In this episode we explore the popular topic of millennials, Gen-Z, generational differences, and the challenges of 4 generation leadership, with best selling author of Counter Mentor Leadership, Robby Riggs.
Robby is a high performing transformation leader with experience driving change initiatives from start-ups to Fortune 100 companies. He has shepherded clients through re-orgs, technology implementations, talent evaluation and planning, strategic planning, and multiple acquisitions. He believes in the power of real teams and is passionate about bringing people together to achieve more. Robby is one of the hosts of the CounterMentors podcast, which provides wisdom on leadership in the workplace from the perspectives of a Boomer and a Millennial. Click here to learn more about the show, check out past episodes, or subscribe! With his co-host, Kelly Riggs, Robby has co-written a book, Counter Mentor Leadership, that teaches you how to unlock the potential of a multi-generational workplace. Click here to get your copy!
TK: Robby, you just finished writing a book not too long ago with your father. That must have been an incredible adventure, to say the least?
TK: "Counter Mentor Leadership," and what's really cool about this is that you’re writing a book about generational issues and you are writing it across generations. Talk to us about that.
RR: Tom, "adventure" is the right word. At times, it was torture. I’m not going to lie to you, writing a book with your – any family member, you can only imagine how you could have that natural conflict with one another, but then later and the fact that there are generational differences, the Pops was brought up in a completely different world than I was with a completely different world view, then he raised me and I had the baggage of him being my father and, of course, let me lie down on the couch for a second, I’m trying to impress him, I want him to love my stuff, and when he offers other points of view, I think it’s Christmas. So, it’s this incredible case study in the generational issues that exist everywhere in the workplace, and it was awesome writing it with the man that I lovingly call "the Pops," because we are both so in tune to this problem that it actually became a really nice way for us to talk about what we were writing. Whenever he and I would have conflicts, whenever I would offer up a new idea and he would shoot it down, and we would have this really healthy debate and discussion, we would talk about how, hey, that it either went really well or really poorly, [Laughter] and this is what people are going through the workplace every single day, but guess what? They’ve never been given any coaching advice, guidance on how to deal with this hugely challenging problem.
TK: It’s fascinating because we’re surrounded with this conversation about millennials and Gen Z, and we’re constantly making fun of it, poking fun at it, but the reality is somehow we have to work through it. It can’t just be a series of anecdotes, right? There has to be a strategy. There has to be sort of tactics that we use to actually take this on, and I think you pointed this out in the book, more so than at any previous time, it’s not just two generations, we’ve got four generations in the workforce today that are all working shoulder to shoulder. So, what's the magic? One of the things you talk about in the book is obviously this notion about counter mentor. Describe what that is and then tell us a bit about how that works.
RR: Tom, when we think about how to execute in the workplace with multiple generations that bring in all their own different baggage and challenges, we really talk about focus and intent. This isn’t going to just happen because you hope it happens. Like anything else in leadership, you have to be intentional with your time and intentional with your behaviors. We talk about what it means to be a counter mentor. We leverage this idea of reverse mentoring, which I know you and I have talked a ton about in the past, and when you think about you can learn from the younger generation because they have a different work view than you, if you just have enough humility as a leader to go in and listen, and not dictate, you can learn a ton. So, we love the idea of reverse mentoring, but what we’ve found was that it really isn’t just about reverse mentoring or mentoring, it is this constant back and forth, truly communicating, building a relationship, one that you understand each other's perspectives, and as the more senior leader, you can then help that junior individual navigate the new challenges that exist in the workplace, things like change, which is happening at a pace we’ve never before seen. You know more than pretty much anyone in the planet about how much crazy change is impacting the workplace right now, obviously with technology, the generational challenges and the different distractions we have. All these new challenges have to be navigated and that can happen through this relationship by both the mentor and the mentee helping one another. We always then talk about the criticality of teaching the essential skills. We say that there are really three essential skills everybody has to learn: how to think, how to communicate, and how to execute; and the reality is most organizations don’t teach people how to do that. They just assume the day they walk in with their undergrad degree, they can figure it out. Then from there it’s all about executing and reviewing in real time consistently. So, everything we just talked about, none of it’s rocket science, but it takes focus and intent, and people don’t know how to do it and that’s what creates such a huge rift in the workplace.
TK: It’s not rocket science, as you say, but I recall first learning about reverse mentoring, which is something Jack Welch pioneered back in the late 1990s, and one of the biggest challenges that Welch had at GE at that time was mandating that his 60 top execs actually each have a reverse mentor. That didn’t go very well.
RR: The heck, no.
TK: There’s been a lot of pushback to that, and I think this is natural pushback because we want to believe – you’d call him "Pops." If I can sort of press on that Pops category, those of us who are in the Pops category want to believe that we have attained some degree of wisdom and knowledge, and along come these kids right out of school, very green, in some respects, but also knowing a whole lot more than we do in other respects, it’s a tough pill to swallow, and I’ll be honest, I think I’ve been on the receiving end of that as well.
