Leadership Post 9/11

by Leslie Jaffe & Karl Krumm

The answer: Now more than ever! 
The question: How important is your role as leader in the new reality since September 11?
The complexity: Your workforce is made up of four distinctly different generations, all looking to you for some sense of security. Members of all four generations were profoundly affected by the tragic events of September 11. Yet all are asking for something different, and they’re asking for it now. 

People have a lot to be troubled about. They’re concerned for the safety of their families…they wonder if they have their priorities straight…they feel uneasy about the economy..and they worry the next layoff may be their own. September 11 brought a new perspective to everything in our lives, including how we go about being leaders. 

Imagine what life would be like if you had these four people looking to you for leadership:

George, in his seventies and a member of the WWII Generation, is one of the company’s founding partners. He served his country in WWII and went to school on the GI bill. He reminisces about the company’s early days, the dedication, and the loyalty. Back then, it was just George and a secretary, working long hours on the phone with clients, writing orders, and getting billings out. George has flirted with retirement, but isn’t sure what he would do with the time. He still comes in every day to deal with a few blue-chip clients. When he talks about September 11, he recalls Pearl Harbor and the call to duty. Now his grandchildren face a world situation he hoped he had saved them from.

George thinks of General Patton as the quintessential leader–a take- charge kind of guy who sets clear hierarchical boundaries with well-defined roles. George respects authority, and expects the same from others.

Then you have Patricia, one of the first female senior leaders in the firm. At fifty, she’s a member of the Baby Boom Generation. Patricia has worked days, nights, and weekends to get where she is. Sensitive to inclusion issues, she prides herself on being a role model for bright, young staffers. She searches for ways to make a difference. September 11 leaves her with mixed emotions. She was confused about Vietnam, and she feels that way again. Patricia wants to voice her concerns, participate in decisions, and find ways to make the world–or at least her company–a better place.

She responds best to team leadership and thrives in a holistic work environment that nurtures mind, body, and spirit. Passion, inspiration, and a clear articulation of vision, mission and values move Baby Boomers like Patricia. She really wants leadership to acknowledge her time and efforts.

Derek is a member of the group known as Generation X. A talented major contributor, he is in his thirties. Although the salary and perks of a job in management appeal to him, he wonders if he would really enjoy it, and he finds it increasingly difficult to play what he calls the "jump-through-these-hoops-to-move-up game.” 

This is a great job and a great opportunity–how many times has he heard that from senior management?–but it is not his whole life. He is committed to making time to be with his friends and to participate in the many sports he loves. 

He remembers Desert Storm, the smoothness of its execution, and its brevity. Derek feels the swell of patriotism, but worries that maybe once again the world has changed at an inopportune time, putting his dreams on hold. 

Derek responds to leaders who are competent, results-oriented, and flexible. He appreciates communication that is direct and straightforward. He’s willing to work very hard when he gets clear assignments with goals and expectations, milestones and deadlines, the resources he needs–and the freedom to accomplish the end result on his own. 

Finally, there’s Ashley. At 15, she’s a member of the Millennial Generation. She comes in after school and on weekends as part of a high-school work-study program. 

We’ve just begun to learn about the leadership preferences of this newest generation. We’ve learned that Millennials expect behavior to be congruent with position; this generation had stronger opinions about the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal than any other. They look up to leaders who are collaborative, tolerant, and skillful at resolving conflicts and building broad coalitions. Heroes are back "in" with this generation. They name Tiger Woods, Yankees Coach Joe Torre, New York firefighters, and Colin Powell.

What’s a Leader to Do?

With this mix of personalities, you’ve got a leadership dilemma on your hands. You need to deal with your own reactions during these times before you can be of help to anyone else. Then, you need to handle each of your people as individuals.

Leadership Guidelines to Increase Productivity &

Choose your leadership actions based on what people need, not what you’re most comfortable with. Here are some suggestions:

For Members of the WWll Generation

  1. Use a personal touch. Make face-to-face contact. Computer-driven communication sometimes alienates members of this generation.
  2. Be mindful of age and experience. Show your people their experience is viewed as an asset rather than a liability. 
  3. Capitalize on experience. Consider setting up mentoring relationships that match senior employees with younger ones. Lots of Millennials feel a strong bond with older employees.

For Baby Boomers

  1. Play to their strength of pulling teams together to get over
    current hurdles.
  2. Give them an arena to voice their pain–a one-on-one talk over a cup of coffee, focus groups, personal counseling. This is the "get help" generation. 
  3. Leverage their willingness to work hard and give them extra public recognition for their efforts.

For Generation Xers 

  1. Allow them to get the job done on their own (what might seem unorthodox) schedule.
  2. Make time for those who are struggling. Take a walk or go out for a beer. Give them your undivided attention.
  3. Tap into their adaptability. Gen Xers are typically flexible, and many are independent operators. Give them an important task that needs to get done; they’ll likely get it handled!

And Millennials

  1. This young group of workers is community-oriented. These are graduates of required community service hours. Get them involved in meaningful volunteer efforts and support the projects they are already involved with. 
  2. Use their capability to access information quickly and to share it in a way that works for a diverse group of people. This is the most technologically and globally savvy generation. They grew up with computers and diversity.
  3. Pair them up with older mentors. On surveys, Millennials say they resonate most with the Baby Boom and WWII generations. Never has the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives by being a leader of all generations been so great. 

Leslie Jaffe & Karl Krumm are Senior Consultants of Claire Raines Associates.