Price Point | Leading A Different Generation
During the past two weeks, two different news department employees, of two different companies, have used their own station’s airways to publicly levy serious charges against their employers.
The television business has a long history of disgruntled employees making accusations against the stations they worked for. Doing so is well within their rights, and there has never been a shortage of forums to make such charges, from social media to local newspapers to even rival television stations, but to use an employee’s own station’s airwaves is almost unheard of.
Regardless of the validity, or lack, of each complainant’s charges, making those claims on their employer’s air was an outrageous breach of trust. Each was justifiably terminated for cause.
Were these two cases outliers, or is this a coming trend? Are younger generations so different that they think nothing of arbitrarily breaking societal norms? Are we looking at the future?
Every general manager, news director, every other station department head has a story of head-scratching millennial behavior. Some are minor, others bizarre, but one thing is sure, younger employers are a different generation from their predecessors. If we are to effectively lead this new generation, we must take the time to understand them.
First, we must not tar every employee of a certain age with the same brush. Few would ever take extreme actions against their own companies. Most are normal staff members who want to do well and build their careers. We’ve always had the odd employee who makes unreasonable demands. That is not a generational issue.
With that in mind, what broad conclusions can we reach about millennials? Three things stand out:
- Younger employees want to be involved in decision making. In my generation, if the boss said to do something, we did it. Young people are interested in the whys. Why are we covering this issue? Why are you giving me this assignment? Why should we be doing this?
- Millennials like consensus and group decision making. Hearing from everyone seems to be very important to them. They want to have a discussion before deciding.
- Younger employees’ private lives matter to them as much as their jobs. They are more thoughtful than earlier generations when it comes to promotion, sometimes willing to turn down a logical career move if it interferes with the rest of their lives.
When you think about it, are those things so terrible? As long as they are not taken to an extreme, they could actually be healthy, leading to a more balanced person. I’m not making excuses for those who cross the line, but we need to keep this issue in perspective. We can do that by looking at the millennial and upcoming Gen Z generations from a leadership perspective.
Over the years, I’ve seen every level of leadership, from the best to the worst. I can tell you without question that the most important key to organizational success is always leadership. Great organizations usually have great leaders. Dysfunctional or failing organizations virtually always have poor leaders. Leadership is the great challenge of any organization. It is the difference between success and failure
Great leaders are not “bosses.” They explain the mission in personal terms, seek buy-in on strategy and show they care about staff members as human beings. Great leadership is the same no matter the generation because basic human nature does not change.
Skilled leaders have always taken the time for two-way communication, explaining, seeking feedback and pushing decision making to the lowest level. Leaders who do this build the credibility to sometimes say “I know you don’t understand this, but you are going to have to trust me that it must be done.”
None of this means the inmates are running the asylum. Leaders must also be decisive, willing to make hard decisions when staff members cross the line. Some behavior is simply not acceptable and therefore cannot be tolerated.
Leading today’s generation of younger employees can sometimes be a challenge, but we must remember that great leadership transcends generational differences. The key to leading a new generation is not to change the way we lead; it is to raise our own skill level.
Our industry is in the midst of radical change. If we are to marshal our forces to build the future, our most important tool is effective leadership.
Hank Price is a media consultant and leadership coach. He is the author of Leading Local Television, a guide to leadership for television general managers, as well as those who aspire to top leadership. Price spent 30 years managing TV stations for Hearst, CBS and Gannett, including WBBM Chicago and KARE Minneapolis, as well as three other stations. Earlier, he was a consultant for Frank N. Magid Associates. Price also served as senior director of Northwestern University’s Media Management Center and is currently director of leadership development for the School of Journalism and New Media at Ole Miss. He is the author of two other books.