RR: [Laughter] Yes.
TK: There’s a lot to learn and I ignored it, but how do you get over that hurdle? How do you get over that cultural hurdle of I should be the mentor, I should be the one who’s teaching and passing on advice? That's a tough hurdle, I would think.
RR: You’re exactly right. We talk about two distinct groups: the boss, the boomer old school supervisor; and the kids, the know-it-all "digital self-promoters." The Pops and I argued on that name. I wanted to call them the "digital superstars," but I’m just a millennial who I should get a trophy, so what do I know? [Laughter] This process of going "Whoa, you just got here, like you’re wearing flip-flops and you don’t even know where the bathroom is yet. Who are you to tell me that you can 'add value'?" In my opinion, it’s a nurture problem. As the older generation was coming up in the workplace, they had to be in their desk at 8:00 at their computer terminal, sit there until 5:30 when their boss left, then they could leave; and there was no way they were going to go up and ask their boss or their boss's boss a question, because that would be unheard of. So, the way that they saw growth in mentoring was by sit down, shut up, pay your dues, and do what you’re told. So, after 20 to 30 years of that being ingrained in your head, all of a sudden, you have this new generation coming in who has a different point of view that is "I have skills that you’ve never seen before." Tom, you know, this, the younger generation, for the first time in human history, has skills to offer the older generation that they don’t have. They have knowledge that the older generation doesn’t have. That doesn’t happen. The apprentice model was very intentional and it works for a reason. The older generation had the knowledge that they had to pass on. Well, that's not the case anymore. So, because the environment has changed, the thinking must change; and the advice that we always give to the older generation is simple: Don’t you want to be successful? If yes, then invest in those relationships and when you invest that time in those relationships, we’ve done this over and over with companies from startup to Fortune 100, we find that those leaders that embrace this have incredible success because their teens are more engaged and they’re able to get more results, because at the end of the day, that's what leadership is about.
TK: Leadership is also very much about growing people, helping them to mature to reach their potential, and much of what you’re talking about is continuing that growth regardless of age. I think there’s this mistaken impression that as you get older, there’s less to learn, when in fact, it’s just the opposite. So, maybe that’s what you’re providing through counter mentor leadership is to have growth both for the mentor, of course, as well as, the one that’s being mentored. I mean, they both benefit and grow from this. It’s not a one-way street, the way apprenticeship once was.
RR: That’s exactly right, and you’ve summed it up perfectly there. It is all about growth through that leader, which is why, Tom, so many leaders struggle with this. I want to be very frank, this takes humility and as a "I’ve been doing this for 25 years and I have shoes older than you, and what would you know about" – I mean, look, if you have that attitude and you bring that strong ego and that, dare I say, arrogance of your experience into the conversation, you’re never going to get this. This is about humbling yourself and understanding that you can continue to learn, grow, and develop as a leader, and frankly, in whatever your profession is. My wife's a surgeon and her and I was talking about the criticality of continuous learning, and she’ll be the first person to say, in her profession, it couldn't be more paramount. She said, "Robby, every single year, these companies are producing new tools and new equipment that we can leverage in the operating room to be more effective as surgeons," right, new imaging, new plates and screws and tools, and if the older generation, that generation of surgeons, if they have an arrogance around "Well, I know what I’m doing," then they are not going to be as effective as the younger, by definition, because they are not tapping into the greatest resources we have and right now, that great resource that we have, especially in America, is our innovation and our commitment to research. Those two things have created more opportunities and more advantages for us than any other generation.
TK: You bring up a lot of great points. I want to tackle a few of them one at a time. The first one has to do with this notion of constantly learning. The fact that the world is changing so much, you talked about medicine as one of the fields, where the techniques, the tools, technologies are constantly changing and you have to invest heavily in your ongoing knowledge and learning, right? It’s almost a given. However, add to that – and I’d love to get your sense for this on whether you see it playing a role – add to that the spectrum of AI, and we’ve talked about AI and its ability to constantly learn, to constantly evolve, in some cases, faster than us humans. Now, I don’t want to get into will AI take over the world or will AI push all out of work.
RR: [Laughter] And terminate our argument? [Laughter]
TK: We can go into it, if you want to, later one, but for the time being, what role does AI play in this whole notion of bridging the generational chasms?
