Every generation no doubt reaches a certain age when they raise their hands in the air and ‘Despair for the youth of today!’ When the behaviours, values and norms of individuals belonging to a younger generation are so different from those of an older observer, it might seem that the world is becoming a worse place. However, given the unprecedented times we currently live in, it might be that Gen Y’s rapidly changing values, however threatening, are challenging a style of communication and leadership that is ill-equipped to deal with the social, economic and environmental challenges facing the world.
Gen Y and their younger counterparts who are often criticised for their ‘Why should I do anything?’ attitude might well be praised for questioning their leaders –including their family – as it could be that they hold the key to a more collaborative society. One only has to observe Gen Y’s online behaviour to see that far from being selfish, they have a culture of sharing – of ideas and information – and their questioning of society might throw light on changes that are happening and the potential to develop our organisations and communities in more effective ways.
In conducting research for my book ‘Communicate: How to say what needs to be said, when it needs to be said, in the way it needs to be said’, I have found that the era in which we live finds us questioning society at all levels and we would do well to embrace it. In my interview with Andrew Mowat, joint author of ‘The Success Zone: Five powerful steps to growing yourself and leading others’, he points to three distinct eras in society over the last hundred years. These are mirrored in our education and organisational systems. These broad eras are set out below and their values and messages influence our expectations and ways in which we communicate and influence other people today. The era we currently live indicates some of why Gen Y behaves as they do and the value of this.
The Era of Obedience
‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’
Formal education has been around since the early 1800s and was built around a sense of obedience. The values of this era were ‘If you don’t what you were told, you will be punished’. No value or focus was placed on developing children’s abilities or acquiring knowledge. The focus was purely upon control and getting children to do as they were told.
The Era of Reward
‘Do as you are told and your job’s for life’
Around the end of the Second World War and the Great Depression, the notion of obedience began to break down because the world was changing and new knowledge and skills were required to prepare people to grow the economy. Suddenly the teaching of knowledge and skills were required to prepare people to equip people to contribute to society differently. Suddenly the teaching of knowledge and content became important. With this came a different regime or set of values that read ‘Do as you are told and everything will work out’. Corrigan et all (2009) refers to this as Education 2.0’. In that phase, children were encouraged to behave correctly and if they didn’t behave they were punished. Corporal punishment was legal in schools and the purpose of was to condition respect in children towards their elders. The whole message of ‘If you do as you are told, you will get the result you need’, infiltrated society and organisational life. For example, people were told and believed:
- If you work hard you will have a job for life
- Put money away and you will be safe in the future
- Invest in your superannuation and money will be there for you later.
- Pay your taxes and the state will look after you
The Era of Respect
‘Teacher and leader as facilitator and change agent’
We now live in a very uncertain world with an unprecedented rate of change. We all know, although veterans and older baby boomers might prefer it not to be the case – that there is no such thing as a job for life. This is mirrored in changing values towards systems and people who traditionally would have engendered respect purely because of their position.
Today, doctors, politician, managers, teachers and religious leaders are questioned and technology and access to information at the push of a button, allows us to become informed and the chooser of services that once were not questioned. This puts the onus of responsibility directly on a person for their own performance and earning of respect; no longer can they hide behind a role or title that once afforded them respect.
This whole sense of respect has shifted and the youth of today work with a value ‘right or wrong’ for veterans or older baby boomers, that, ‘If you won’t listen to me, why should I bother listening to you?’ ‘’Respect me and I will respect you’. In a transactional sense, the interaction comes down to ‘Who gives the respect in the first instance’. In the second era, ‘respect your elders’ was the prevalent value. Today, getting cooperation from other people (especially the younger generation) works much more powerfully when you listen, acknowledge and respect the other person regardless of their age. By embracing the values inherent in the third era model, t is more likely that you will engender cooperation and respect from other people.
The calm communicator, who I talk about in my new book, is someone who operates within the era of respect paradigm. They listen and acknowledge other people; they ask questions to truly understand the other person and apply specific languaging and collaborative skills that make them communicate and lead with impact and presence.
”The most effective leaders and effective teachers are those that do not presuppose those who demand respect, they earn it in the first instance’. Andrew Mowet (2011)
With this in mind, it is apparent that we are in a transition with the majority of school, political and organisational systems that still preferring to use an older model that is clearly breaking down and not working. As leaders in all walks of life embrace this collaborative era, the potential for individual and collective innovation and collaboration is enhanced. If we adopt the communication style of ‘expert’, it assumes that people must listen to us. Many marital, teenage children and organisational conflicts occur because the person speaking presupposes they are the expert:
- As a speaker or senior manager I know best
- As a woman I know how to show emotions
- As a parent, I know more than a teenager
- I am a professional and know what to do
- I sell this product and know what you need
When we adopt the position of listener and collaborator instead of expert, we set up the conditions of respect. There is a very high correlation between experiencing respect from someone and experiencing good listening from someone. This requires us embracing society or education in the era of respect paradigm and becoming a facilitator who genuinely and sincerely listens to others to understand them as well as becoming informed in decision making. This is the hallmark of the calm communicator who is a sophisticated communicator with skills to communicate effectively in the boardroom or the bedroom and everywhere in between. This style of communication is also correlated with a more collaborative style.
A collaborative leadership style is one that embraces greatness in others and realises that innovation and creativity is found in organisations and just needs to be brought out. Gen Y, who question leaders, teacher, elders and professionals are effectively opening up the path to truly embrace new ways of operating in society in all walks of life. I believe they hold the key to a new style of leadership which is inclusive, open-minded, and truly embraces input from people willing to contribute, regardless of their status, age or seniority.