It's the choice for a new generation
In a recent meeting of Flint Hills Region professionals that were in their 20's and 30's a curious trend started to emerge through table discussions. Facilitators lamented the "fact" that "fewer people in organizations are doing the majority of the work"… Individuals disagreed. One young woman pointed out that "people our age want to get things done, and they don't see the reason to have eighteen meetings to accomplish a task." Many throughout the room agreed. Traditional organizations were once seen exclusively as the "doers" in communities. With a shift in demographics and the ascendancy of a younger generation, has that changed? If so, what does a change in leadership trends mean for communities that still need leadership?
Over the past year, we've tracked the trend of what some are calling "organic leadership styles". As an organization that is volunteer dependant, Main Street must constantly adapt to community realities to remain relevant, so we try to morph our organization to the market while remaining cognizant of our four point approach. As we oscillate between tradition and adaptation, we've found a few themes that may help businesses and organizations stay current.
The concept of separating leadership by generation is outmoded. Lets face facts, technology and societal trends are moving ridiculously fast. The only way to keep up with these changes (and capitalize on them) is to have a broad spectrum of leadership. Within the Emporia Main Street Board, we have individuals in their 20's to retired individuals making leadership decisions. Why? Different and unique perspectives create a more adaptive organization. When we separate a group from another, we subconsciously infer that they are not on the same level as "leadership". We are sometimes referred to as the "young" organization, but that's only because too many still find it unusual to give youth an equal voice at the table.
When are we meeting? Thirty years ago, many companies strongly encouraged both community and organizational involvement. Those companies are becoming fewer by the day. Our fast paced society creates a hectic pace during the work day (and after… and on weekends…). The concept of a "Mad Men" style martini lunch only exists on AMC. When are you meeting? When does your target market like to meet? What is conducive to a relatively convenient working schedule? Noon meetings at Main Street are rough, simply because many potential entrepreneurs and contacts pop in during their lunch time. Many businesses now have staggered lunch periods which prevent consistent noon meetings. Meetings immediately after work are sometimes hampered by child care arrangements or extended work hours. If people aren't coming to your meetings, a reason could be your meeting time.
I'm answering to whom? The rejection of hierarchal structure is one of the most dramatic changes we've seen in leadership. At one time, citizens would report an idea to established leadership and seek their blessing prior to moving forward. Modern youth may inform you what they are doing, but they aren't asking for permission. Starting an event, creating a business or establishing an initiative? Younger leaders may want assistance, but they don't want directives. As younger entrepreneurs and community leaders have matured, they used technology that encouraged independence rather than interaction. You don't have to go through layers of bureaucracy to access research on the Internet. Applied to everyday life, modern leaders seek to eliminate "time sucks" and go directly to the source of help.
Paper tigers fold. The focus on positive relationships and challenging authority that exists in the emerging generations means that tradition holds less value. When people get involved "because they are supposed to", that involvement will be short lived. Using technology, people can make connections independently, they can network independently, they can reach out to government officials independently through a few swipes of a tablet or a few clicks of a mouse. As societal expectations are challenged, people care less that they don't conform to societal normalcy. The lack of interest in tradition when added to the "how can you tangibly benefit me" ethos simply turns the old leadership model on its head. Modern "leaders" can only maintain their leadership when they convert themselves to community "servants". We are only as strong as the benefits we provide. The more we hold onto our traditional structures, the more we alienate the populace and the weaker we become.
Can I just work on what I want to work on? The singular passions of a modern leader may seem frustrating to some, but lets gain some perspective and look at the advantages the mind set provides. In most hierachal structures, there are individual "jobs" that are part of a larger "work plan" which achieves one goal within a larger "committee" which reports to a larger organizational leadership group with the approval of a smaller executive group. That's a whole lot of bureaucracy… Many people don't initially care about the larger picture, they simply want the immediate gratification of accomplishing the smaller task. By adapting to individuals with a limited focus, we can still accomplish tangible goals AND expose volunteers to a broader perspective.
Equality in all things. Growing up in a society that discourages unequatible situations, rewards tolerance and recognizes the inherent value of diversity changes community dynamics. Historically, people trusted leadership far more than they do today. I'm not inferring that historical leaders were more trustworthy, just that our perceptions have changed. Good ideas, work and other resources can come from anyone, and no one wants to feel like a lesser individual. Equality must be expressed in actions, not just words, and it must represent the present reality, not the historical precedent. A hybridization of experienced perspectives and new ideas must occur for any community to experience success. Participants in that dichotomy must be equal, or the impending results will not be constructive.
Emporia Main Street is reconfiguring how we work with volunteers on many levels to compensate for new generational realities. I know many of you are experiencing issues within your structures. Try and remember that we don't change people, we simply change ourselves and how we relate to people. Forced conformity creates a "round hole and square peg" dilemma. Continued resistance to change simply means we get squarer as the public gets rounder. Learn to adapt to changes in public values, and you can be more successful.