RR: Man, the cynical person in me says, yes, the role is to push the older generation out, right? That's what the younger generation thinks. There’s this idea that, well, we are so – we, being the younger generation, the millennials and the Gen Z, who are what we would call, of course, the kids. The kids all look at you and go, "See, technology, it’s going to replace people. Man, aren’t we so glad? Because you need to get all these old people out of here," and I like to laugh and say, "Well, why do you think it’s just going to replace them?" [Laughter] So, I think that this is such a hugely important conversation, because the role that AI can play in turning data into information by automating certain processes that are highly manual and highly expensive from a labor and time perspective, these can all be overcome through some combination of machine learning and artificial intelligence, and I think the most important part that it can play in bridging this gap, making it very germane to your question, is we can learn about this together. So, the older generation and the younger generation can experience this new technology bringing their two very unique perspectives; one with a very strong perspective and experience and the human element and face to face, and one with a digital community social and "let’s get everything done faster, better, stronger" perspective, and when you bring those two things together, we can actually form and shape AI and bond over the development and use of AI in a way that it will bridge the gap and not cause an even deeper chasm than what already exists.
TK: Shouldn't we be surprised at all of this? Didn’t we see this coming to a large degree when we taught our kids? I know I taught my kids that anything is possible, that you do have a certain level of competence that perhaps I was not taught in my generation growing up, but yet we’re not surprised at all of this. I’m not sure we shouldn’t be.
RR: Yes, one of my favorite discussions to have with the organizations and especially speaking at big conferences and with different associations is everyone in the room needs to understand that you think this is a huge problem - you’re exactly right, Tom - lazy, entitled, thinks that they should get everything handed to them on day one. The Pops, his favorite phrase is: "Show up on Monday in flip-flops, be CEO by Friday," right, and we all heard this ridiculous rhetoric, especially with the power of Twitter, and we’ve all seen the 142 characters that the people love to get excited about, [Laughter] and I think it’s absolutely ridiculous. When you look at where our generation came from, we were the first generation that our parents were giving us more than ever before, often above their means, because the boomer generation had been on credit cards. We come from a generation that for the first time, our parents, it was okay for them to get divorced, right? Before that, the idea of a split home didn’t exist, and with that comes two birthdays, two Christmases, all the - the family reorients everything about their lives around the child, so they’re at the center of everything. They’re quite literally the center of that universe; so those two factors. The third factor would be what you just said, the 24-hour what started off as news on television and then that became even more strong with the Internet and social media. We are told over and over and over, we can do anything. We need to save the planet. The world is going to hell in a handbasket and somebody's got to do something about it. So when you take all these environmental factors, it’s actually incredibly logical that we are where we are, and when you look at the younger generation, if you invest in them and you seem to understand their perspective, you will very quickly find that do they have flaws? Do they have some naivete and some "green," to use the word we referenced earlier? Of course, they do, but guess what? So did every new generation that entered the workplace. The difference was our generation – mine, me being a millennial, we aren’t scared to raise our hand and go, "Well, that's stupid." [Laughter] "I think that’s a terrible idea," because we were encouraged to do that starting as young as kindergarten. So, you’re exactly right, Tom. This is not something that is a surprise. Anyone that has studied this topic will tell you that it’s actually a very logical, normal place where we have come, and I’ll be the first person to say – not the first person, a lot of us have said this - but no, millennials are not lazy. They’re not entitled. They don’t think that they are better than you. They just have a different way of looking at things and when they disagree, that disagreement is not in arrogance and saying, "I’m better than you."
TK: I’m going to take off from the title of your book, Robby, and try to bridge here. You talk about counter mentor leadership. There’s a counterintuitive aspect to what you’re describing right now. In many ways, when I think about my generation – and we’ve talked about this; I’m not necessarily keen on generational labels, but we use them and we’re accustomed to them, so let’s keep using them for the sake of clarity in our discussion here. When I think about my generation, boomers, in many ways, I’d like to believe that what we were taught environmentally and contextually, what our parents taught us help us in some ways to see society, civilization, organizations through a very difficult set of transitions, whether we were vocal about the Vietnam War to the way that we developed more transparency in organizations and how we work, a lot of that came from skillsets that we’ve developed, the skillsets that this generation is developing, or that these generations are developing, I think similarly is necessary for the kind of world that they inhabit. It’s not that these are aberrations, but these are necessary skills for competencies to build the kinds of organizations that you have transparency, that you have high levels of complexity. Without their desire and their ability to connect with anyone across any barriers, you wouldn't be able to manage that kind of an organization. So, what looks like chaos is actually a competence that's necessary for today’s and tomorrow's organizations. Agree or disagree, what do you think?
RR: Totally agree. That's actually a beautiful result of a bunch of compounding often conflicting factors and the perfect example here, the perfect metaphor for this is what is the number one and number two jobs that companies want right now? It’s full stack developer and data scientist, right? Those are numbers one and two, and guess what, those are skills that we started learning when – my first computer class, we learned – we had the course "Mario Teaches Typing," where it’s literally like a video game where we learned how to type, and we were learning that in first grade, right? When we first started learning that was our first interaction with computer. My junior high school, I had to build a website for a – now, it was super basic, rudimentary, but still we learned those skills early on. We layer on top of those two things, something we’ve mentioned earlier, which is the constant search for a solution and creativity and innovation. Those are skills that we were intentionally taught. Think outside the box. Solve the word problems. Think critically about how you can move this to there, all that stuff we did both at the high school secondary and post-secondary education, all that was around being innovative and creative. So, we are absolutely adapting to the environment that we’re in, much like the boomer generation - I’ll jump back to the greatest generation, I mean, they had to learn a completely different set of skills to get them through the world war. So, it was such a fascinating – as you look through time and you look at macroeconomic factors, you look at truly impactful things that are happening in both the economy, but also just in culture at large, you do see how we have had to change the way not just that we raise our kids - and I kind of say that tongue in cheek because I don’t have kids [Laughter] - but also because there are so many different factors at play and the level of complexity in the world today has caused us to do things quite differently.
