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Sam Davidson's blog

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Posts tagged leadership
Why My Vote Matters (even if it doesn't count)

In a month, I'll go vote. Even though I live in a state that is decidedly red (it was announced last week that neither time nor effort will be spent on exit polling here in Tennessee), I still vote. The cynics (and realists) among us tell me it's not worth my time to go vote. With electoral college math, my vote won't swing the election in either way.

They say my vote doesn't count. But I say it still matters:

Because when I vote, I take my daughter with me.

As parents and as leaders, most of what others learn from us is what we model. It's what people can see. Our daughters, our sons, our direct reports, our front line employees - they do what we do. And they all see what we do. 

Since she was just seven months old, I've taken my daughter with me every time I've voted. I carry her in, balance her in one arm as I sign the papers, and then together we go to the booth. I push buttons, submit my vote, and then we get a sticker and leave.

I don't know what all she gets about politics or elections as a two-year-old, but I hope that she realizes if you're lucky enough to live in a country that calls for free elections, you damn sure better take advantage of that privilege.

In a month, I'll go vote, and that vote will matter, even if it doesn't count. It matters because my daughter will be watching.

Turning Gen Y Liabilities Into Assets

The more I speak to nonprofit groups, businesses, or associations about Millennials (also known as Generation Y), the more I hear from people who want to harness the potential of this generation. This is a good sign. On the whole, Millennials are not being written off without a fair hearing. Today's business leaders believe that the youngest generation in the workplace can do great things for companies and causes. The struggle lies in the ability of organizations to understand this generation and then use that understanding to work with them to do something meaningful.

I've found that most people get stuck when trying to get beyond Millennial stereotypes. It seems that previous generations see Generation Y as an entitled, tech-happy, group-thinking, fickle bunch that is just too hard to manage. With these four glaring strikes against them, managers and directors move on and work with someone else.

But, I believe Gen Y's liabilities can be turned into assets for any organization to use well. In fact, some of the perceived "worst" things about Millennials can actually be big upsides for your work and mission. Here's what I mean:

Generation Y is entitled.

Neil Howe took this stereotype head on when I heard him speak. Addressing the issue of this generation thinking of themselves as special when in reality everyone got a trophy or a ribbon just for participating, Howe suggests using the idea of entitlement to raise expectations. His advice? Acknowledge an entitled Millennial with, "Yes - you are special. And we expect special things from you." In other words, validate their feelings and then use it as a jumping off point to set a standard of excellence. Good Millennials - good people, really - will rise to that challenge.

Millennials are always looking at a screen.

Then who better to bring your digital marketing strategy up to date? Who else could teach other employees about texting, tweeting, or tumbling? Being digitally native has its advantages. While not true of every single Millennial, most will have an understanding of emerging technologies, like cloud storage, video conferencing, and social media. Before you shell out big bucks for someone who calls themselves a "guru" on Twitter, roam your hallways and see what ideas young people may have for understanding bits and bytes.

Gen Y always wants to do something in a group.

Gone are the days where isolation is paradise. Generation Y was raised in a group setting. Not only were they over-programmed with Scouts, Little League, and dance classes, they also went to prom as a unit, did science projects in groups of four, and grew up with multi-player video games. This generation understands teamwork. Let them work together on a problem. They'll love the camaraderie and connections developed way more than Generation X will (okay, so that's a Gen X stereotype). Set the bar high for good group work and then cut them loose to see what current issue they can address together.

Millennials have short attention spans.

First off, we all do. Secondly, you can use this to your advantage by getting new hires to focus on special, short-term projects. Many Millennials job hop, mainly because with mounting debt and high unemployment, they're looking for work anywhere. This means you may not have to commit to a long-term employee from Day One. Bring on a Gen Yer to handle a short-term need, like planning an event, running a social campaign, or lending an extra hand during a busy season. Let them know up front it's a temporary gig that could turn into something more if it works out for everyone. This gives you a chance to see if they truly play well with others and lets them work on something to completion to see how much they like what you do. Then, if they leave after eight weeks when the assignment is up, you're not left with loose ends.

Ultimately, working with Generation Y is like building the plane in midair. This generation is still being understood and defined just as they're entering the workforce in droves. Smart companies are beginning to truly take on this generation and use their chief characteristics in order to grow well.

They question isn't whether or not you'll hire, manage, and work alongside Millennials; it's when.

What about you? What other liabilities of Generation Y can be turned into assets with a little finesse?

I'd love to hear your comments below.

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College and University Keynote Speaker

I'm proud to officially announce today that I'm part of the CAMPUSPEAK family. This fantastic organization helps colleges and universities find relevant and dynamic keynote and workshop presentations for students. Learn more about CAMPUSPEAK here. If your campus or students are in need of a message about leadership, community change, or social entrepreneurship, you can learn more about the keynotes I offer.

I'm excited to launch this next stage of my speaking career, helping university students think critically about their future when it comes to how they will use their lives to make the world a better place. 

If You're a Manager, Then You're a Teacher, Too

Are you in charge of something? Do you manage other people? Then regardless of what your Myers-Briggs results say, you also have the duty to teach. Remember: classrooms are usually the last place we learn something. My daughter (who's two) is really into puzzles. She's beginning to graduate from the puzzles with set shapes (where only one piece goes in a certain section) to those puzzles with real pieces, like you and I do. And as she does the puzzles, I watch.

She's starting to learn where certain pieces go and when to tell that a piece doesn't fit. Sometimes, she struggles to try and fit a piece exactly. And as she struggles, I watch.

It's important for her to learn to keep trying. While I want to step in and right a piece a few degrees so it fits more quickly, I understand that as a parent, I have to wait patiently and watch her struggle. It is in the struggle that the learning happens because real knowledge comes when we try things, even if we fail at them. My daughter would gain nothing from me making the puzzle easier.

It's the same with those of us who manage people. Especially when we have a young, first-timer on board, we can want to step in and showcase our experience or expertise. We can want to show them how it's done to save time and money. We can want to feel important.

But we need to let them struggle. They need to jump into the deep end to see if their arms and legs and lungs can work together to make them swim. They need to try. And to fail. They need a chance to succeed.

If you're a manager, you're a teacher, too. Consider part of your role to instruct and to create learning opportunities. You'll be around, of course, with a watchful eye and a life preserver in case of emergency. But my guess is that you'll be happily surprised at just what your team can do when you let them get wet.

The best thing your employee could say about you is, "She taught me so much..." instead of "She always just did it for us."

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What Leaders Do

Leaders, no matter their industry or business size, must answer one fundamental question to truly stand out:

Where can I add the most value right now?

This means that leaders don't only do certain things, like delegate, have important meetings, or review numbers. Nothing should be beneath a leader's pay grade, as long as it's adding the most value right then. Leaders must use their brains and brawn in any given situation to add the most value to the project, product, team, company, or idea.

Sometimes, then, the most valuable thing a leader can do is bring doughnuts to her team.

Sometimes, the most valuable thing a leader can do is retreat for two days to brainstorm a strategy for next quarter.

Sometimes, a leader needs to go on that sales call to land the big client.

Sometimes, a leader needs to do nothing.

If a leader isn't adding value, he needs to be replaced. If a leader isn't willing to do that which is necessary, then she isn't necessary. There is no shortage of potential leaders in your company, and the best way to vet them is to find out if they're willing to do what it takes to add the most value in any and every situation.

Leadership isn't meant to be glamorous; it's meant to be valuable.

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