young people in their own sense of conviction.
For the past decade, I have been a part of the “gig economy,” working remotely with clients around the world, and teaching online for four different schools. As a speaker, consultant, and coach, I have facilitated virtual trainings, conducted research remotely, and coached clients via phone and video conference.
Over the years, I have identified some best practices for effectively teaching and leading in a virtual context. Here are four of my favorite tips:
-Tip 1: “Push” Important Info to Students/Team Members
We live in a world where notifications and reminders help us focus on what is important amid the onslaught of information we encounter. As a result, we need to “push” important information to students. I do this by posting and emailing weekly updates, highlighting what is important in each module. During the first couple of weeks of class, or when there is a new type of assignment or activity, I post/send a special reminder or explanation, even though all this info is also clearly posted on the LMS. Students benefit from knowing what to focus on, understanding how to manage their time, and getting information that minimizes mistakes or confusion. Team members appreciate the reminders of important meetings or tasks.
-Tip 2: Be Present/Engaged
In the online context, students and employees cannot “see” us the way they do in a classroom or office, so we need to be intentional to show we are present and engaged. We can do this by contributing to discussion on forums, liking or responding to comments, and making specific comments unique to each student or participant when responding. I also try to reference student comments or insights when giving video lectures or facilitating discussions to show I am paying attention to what they are saying and doing.
-Tip 3: Be Personable/Authentic
Being personable online requires us to really express our personality. Including some videos and facilitating live discussions helps convey our teaching style. I always host a virtual orientation the first week of class so we can see facial expressions and hear voices. We can let our personality shine through in videos, posts, and comments by sharing personal fun facts and stories or using emojis. Also, responding to employee or student needs and requests for help with empathy goes a long way toward building rapport.
-Tip 4: Connect Individually
Learn specifics about each student or team member, reference these, share resources they might find interesting given their interests, etc. I create an introduction forum and ask everyone to post a short bio during the first week of my courses. This helps me learn and remember names and backgrounds. Responding promptly to questions and creating times or opportunities for appointments if students or staff need to connect via phone or video chat communicates you are available to help them.
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.
Most of us are interested in ways to decrease stress, improve sleep, and stimulate brain growth and memory. And yet, research shows that silence does all of this and more. In a world where we carry our favorite music in our back pocket; engage in long-distance conversations anywhere, anytime; and listen to podcasts, audio books or funny Youtube videos on demand, silence is often elusive.
A recent study indicates that not only is silence difficult to find, but we actively avoid it. In an experiment where individuals were given the choice of sitting in silence with their thoughts, or inflicting an electrical shock upon themselves, the results were surprising. Even though participants had previously stated that they would pay money to avoid being shocked, 67% of the men and 25% of women chose to inflict it on themselves rather than sit quietly and think for 15 minutes.
While it can be difficult to carve out or choose time for silence, solitude and reflection, there are a few key reasons for us as leaders to do so:
1. Healthy Relationships
Relationships are critical to our health and wellbeing. In today’s busy, digitally-driven world, our longing for deep relationships is greater than ever. Often we substitute noise and a sense of connectedness for true relationships. Writer Johnathan Franzen describes that “our infatuation with technology provides an easy alternative to love.” Ironically, it is often silence and solitude that allow us the understanding and peace to engage in deep, caring, healthy relationships more regularly. Thomas Merton, in No Man Is an Island, explains: “The man who fears to be alone will never be anything but lonely, no matter how much he may surround himself with people. But the man who learns, in solitude and recollection, to be at peace with his own loneliness, and to prefer its reality to the illusion of merely natural companionship, comes to know the invisible companionship of God. Such a one is alone with God in all places, and he alone truly enjoys the companionship of other men, because he loves them in God.”
2. Effective Leadership
Leaders today are confronting increasingly complex problems in ever-changing environments. More than ever, we need time and space to clear the clutter from our minds and focus on the challenges we confront. Author and speaker, Sarah Ban Breathnach, explains, “Usually, when the distractions of daily life deplete our energy, the first thing we eliminate is the thing we need the most: quiet, reflective time. Time to dream, time to contemplate what's working and what's not, so that we can make changes for the better.” Kate Murphy, in her article, No Time to Think says, “You can’t solve or let go of problems if you don’t allow yourself time to think about them. It’s an imperative ignored by our culture, which values doing more than thinking and believes answers are in the palm of your hand rather than in your own head.” I would add that sometimes the answers are whispered in our heart. When we fail to listen, in silence and solitude, we may miss the best answers to issues we are facing.
3. Identity and Purpose
In a study by anthropologist Emily Martin, an eleven-year-old girl from a broken home, who bounces between three households, explains that in each of these households the rules are different and so is she. Her identity, like that of many of us today, is defined by an external context. This translates easily into the virtual world, where our identities can be fluid and adaptable. Unfortunately, this also makes us vulnerable to confusion, depression, and a lack of confidence. Silence and reflection is the space where we can listen to our own heart and identify our identity and purpose. Carl Sandburg describes this beautifully when he says the following: “A man must find time for himself. Time is what we spend our lives with. If we are not careful we find others spending it for us. . . It is necessary now and then to go away and experience loneliness; to sit on a rock in the forest and to ask, 'Who am I, and where have I been, and where am I going?' If one is not careful, one allows diversions to take up one's time—the stuff of life.”
As leaders, may we prioritize silence and reflection, benefiting from the rest and understanding that come from these disciplines. More importantly, may we model these critical practices for those younger than us who are in danger of living lives full of noise and distraction, without understanding the beauty and healing of silence and solitude.
For the next generation,
More and more Millennials are stepping into leadership and management positions. In many cases, they are overseeing various generations. Their teams can include Generation Z, now entering the workforce as college graduates, to Boomers, who are sometimes the age of their parents or even grandparents. This age diversity produces challenges for even experienced managers. For Millennial managers, often navigating their first supervisory role, it can produce stress and uncertainty. Here are a few reminders for Millennial managers as you learn and grow as a leader:
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!