TK: You talked a lot about leadership in the book, Robby. I know a lot of your practice in the field focuses on leadership. Is it possible to sort of boil down the fundamental differences between millennial leaders or Gen Z leaders and boomer leaders in the ways that are not disparaging, but actually factual, based on your observations?
RR: Yes, great question. Let me start up by saying this, Tom, I believe that leadership is not generational. You, a great leader, I believe, can be a great leader despite their generation, despite their personalities, despite their background. I’m a big believer that leaders are developed; they’re not born. Now, look, do certain personality types have a better way of more naturally connecting with people and have more charisma? Sure, I’m not going to disagree with that, but I don’t think that when you were born, your mother looked at you and went, "Oh, my gosh. The leader." [Laughter] You were developed over time and you invested intentionally in your learning and growth and development, and that's what makes you a great leader, and then your personality or your characteristics often will help that and make it easier, and there are those that have to overcome certain traits and others that have to overcome certain weaknesses, but all in all, I believe that leadership is developed and it can be done across generations. So, to your question, specifically, I believe that the millennial leader is much more apt to collaboration. We were taught starting in high school and even more so in undergraduate and graduate level courses, that everything is a team. So, we do exams as teams. We do presentations as teams. My dad and I would joke back and forth about his first accounting test. He sat in a room with 85 other people. He did his accounting exam on his own. When I took accounting, during my MBA, our first exam was a group team exam that we took home. [Laughter] It could not have been more different, and this is for accounting. So, because of that, the way we were developed and taught is teaming is hyper-important. So, naturally, millennial leaders – really, I’ll say any leaders really under the age of 35, we are much more apt to having a teaming atmosphere where we have more democracy, less command control, juxtapose that with late Gen X and boomers, grew up really in the opposite environment. It was very hierarchical. Everyone had a title throughout their careers, so they are much more likely to say, "I’m the boss. It’s my decision. I’m making it." Now, of course, these are generalizations. No, not every leader is like that; and please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that all millennial leaders are good and all boomer leaders are bad, could not be further from the truth. I believe that leadership – that, fundamentally, leadership is the science and art of getting things done through other people. It’s about a relationship. Covey, Collins, so many people have said that leadership is influence. I’ll be the first person to say that it’s leveraging that influence to produce results; that's what leadership is, and if you are great at that, you are great at building relationships, because that's really what it is. We don’t want to manipulate. We don’t want to demand. We want to build a relationship so that someone wants to get a job done. The German philosopher in the early 20th century, Nietzsche, had said that people can endure any how if they understand their why. People can endure any how if they understand their why. Of course, Simon Sinek said that very simply by saying, "People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it." So, when we think about all of these coming together, all these factors, it’s not at all surprising that we can have great leaders from any generation if they will invest the time in developing their ability to lead and, Tom, I would argue - and you’ve heard me say this many times that that does not happen on accident. Having that great mentor, having a counter mentor that can develop you simply takes intent and effort.
TK: One of the things I’ve noticed, Robby, especially in customer service types of scenarios is that when I pick up the phone and call customer service for their brand or service that I have as a consumer, inevitably, the younger - and here I’m going on voice, obviously, so the younger customer support reps that are typically the ones that are much more interested in making a connection; and I know I’m going to piss everyone off when I say this, but when I talk to someone who I sense is older or maybe closer to my age, they’re a bit more antiseptic in how they approach the problem, a bit more sterile. Younger customer support, however, want that human connection, and I think that goes so against the grain because the comment I hear most often about generational differences paints millennials and Gen Z as not wanting to connect, as being so attached to their phones and texting that they have somehow eliminated the human element. I’ve seen just the opposite and I have a tough time convincing those folks on why that is the case, because it’s become anecdotal. It’s become a joke now that millennials are all the time looking at their phone, but yet, in practice, I actually find a much higher bar for the importance of that human connection amongst them than I do among my peers.
