Book after book is available about the generations and their many differences; less so about their commonalities. We can hear the voices of grandparents or elders who spoke of things going downhill in our own youth, and we can easily craft criticisms now as our comfort in our version of the “good old days” vanishes before our eyes. Key among them is how much time young leaders are spending engaging in social media and texting their friends. It doesn’t take long to draw the parallel between that and “get off the phone!” of my generation’s day. I think of the generalization that is made asserting that those who are young are unable to communicate. Are we really that different, or are the tools just evolving to provide ever more opportunities to engage, which is how the human being is wired?
One of my treasured photos is of my great grandfather, Mayor of a town in Virginia, making the first phone call in his city. Before that, if the Governor called a meeting, he would have taken the horse and traveled a long distance to handle business for what would be a short day trip today. If he needed his staff to handle something with a neighboring town, it would either be by letter back and forth, or again, a trip via horse. Fast forward 10 years after that first phone call was placed, and can you imagine him saying to his staff, “You’re on the phone too much. You need to go and see them in person to handle this situation.” Young staffers would look at him as if he was from another planet.
What we are quick to dismiss as inappropriate communication has created incredible opportunity in the work environment. I’m reminded of a friend who shared that an executive went to check on a recently hired graphic artist to see how she was settling in. After taking her ear buds out, she replied, “Great! I’ve got my posse with me.” He inquired further what she meant, and with her multiple monitors and multiple screens open and IMing in full action, she explained that she was working with a number of graphic artists internationally who were all helping on her projects. He quickly realized that while he had hired one person, her live network had provided him a stable of about 20 people he was not compensating.
Blocking LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter networks at work does not prevent employees from being on social media. They’ll just use their smartphone instead of an employer’s computer. However, as leaders and parents, we have a tremendous opportunity to teach discernment – not just to our children and college students – but to our employees of all generations. Skype can bring people across the world into one room for problem-solving with provisions for body language and tone of voice. Texting may be a great venue for providing information quickly, but it is not the best problem-solving tool for those with an issue to clarify. Learning when to use what tool is the key; especially when we can have the benefit of employees connecting with people all over the world.
In today’s complex world, we need each other more than ever – the wisdom of the ages and the expertise of youth. The table is large enough. The ideas are not tried and true; for the times we are in are unlike anything those of us in the workplace have ever experienced. Our opportunity is to invite everyone to the table – with ALL of the available tools.
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