There was a recruiting campaign, a few wars back, that claimed the U.S. Army built leaders.
Logic tells us, however, that for the most part good followers don’t necessarily grow into good leaders.
This notion came to mind during Rebecca Ryan’s talk to the Iowa City Area Economic Development Group’s annual meeting earlier this month. (The self-described “one part economist, one part futurist and one part humorist” spoke to the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance the day before.)
The subtext of Ryan’s chat was about developing the next generation of leaders. Indeed, “next gen” is her shtick.
During her presentation, the Madison, Wis.-based consultant (you saw that coming, right?) reminded her audience that work needs to be done on an economic as well as on a community level to attract and retain these young folk, often referred to as millennials (though Ryan didn’t use that term).
One reason we want them living and working in Eastern Iowa rather than elsewhere is the talent dividend: For every one percent increase in residents with a bachelor’s degree there is a $763 uptick in annual regional per capita income, she calculated.
But here’s the counterintuitive bit: Despite the shortage of jobs most everywhere, where millennials live is as important to them as what job they have, she said.
“Location still matters,” Ryan said.
Their hearts favor cool ZIP codes — Austin, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles and Omaha. Tall buildings rather than tall cornstalks.
And they’s willing move at the drop of a hat. It’s no wonder they aren’t remotely as loyal to their employers as their parents have been: They’ve witnessed too many right-sizings and reductions in force — mainly to their parents and their older siblings — to be fooled by platitudes from companies that contend they cherish their workers.
Now is the time, during what Ryan described as a winterlike “era of survival,” that we need to plan “what we should do … for our children come spring.”
We must invite the next generation to the table to determine solutions for the challenges of today and tomorrow, she said.
And she’s right. But I wonder how much of a disservice managers do to these future leaders, and to themselves, as we continue to paint these 20- and early 30-somethings as “me first.”
We’ve all heard that millennial-inspired concept that work should be fun as we spend so much time at it. A contrary view holds that, sure, that would be nice, but even if it’s not a laugh a minute around the ol’ office, isn’t that why we get paid?
I think good leaders, regardless of whether they can name all four of the Beatles, want to lead. They want to learn about what came before, what worked and what didn’t, and they aspire to succeed.
Amongst all our talk about groovy office culture and flexible work schedules, let’s also give thought to mentoring and real-world management development.
Someone has to teach them, and I imagine that means us.
That’s the way to propagate more generals and field officers and fewer clueless privates.