Thursday, November 13, 2008

They Laughed At The Younger Generation - Until It Was Their Turn To Rule The World

The November Leadership Austin Engage Breakfast tackled the topic of the "Changing of the Guard – Leadership Turnover in Central Texas". The event was held at Chez Zee Restaurant (a great place to meet and eat!) on Tuesday, November 11, 2008 and was sponsored by Aetna and Lee Hecht Harrison. Nearly 100 people were in attendance.

"Change" is in the air everywhere following on the heels of our historic presidential election. But successful change does not just happen by accident. The panel discussion focused deep on what the Austin area faces in the coming years as many of the top jobs across the city are already beginning to have new faces moving into the corner offices - and more seasoned leaders are scheduled to retire in the near future. Change is looming on the horizon, and it will forever impact our fine city.

The panel, which consisted of entrepreneurial legend, Kerry Tate (TateAustinHahn) and the uber-smart Matt Kouri (Greenlights for Non-Profit Sucess) kicked off with the statement of "SHIFT HAPPENS!". Clearly things are shifting in Austin as many of the areas top business, government and non-profit leaders are moving onto retirement or other assignments, and that is creating both challenges and opportunities throughout our community.

Each individual Austinite views their nostalgic picture of the "perfect Austin" as the day they arrived in town. For some that is the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s or just a few weeks ago. For generations Central Texas has experienced fast growth and change, but the speed at which our key leadership roles are turning over in the current environment is unprecedented.

Ms. Tate, the youngest member of Austin's old guard, read a long list of well known pillars of the community who have or are soon to vacate their roles. Mr. Kouri added his view point of the state of the over 5000 non-profit organizations that make Austin one of the highest per capita cities in the country for active charitable organizations. These groups are also are facing a high churn in their executive director positions. Are our elders moving aside to make room for the next phase of leaders, or are they just leaving?

The answer goes beyond our Hill Country vantage point. Austin is reflective of the changes that are happening all over the United States. While Austin prides itself in bucking trends, in the case of the generational leadership changing of the guard, we are the perfect example of what is soon to be happening everywhere.

Our workforce across the globe is having never before seen changes as Generation Y and the Millennials move into the workforce. Human Resource consultants and others are perplexed with how the aging baby-boomers and their younger collages are handling the perfect storm of generational differences converging in the marketplace. The younger workers have different views of leadership, work, social life, family, politics, and of the world at large.

Change is constant, but at this rapid pace, what does Austin need to do to avoid just riding the wave of change?

There is risk, but this transition is exciting. Paying attention to the change and managing it is the key. Leadership is not a straight line, but instead it is an imperfect circle. A circle made up of dots and dashes that allow new players to enter when these "holes" appear. Thus when experienced leaders move on, there is an opportunity for someone new to come into the circle and make an impact on the individual organizations (businesses, non-profit, or government agency) and the entire community.

How can younger folks get involved?

Show up and show you care! Austinites have an un-natural love affair with Austin. You do not see the levels of civic pride and sacrifice to make a city great in other municipalities. This is what makes Austin so wonderful. Individuals must get past any selfish motivations when it comes to leadership and care for the good of the whole community. With the mentality of service there is always room for anyone to take a seat at the leadership table.

If organizations are still looking at old business models, they are being passed over. Austin is at the cutting edge of the technology shifts that are impacting all areas. Where national thought leaders are talking about the internet and social media changing the way companies and other organizations hire and communicate - we are already seeing Austin companies and indidviuals coming together, finding jobs and advancing their organizations through LinkedIn, Facebook, Twiter and a variety of other online facilities. The message to all types of organizations is to embrace the change.

Gen Y and the Millennials have a different mindset, and their presence is changing the face of how work gets done. They grew up with text messaging and email, but also were raised to feel special and want to be part of the process in the organizations where they work and volunteer. Their need to feel connected is not necessarily good or bad, it is just a different point of view. Savvy organizations realize this and are tapping into the talent and creativity that they bring to the table. They do not need to bring turmoil into the workforce, but instead have a lot to teach their more seasoned co-workers who are newcomers to much of the new technologies.

Local leaders of past generations had lives that more focused on our small geography. They understood the common heart and soul of each other's civic dedication. They personally knew and liked one another (even if they disagreed on specific issues). Many of the new leaders live and work in global companies and are connected to a variety of communities around the world. This allows them less time to be engaged in Austin specific issues, which means that many of our younger leaders may not have established histories of knowing other local leaders. When conflict occurs they cannot draw on a lifetime of mutual understanding. Instead this leaves them on opposite sides of what can appear to be a great divide. Knowing each other is important.

The antidote for this disconnect of those who will lead Austin into the next several decades are organizations like Leadership Austin, who can work to introduce, educate and inspire the new generation of leaders. With mutually beneficial goals, outcome based objectives and established friendships that foster understanding, tomorrow can be navigated with success and expertise that will continue to set Austin and Central Texas apart for other cities around the world.

This is an example the reality of the importance of your network. Leaders need to invest the time up front to establish and cultivate relationships with others who will look to serve our community as we continue to expand. Hiding behind the excuse of "being busy" is not acceptable. "Busy" has been embraced by our culture and is not going away. Everyone is busy, but leaders must make the time to connect with other leaders.

The real message of the morning was "Do not just observe the change - embrace it and help shape the future". For those who are called to lead, the opportunity is right now. Austin has room at the top for those who can (and will) create and manage our tomorrow.

Have A Great Day



David Morris said...

Did you have the Creme Brule French Toast?

Baby Changing Stations said...

The generation question has nothing to do with the smooth working ideology of the organization.If elderly experienced people work as pillars, youngsters are involved in polishing and maintaining those pillars.

Ari Herzog said...

I live near Boston, not Austin; but we're very much the same.

Only difference is Boston has better music and slam poets.

Thom Singer said...

thanks for the comments-

David-I love that the Chex Zee famous creme brule french toast is even known in California.

baby changing - I appreciate the comment, but don't understand what you are saying.

Ari - Those are fighting words to some. Can't defend the famous Boston Slam Poets...But Austin is the Live Music Capital of the World (oh yes, it is true, check with the Visitors Bureau, it is their Motto!). To claim Boston has better music (maybe good music, but better?) could cause a whole inner city war (think Boston Tea Party in reverse). I think we will claim better music, you can claim better baked beans. Yep, we will go with that! :)