RR: Man, I couldn't agree more. I think that again doing a little history lesson here, oftentimes, we were raised by the television, this invention that was available 24/7 with channels like Nickelodeon and Disney, all of a sudden there was kid-friendly programming available 24/7/365, and it became easy for parents to put you in front of the television. So we got used to it and really developed a nice relationship with a "device." Now, later that became an iPhone or an iPad, and we have continued that relationship in a way to keep us engaged. Now, that does not mean that we don’t want the human connection. I would argue, just like you, that we want an even stronger connection, because we have that void. The problem is many millennials – and we’re seeing this in Gen Z as they’ve just now started to trickle into the workplace – we’re seeing that we were actually never taught how to socially interact, which is hilarious because here we think we’re so social and I have 10,000 followers on Twitter and I’m so social, yet if I sit down across you and we charge our computer together, it’s awkward [Laughter] because we don’t have that, but there’s such a yearning for that face-to-face human connection, and my people don’t care what you do. They care how they made you feel, and you don’t get that strong bond, that strong feeling over social media that you do face to face. I couldn't agree with you more. I think that we value it more. We also value inclusion and I would argue that we value making people feel good, right, being kind to people. We’re kind of getting fed up with people hating each other and going to war with each other; so again, propaganda that we have heard our entire lives through cable and Internet. So, I think that it’s a lot of different things that compound that problem, but I’ll tell you, you and I are the minority here, and you talked about it when you asked the question, but people – especially older people, don’t believe it. They believe that – I mean believe at their core, Tom, that millennials are lazy, entitled, only care about their phones, and have no desire to build a face-to-face relationship with you.
TK: As you were writing the book, as you were researching the case studies for the book, what was the biggest aha moment that you have, Robby? Because you have thought about this long before you began writing the book. We had talked before you even began writing the book, so I know this was on your mind, but there must have been an aha moment that actually took you by surprise.
RR: Yes. Man, another great question. I think the biggest thing that we realize, because remember, this whole book came about – and we talked about it a little bit in the intro, but the Pops and I were actually sitting at Thanksgiving dinner arguing about a problem. He runs a management consulting business, as do I, and he was talking about a client and was indirectly kind of complaining and throwing the whole millennial generation under the bus, and of course, I didn’t take kindly to that. So, we began this debate and where we landed is that, well, we both agreed that the antidote was leadership, and the leader, in this case, was not being a great leader, and the millennial and his story have a role to play and have blame to bear, of course, but the point was, ultimately, the leader should be leading and as we begin to pull that thread, the big aha moment was when we were researching what leaders do it well, and we were looking at stories and interviewing people. We did tons of interviews for the book, and tons of practical research for the book at our various clients, and we found that the key thing that separated very average I’ll call them "managers," because they’re not even leaders, they simply manage and try to get a specific outcome on the process. They don’t invest in people, don’t develop people. Between that middle manager and what we would call a "Taylorian" manager, back to a transformational leader, the difference is the relationship, and that's what we found. The transformational leader cared about truly building a relationship with his or her people. They did not subscribe to the old school view of "Well, you can’t be friends with someone and lead them." They truly cared about the people that work for them, wanted to get to know them, and then shockingly, when they did that, all of a sudden they understood that their ideas weren’t crazy just because they were young, but they brought a very specific experience and perspective based on what they’ve seen and heard throughout their life and through their education. So, the answer for us, the aha moment was it’s all about the relationships. So, how do we coach that? That's where our counter methodology comes from. It starts with communication. It’s being intentional about owning a relationship and understanding a perspective. The C, O, and U in COUNTER within our seven-step process, that's really where the meat is and that's what separates the okay from the great.
TK: You mentioned Taylor. I know in the course of the book, you bring up Frederick Winslow Taylor a number of times, Taylorism and the approach that revolutionized manufacturing and factories by using time-motion studies to document every single movement of the worker in such a way as to make it the most efficient set of movements that there could possibly be, has followed us through well over 100 years to become the model that we’d use to scale every enterprise, our classrooms as well as our factories as well as our offices. Everything has followed that fundamental model of maximizing efficiency. However – and this is a big "however," which I know you touched on technology in the book – however, technology has made it possible for us to be stepping away from that problem. Technology gives us the ability to understand the individual. So, we don’t want to deal with anonymous markets. We don’t want to deal with broad demographic groupings. We deal of individuals, and in many ways, when I hear you talk about leadership, what I hear you say is that that connection with the individual is much more important for millennials and for Gen Z, and I would submit that part of that has to be because of the technology we have with which to create that connection at scale. We’ve never had that before.
RR: That's exactly right, and [Laughter] we are in no way, shape, or form disparaging Taylor. What he did when he wrote the principles of scientific management in 1911, it was truly "revolutionary" by every sense of the word. The unfortunate reality is if Taylor was here today, he would say, "Hold on, you’re still trying to use my ideas and very specific tactics in a knowledge economy when I built it for an industrial economy," right? Two completely separate things. He would shake his head and go, "Oh, my gosh. No, you’re missing the point," but…
TK: Taylor would be pissed at us.
