Once a woman took her young son to see Mahatma Ghandi. “Mahatma,” she requested, “please tell my little boy to stop eating sugar.”
“Come back in three days,” said Ghandi. Three days passed and the woman returned with her son.
“Young boy, stop eating sweets. They are not good for you.” Ghandi said to the little boy.
Puzzled, the woman asked, “Why did you ask us to leave and come back in three days. I don’t understand.”
“I asked you to return with the boy in three days,” replied the leader, “because three days ago, I, too, had not stopped eating sweets.”
Some business leaders and managers make the same mistake as some parents when working with millennial employees. They expect people to do as they say and not as they do.
But here’s the problem: people do what people see. If the leaders in your organization want dedicated, thoughtful, productive millennials in the workplace, they must model these characteristics.
The first millennials entered the workforce in 1998 as a season of cynicism struck corporate America. Their first impressions of the corporate environment were shaped by scandals–Enron, Waste Management, WorldCom, Tyco, Freddie Mac, Healthsouth, AIG, Lehman Brothers, and Bernie Madoff, to name only a few. According to Karl Moore, author of Effectively Working with Millennials, “authenticity can be considered to be one of the ten values regarded as most essential” for millennials in the workplace.
Authenticity begins with managers and leaders practicing The Mirror Principle: the first person to examine is yourself.
Here’s an exercise to share with your team leaders and managers to help them assess and improve their own levels of authenticity.
List all the significant qualities you desire to see in your team members. Then compare your own personal qualities to those on the list.
Wherever you don’t measure up, write an action statement next to the characteristic describing what you must do to possess the trait you’d like to see.
For example, if you want people to be dedicated, then write, “I will not give up solving a problem or doing a task until it is completed,” or “I will arrive early and stay late to set an example for the team.”
Keep this list where you will see and review it each day. Recite your commitments out loud so you can encourage yourself to do what needs to be done. If you don’t live the qualities you want, you will likely never see them in your team members.
Brent Gleeson at Inc.com lays out some tangible ways leaders can authentically model excellence for their teams. Pass this list along to your leaders and managers to empower them to set the best examples:
- Get your hands dirty. You don’t have to be the most advanced member of the team, but you must understand your industry and your business. Working alongside your team builds trust and continues to develop your own knowledge and skills.
- Watch what you say. Actions do speak louder than words, but words can have a direct impact on morale. Watch what you say and to whom. If someone needs help or critique, do it in private. Always encourage your team members in front of each other.
- Respect the chain of command. Gleeson says, “One of the fastest ways to cause structural deterioration, foster confusion, and damage morale is to go around your direct reports.” If you don’t model respect toward those in authority, then neither will your employees respect you.
- Listen to the team. “As leaders, sometimes we are so consumed with providing directives, giving orders, and, well, talking that we forget to stop and listen.” Remember The Partnership Principle: Working together increases the odds of winning together. Take feedback from your team regularly.
- Take responsibility. “Blame rolls uphill.” Syas Gleeson. “Great leaders know when to accept that mistakes have been made and take it upon themselves to fix them.” No matter whose fault, every problem will ultimately be the leader's responsibility. Build respect and trust by not passing the buck.
- Let the team do their thing. “Stop micromanaging. Communicate the mission, vision, values, and goals. Then step back and let the team innovate. Setting this example for the team will encourage your other managers to do the same.”
- Take care of yourself. Yes, physical health contributes to leadership success! “The more you take care of yourself, the more energy you will have and the better work you will do.” Model for your team members the importance of a fitness oriented culture.
The practical upside to leading by example is that it’s downright effective. It disarms any possible resentment and removes friction in the workplace.
It makes people want to follow their leaders and be developed by them. Being authentic enables your managers to connect at a deeper level with millennials in the workplace, leading to better engagement and resulting in increased productivity.
- “The Little Boy and Sugar,” Storytime for Children, Ghandi Memorial Center, Washington D.C., http://www.ghandimemorialcenter.org/for_children, accessed 8 April 2011.
- Brent, Gleeson, “Simple Ways to Lead by Example,” Inc.com, http://www.inc.com/brent-gleeson/7-ways-to-lead-by-example.html, accessed 9 July 2016.