Mentoring the New Wave of Leaders

Updated: Aug 12, 2020

Emerging Leadership: Mentoring the New Wave of GenX & Millennial Leaders

This article seeks to reveal harmful and helpful leadership styles so that the new wave of GenX and Millennial leaders may learn from their predecessors and find sources of mentorship even if from afar.

Leadership Skills Which Result in Compliance and Resentment

In the early years, Jack was devoted to technical knowledge and expertise. His work ethic was reflected in the fact that he worked long hours, weekends, and overshadowed his contemporaries in regard to productivity and knowledge. As a young manager, he:

  • Used lesser effective sources of power; (a) legitimate, (b) coercive, and (c) expert to enforce deadlines.

  • Used pressure to try and influence his peers and subordinates into performing.

  • Wanted to be seen, as what he considered a leader, as a person who was driven to accomplished corporate goals and succeed.

  • Desired to gain power and be promoted into higher levels of management and drove his business units hard.

  • Was not a team builder, evidenced by his attitudes toward coworkers as the competition.

  • Wanted to be seen, as the reason for a project’s successes.

Jack’s followers reacted to his style with compliance. They feared punishment and complied with his requests accordingly. Jack did not use reward as a power source and this displayed his attitude of self-promotion, which humiliated and de-moralized those that worked under him. Jack’s constant pressure to perform resulted in his staff being too stressed.

At the time of his first major promotion one of his peers was so angered by his obvious drive to succeed he tried to derail Jack’s career. After he found out about the attempted de-railing, he asked himself why had his co-worker reacted that way. While reflecting he realized that the very traits he hated in his co-worker he had expressed within himself, self-promotion at all cost. He relished the fact he would be promoted over his rivals. Jack always had a low tolerance for ambiguity; he hated dogmatism, and maintained a strong internal locus of control, as he always believed he was in control of his own destiny. Jack’s own personal life suffered as well.

Referential Power Versus Coercive Power

Although he was promoted to vice president, because of his business unit’s productivity he had never learned how to use referential power or other influencing strategies and his relationships with his new peers and subordinates became strained. As he reflected on his lack of success, he realized he needed to change his strategies.

As vice president, Jack began to express more empathy toward the line workers and his staff. He began to:

  • Socialize with other leaders including the union bosses.

  • Develop relationships with other leaders and employees. This allowed him to begin to use coalitions.

  • Hold consultations with other managers and leaders.

  • Form coalitions with line workers to successfully motivate union leaders in negotiation for the contracts needed to implement profitable changes.

This change eventually resulted in employees’ commitment to the company; however, in the beginning his direct report employees simply complied. His reputation of intolerance for low performance and downsizing staff caused reactions of fear and resistance. As he socialized with the plant managers he convinced them that he had the company's, and workers’ best interests in mind and that the changes would eventually allow as many people as possible to retain their jobs.

Jack was learning to build relationships that opened referential power and rational persuasion and personal appeal to get people to commit to his ideals. Although his values hadn’t changed much, his strategies changed, and he accomplished the tasks given him. His focus was now on finding and developing leadership skills.

Senior Leader’s Must Be Visionary and Resilient

As Sr. VP, Chairman, and CEO, his focus on managing processes had been long gone. His belief that leadership must be visionary and guide the corporation was deeply implanted and affected his behavioral choices.

He began to use:

  • Reward and Reference Power far more often.

  • Rational Persuasion to convince others to follow him.

  • Inspirational and Personal Appeal in speeches and meetings.

It took almost two years of persistence with union leaders before he began to gain the referential power needed. By using coalitions, consultations, and exchange, he won them over. He built-in bonuses for the production line, secured future positions for union leaders, and encouraged better performance by rewarding the reduction of product defects. Jack’s trend in getting subordinates and even other senior leaders to commit to his vision for GE continued through the rest of his career, (Slater, 1999).

Leaders Must Address Their Weaknesses

As Jack progressed as a leader, he admitted he was self-centered, and he introspectively observed and evaluated the reasons for this. It led him to evaluate his, others, and corporate successes and failures. He began to look for ways to repeat strengths and weed out weaknesses. Jack hated bureaucracy, he felt that companies should have a small business feel and that leaders should be able to easily change what they felt was holding the company back from profitability. His belief in corporate nimbleness and his commitment to observation, reflection, evaluation, and change led him to implement the Six Sigma methodology at GE.

Six Sigma is a good process to rescue struggling manufacturing operations however it chokes the creativity out of regular employees and middle management, who are the life source of every operation. Jack used Six Sigma to streamline his business units to overcome the struggles GE found itself in when Jack took over the company. However, once GE’s state changed from being a struggling manufacturer to a high growth global leader the process Ironically added a level of bureaucracy that began to choke out the very thinking that had saved it.

There was no centralized theory of leadership or management. Each facility was managed as seen fit by the local plant manager. This led to a disconnect between operational and planning functions within the organization. He continued to use coercive power through pressure and legitimate power throughout his career.

He created levels of leadership, placing managers into A, B, and C-list groups trying to inspire/reward them to improve to the next level. The A, B, C model demoralized many of his middle managers and many on the B and C-list members left GE to seek careers where they felt they had a better chance in management. One example was the practice of firing the bottom 10% of managers each year, which he felt was the right amount of pressure to motivate the staff to perform which cost him a seat on the Board of Directors for many years. It was not until there was a change in the Board of Directors that he was able to become CEO and Chairman of the Board, (Welch & Byrne, 2009).

Millennial's Want Work-Life Balance and Leadership Roles

A truly successful leader leads at home as well as in the workplace. Leaders must learn to have a balanced work life. What does a leader gain if they are a success at work and a failure in their personal life? The stress and agony of a broken heart and home are not worth the dollars earned while being consumed by responsibilities to a corporation. Whole and successful leaders make sure to gain personal skills and emotional education it takes to keep a home solid. Consider this, what is costlier, the $1,000,000 of wealth lost in a divorce, the tens of thousands of dollars and emotional anguish spent for rehab/counseling programs for troubled children, or hiring a life coach to help manage the work-life balance ratio?