RR: Yes, he would, and he would say, "Wait, the whole point of this was when I did these studies, I went in and studied the environment, and found what works for that environment. Why are you being lazy and not studying your environment, and just going by the way we’ve always done it?" When Taylor wrote his book in 1911, he was anti how we’ve always done it, so that's the kind of the comedy in this, and we call it "Taylorian management" because it is very simply that I don’t care who you are, you’re an interchangeable part. You’re just going to do exactly what the SOP says. You’re not going to engage brain. The big joke, Tom, that we always talk about is when a person enters the workforce today in corporate America, he or she, after they fill up their coffee, they dock their laptop and then dock their brain. [Laughter] It’s like they put it aside and they just do exactly what the SOP says, which in today's economy with leveraging technology and the great insights we have from things like AI and ML, you have to engage brain. You have to think creatively and be innovative in everything. We know that in so many industries right now, it is a race to the bottom. We are cutting margins as quickly as possible, and it’s really who can achieve scale so that they can drive down price. We’re seeing that in almost every market right now, and the only way to do that and still be able to run your business is to think differently and be innovative, which requires people to engage brain, bump the status quo, and offer up different ideas; and the hilarious part of that is most leaders want nothing to do with that. They’re like, "No, sit down. Shut up. It’s worked for the last 15 years. Why would we change it?" and that's just a flawed way of thinking that we - as the younger generation, we have been taught to think very differently in that respect and, to your point, it’s largely because we grew up with such massive changes in technology that allowed us to think differently.
TK: In the book, you talk a lot about this seven-step approach to create an organization that can deal with cross-generational differences and to bridge those chasms. I don’t want to go through all seven of them. I think just buy the book and read it, for that reason.
RR: That’s right. [Laughter]
TK: But are there a few that you think are especially interesting and intriguing that you can share with us or just a couple of them?
RR: Absolutely, and I know I’ve mentioned this earlier, but it’s worth noting again. I think that the idea of teaching the essential skills, we have gotten away from that personal development, that one-on-one development of our people in lieu for, well, we have our corporate university, we have Wal-Mart U or we have Amazon U, or whatever, that we take our people through these training programs at every level, "Here’s your different steps," and so managers in the workplace today don’t see it as their job to teach you skills, to teach you how to think, how to communicate, and how to execute. They see that as HR's job, "Oh, it’s HR's job to manage your performance, to teach you skills, to train you. That's not my job," and that could not be further from the truth. That lie, that fallacy is what is driving the extreme discontent and disengagement of the kids. That's why we are jumping jobs on average every 17 months, because we want nothing to do with your impersonal non-relational way of leading us. We don’t, and guess what? With the introduction of technology, specifically LinkedIn and different job boards, it is so easy to get a new job. That's my other pet peeve, Tom, is that it’s like, "Well, millennials, they’re job hoppers." It’s like – whoa, time out. We’re not job hoppers for the sake of being job hoppers. We have access through things like LinkedIn and different job sites. We can very quickly apply for a job. On your lunch break, you could pull up LinkedIn and apply for five jobs before you finish your sandwich, whereas when you wanted to get a new job at your first job, you had to – now, for the millennials listening, I’m going to talk about a concept here you won’t be familiar with. You had to write a cover letter.
RR: Now, a cover letter, millennials. [Laughter] Right? The idea of a cover letter, things like that, we don’t do that. A lot of us don’t even know what that is. You had to type it up on the typewriter, print it out, put it in the mail, had to go find – it was a 10-week process for you, whereas we can apply for a job in five minutes, and I think…
TK: Robby, I’ve got to share with you that you just hit a nerve. My son is going in for an interview for an internship in a few days, and he was chatting with me, and I said, "Put together a resume." He considered it. He went away, came back, earlier today, in fact, and said, "Go to the following URL," and I didn’t know why he was pointing me there, but I went to that URL, and there showing up was his interactive resume, which was nothing like what my resume looked like.
RR: [Laughter] Right.
TK: Easily customized for any given opportunity, not one they had to print by the hundreds, and then hit your head against the wall once you have a typo in the first paragraph. It’s such a very – and it struck me, Robby, because to him, he didn’t have to think about it. It’s just the way that he would do it. He wasn’t going through some transformation from the paper resume to this other resume. This was really natural to him. This is the way he would present himself; of course, he would.
RR: Yes, of course. The cover letter? Are you kidding me? Am I going to type something and mail it? No, I’m going to create an interactive thing where I can also – the other cool stuff, and knowing your son, since he and I have done some work together, I guarantee you he has Google Analytics built into it, so that he can see when people hit his site and where they’re hitting it from. It’s a completely different way of thinking and that’s his default, not "Let me print it off and laminate it." So it is, it’s a completely different way of thinking and I know that that is not – I always get frustrated when people make it sound like that – I don’t want people to come across thinking that my point of view is, well, we millennials, for the first time ever, we think differently. Okay, that's what I’m saying. Every new generation brings new ideas and attitudes. The difference is there’s been such an extreme leap forward and the circumstances around how the kids and the boss were raised that it has created this huge chasm, but this is not – we are not unique in the fact that we’re not the first generation who thinks about problems differently. It’s just very much exploited and exacerbated, frankly, because of the economic conditions and the way we were raised.
