When Gen-F meets the Cap’n

At the weekend, I worked with a group of military officers who are transitioning to civilian life. Two of the hot talking points were the workshop style and the differences between leadership style in the military and civilian spheres.

Their core leadership style (as laid out in the manual) is strongly hierarchical – which makes sense in their context – and command-driven. This led them to interpret my “suggestions” and invitations as commands. We got over that cultural difference pretty quickly – either that, or I suffered a mutiny late on Saturday afternoon without realizing it: they rejected one suggested exercise, where each would have explored his own Role Atom, in favor of taking one case in plenum.

Another couple of differences in workshop style: no Powerpoint and no tables. Most relished the freedom to learn that this offers. An early discussion revolved around exploring what was special about the best leaders they ever worked with. The list of qualities we developed was not much different from that I’ve developed with numerous civilian groups.However, when we discussed the difference between leadership and management, the lack of a need to communicate a vision and to motivate the people in a military context became evident.

This led on to a discussion about the differences between leadership in civilian and military settings. I wish Gary Hamel had published his Management 2.0 blog article on The Facebook Generation vs the Fortune 500 last week, instead of yesterday.It offers a great twelve-point summary of the mindset of many younger workers today. When reading the article, I believe it’s important to keep the question in mind, how can I manage people with this mindset and ensure that we achieve our targets.

Here are four of the points that will trigger discussion the next time I get together with the officers:

2. Contribution counts more than credentials.

Official status indicators count for little on the web. What you can offer counts. Not from what position you make the offer. To lead people with this mindset demands the flexibility and practice to view ideas from other perspectives, to get comfortable looking at issues from the meta-level,

3. Hierarchies are natural, not proscribed.

An increasingly important source of power is authority of ideas. Those who are recognized as having good ideas will get their tribe of followers. They cannot be ordered to be silent. Countering a good – but uncomfortable – idea with “because I say so” carries little weight with Gen-F. Which brings us to Gary’s next point:

4. Leaders serve rather than preside.

Online, nobody has the power to command or sanction. If managers rely on this too much, they may find that their Twitter-using staff “unfollow” them.

12. Hackers are heroes.

Those who find ways around officialdom, when it gets in the way, are celebrated. The anti-authoritarian streak is celebrated online. Conformity doesn’t hold sway. You need to be able to engage.

Each of the twelve points challenges a military mindset. Thankfully, the officers I have met are up to the challenge.

2 Responses to When Gen-F meets the Cap’n

  1. Hello CJ,

    had only a chance to go for a ‘speed-reading’ on this one – have to dash to a dinner thing. But wanted to leave a comment nevertheless: absolutely interesting! Thanx for sharing this!

    cheers, Su

  2. Great comments; all 12 of them!

    In my recently published pre-teen novel, Ian, one of Santa’s Helpers, struggles to understand the difference between managing and leading. He understands that management is based upon processes, order, and controls and that leadership is more about developing the potential in others.
    I think that it would be a step in the right direction if we were to teach some of the management and leadership concepts, including the significance of Gen-F, to our youth at an early age. Later on in life, they will be more receptive to change which is always happening in the business world, or impacting our lives, in general. Again, great post. I’ll be revisiting your blog when I write the sequel.

    All the best!
    Eric Dana Hansen, Author of “IAN, CEO, North Pole”
    http://www.ianceonorthpole.com

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