TK: So, I’ll ask you a question from the standpoint of a boomer who sincerely wants to know: What can we do differently? What should I be doing differently? What can I do better in order to connect with millennials and with Gen Z? Another way to ask that, by the way, is what am I doing wrong? What is it that most aggravates millennials and Gen Z into the behaviors that boomers bring to the table, which they may actually not be aware of?
RR: Yes. Now, I’ll be different here, Tom. I won’t tell you what you’re doing wrong, because people listening to us will say, "Oh, see, typical millennial, just complaining about the older generation."
RR: I will actually give you what I think are the key things you can do. The number one thing that you can do is change the way you invest your time. As a leader, if you want to be successful and you want different results, you have to stop investing your time the way you always have. Stop investing your time in telling people what to do. Start investing your time in building a relationship with that individual and get their buy-in and ownership, and let them inject their DNA into the ideas of the project you’re trying to accomplish. Number one, change the way you invest your time. Go from telling them what to do to collaborating and listening to their ideas. That’d be number one is change the way you invest your time. Number two would be, be intentional about investing in that relationship. It’s not just about, "Okay. Well, Robby, I’m sitting across from them for an hour," and if you’re all doing is sitting there talking at them, right, you’ve missed point one. [Laughter] It is not just about getting in the same room with them. It’s about truly investing in a relationship and getting to know them, and as you do that, you will find that not only do you want to hear more about what they do, but that individual will become more engaged and will suddenly magically start working harder and stop being less entitled. Well, of course, they’re not actually doing that, but they see that you care about them, so they are investing in the relationship back to you in that counter philosophy. The third thing that I would strongly recommend is that every single boss out there, right, the old school leader who’s done it and been in the workplace forever is take all of your preconceived notions - and this is so hard to do, Tom, when we’re talking about bias – but take all those preconceived notions about that new person starting on your team, and fight yourself every single day to not bring that bias into the workplace. I feel so bad for the uphill battle most people have to climb in. When I go and do a speaking gig, we go and do strategy facilitation for organizations. We’ve earned that right, so we – there’s a certain level of "Wow, these guys must know what they’re talking about, because we hired them," or "Wow, Riggs wrote a book on this topic, so he must know what he’s talking about." So, people will shed that bias of I’m young, I’m lazy, and I’m entitled, and they’ll actually listen; and I believe that if you do those first two things that we talked about – invest the right time and build the relationship, and you shed your bias, your workplace, your team will be transformed. I don’t want to sound like this is a silver bullet infomercial, but it will feel like it will transform overnight, because the attitude of the people on the team will transform seemingly overnight.
TK: I’m going to put you on the spot here, but I’m also going to make a confession that as a boomer, I am certainly one of those parents and coaches who give a trophy out to everyone on the team. In fact, I can remember it very vividly, having one team and at the last minute, rushing into Boston to a trophy provider and making sure I had a trophy for everyone on the team. However, here’s the question to you: If there’s one thing that’s become sort of the moniker for how we disparage Gen Z and millennials, it is the fact that we say everyone gets a trophy.
RR: It’s the trophy generation, yes.
TK: The trophy generation, and we say it with a great deal of disdain.
TK: Here’s a question though, what I want you to tell me - I hope you can tell me, because I want an answer to this: What's the benefit of having given everyone a trophy? Because that's the fact, we did that, I did that, but what's the plus side of that as opposed to looking at the negative all the time?
RR: Yes, and let’s start with the negative. I think the perception, of course, is that we believe that no matter what happens, we deserve a prize and whether that's a merit raise or that's a physical something, or a trip to the Bahamas, or whatever, right, that's the obvious negative. I think there are some significant positives. The first one being, Tom, that we believe that we all go to war together and we all win or lose together. That was something that from early on that you were taught and this idea that everybody gets a trophy, it wasn’t that "Well, Johnny, you get an A, but Suzie and Jimmy, they both get B's," you know what I mean? There was an idea that if you’re on a team, you all got the same grade; and I know you, working as a lecturer and a professor at the collegiate level, you do this often. You say, "Look here, group, here is your group's grade," and I think that that has taught us that we are going to be successful or we will fail as a team, and I think that there are some really serious pros to that and that we have – we’re all about linking arms and saying, "We’re going to get through this together." The Navy SEALs would say, "We’re going to embrace the suck together," right? We’re all going to do it together and so I think that's one really positive outcome is that we all are into this idea of teaming. I think the second positive outcome is that we’ve developed a certain – I don’t know if the right word is "empathy" or "appreciation" towards other people, but whenever we’re in something together, even if we’re not directly on the same team, but we’re all at the same level or we’re on the same company, we have a very different level of camaraderie and empathy for those that are on our team which, of course, the flip side of that coin is we get super pissed at people who think that it’s all about me, [Laughter] because again, that's not how we are raised. So backstabbing and things like that, we typically – again, we’re being general here, but generally, our generation, we have zero patience for that, because such a premium was put on teaming and we all get a trophy.
TK: Robby, I hear you, but I have to tell you that the biggest single obstacle that I see when I talk to most leaders and managers is "I just don’t have the time. I don’t have the time to babysit this generation. I don’t have the time to manage them." I’m not going to go any further than that. That's what I hear. How do you respond to that?
RR: [Laughter] I love that comment. I can’t tell you, Tom, how many times I’ve heard that. I’ve been fortunate enough to facilitate leadership development workshops with companies all over the world and that is without a doubt the number one excuse that we hear. We like to say that the four most dangerous words a leader has in his or her vocabulary is "I don’t have time." I’ll say it like this, leadership is a pay me now or a pay me more later endeavor. Okay. How in the world do you think that you’re going to have time to solve this problem and fix this person later when they have screwed more things up or they’ve pissed more customers off, or they whatever, than you do now? Zig Ziglar said a long time ago, "I’d rather train my people and see them stay than not train them – or see them leave and not train them and see them stay." That same idea applies now. Look, if you invest your time now, here’s the big secret, the big secret of leadership is that if you invest your time in your people now, you teach them how to think, how to communicate, how to execute. They will actually make your job easier as a leader. You will get that time back in spades. If you enable them and allow them to solve their own problems, read, teach them how to think and execute, then when that problem pops up next time, guess what? They don’t have to come to you. They can do it on their own, and this is really scary for leaders, Tom, because they don’t want to give up that control. They see it as manager, right, control, my way, and a great leader understands that if you invest time in your people today, you get time back in the future where you can sit back and think creatively, be an innovator, think about how you can further push your team and develop your team; that's what leadership is about. Change the way you invest your time by investing it in people.
TK: I love that. At the end of the day, I think as leaders, we all want to believe that our job is to help others do their job better, to grow, to evolve by focusing on them, and in our way we do that. Let’s close this with a question that I think needs to be asked, so that we can clarify some things. We’ve been talking about millennials and Gen Z as though they were all part of this one category of youth. The reality is millennials today are working shoulder to shoulder with us. They’re in the workforce. Gen Z is just beginning to enter the workforce, and we seem to paint them with the same broad brush, but I suspect that there are probably differences that you observe. What are they?
RR: It’s so interesting, because it’s now the new hot topic, isn’t it, Tom? It’s the new buzzword. Go to Forbes or Fortune or Inc., all of a sudden it’s Gen Z, who are they? What's going on? It’s like the second coming of millennials, and I always have to laugh because the reason millennials were such a splash is they were, in so many ways, starkly different from Gen X, I mean, drastically different. It truly was a revolutionary generation, and not only that, but it was huge. Millennials are the now largest generation in the workforce. So, I think there were two factors there, but now we’re looking at Gen Z and all these – I’ll be cynical for a moment – all these talking heads and these commentators are trying to now get clicks through – and we’re trying to drum up how Gen Z is going to be so different and they’re going to be this new nightmare we have to deal with, and I’m sorry, with respect to all those people, you’re dead wrong. I see Gen Z as an evolution from millennials, not a revolutionary generation. I know you and I, we said this at the beginning of the pod, we hate talking and, frankly, stereotyping different people by age, because that's really all we’re doing when we’re talking about generations, but I believe that what you’re going to see from Gen Z is an evolution from millennials. They will be very similar in behaviors. We have not seen drastic macroeconomic changes over the last 20 years from a how kids are being influenced and raised. Younger millennials are being influenced the same way that Gen Z are now. So, you’re seeing very similar traits, and I believe that especially the front half of Gen Z, you’re basically going to see a very similar individual and similar new worker entering the workplace as you did over the last 10 years with the younger millennials.
TK: Robby, I have a counter mentor; he’s my son. Who’s your counter mentor?
RR: [Laughter] I say it with great pride, the Pops, Kelly Riggs. I’ve been super fortunate, Tom, much like your son did, to grow up in a place where we had these types of conversations at dinner. My wife loves to make fun of me that anytime we go back for a holiday, at our dinner, the Pops and I immediately jump into "What recent book have you read? Did you see that new theory? Did you read that HBR article?" It’s totally geeking out, nerding out on all this stuff, and I was fortunate to have that, and fortunate to have a mentor who is interested in being counter-mentored by me, and he asks me just as many questions as I ask him, and again much like Adam, we’re fortunate to have great mentors that allow us to teach them.
TK: Robby Riggs and Kelly Riggs, co-authors of "Counter Mentor Leadership." Hey, Robby, thanks so much for being on the podcast with me today.
RR: Appreciate it, Tom. Great time.