Joanna Socha: From the perspective of an MBA professor at an international business school, what do you think are the young leaders’ aspirations and goals today? What are the trends?
Jill Paine: Working with a diverse set of students coming from all over the world, I see that young people are interested in leading, but leading in a way that is making a difference. They think: how can I, as a leader, use my particular talents and passions to make a positive impact and help others? So it’s not just about being aspirational, but it’s about being aspirational with a cause. The other thing is that young people today have a far greater degree of global awareness. Our students are likely to have lived, been educated and worked in multiple countries and cultures. They’re comfortable working with teams comprised of culturally diverse backgrounds and are welcoming of different perspectives. I have a student in the executive MBA program, Alejandro, who is working in microfinance. He is passionate about helping primarily female entrepreneurs in Latin America gain access to capital where traditional sources, banks and investors wouldn’t necessarily be available to them. So he is very passionate about this mission and thanks to this he’s also growing as a leader. This is an example of leadership with a cause. My last observation is a collaborative leadership style among young people. Aspiring leaders seem to be used to flat decision-making processes (in which they are less supervised and more involved) and open to various forms of communication: virtual, and face to face. At the same time, they like to have direct access to information. They also expect their bosses to be very transparent, authentic and accessible.
It seems that the younger generation is very aware of the changes that are happening in the world right now. Does it mean they are more flexible and willing to adapt to the changing business environment?
I’m not sure that we have all the empirical data to affirm that at this point in time. Because the younger generation has been a part of this very dynamic environment, growing up with technology and constantly observing change, the hypothesis is that they might have a greater predisposition to change – they are very adaptable in nature. The question is, when applying that to organizational change, does that actually translate into an ability to endure change? When organizations have a longer-term vision, one that’s beyond the time frame that a person may even expect to be in the organization – the question remains whether he or she will have the desire to endure a long-term change? Or will they think: once the contract I have with this organization has reached its limit, I will move on regardless of whether that change has been implemented.
Some of your studies are related to how leaders motivate and galvanize followers during a change. What trends do you see in terms of leadership styles effective in change management?
There’s an area of research called transformational leadership which is an ability to really inspire followers, to make them think about organizational needs and sometimes sacrifice their own personal needs on behalf of the organization. It’s about motivating people over the long term to stick with a goal. To be able to do this they need to effectively communicate the goals of the change. They should be able to ask questions, such as: Why is this change important? What do we (as an organization and as an individual) hope to accomplish and how are we going to get there? Individuals are generally not motivated by the same things. According to a Regulatory Focus Theory by Tory Higgins, some people are very motivated to make positive things happen, which is called playing to win, but others are motivated by playing not to lose, to avoid bad things happening. The way in which we frame our change initiatives can be aligned with how people are personally motivated. So tailoring your messages to your followers and understanding their needs is very important.
W Insight addresses the woman’s perspective of climbing up the proverbial ladder in any sector. You interact with the business world every day. What trends do you see in terms of women’s career development?
This is outside of my scope of research and expertise, but I will say that as a professor working with aspiring female leaders, my observations are two-sided. One relates to what the organizations need to do in order to make leader development something that is both for men and for women so that they have equal opportunities to be developed into leaders. HR practices that recognize talents and great achievement are part of the solution. Organizations need to reward women’s productivity by objective results and make performance evaluation criteria very explicit. A number of empirical research studies show that there are biases in the way leaders are being evaluated in terms of performance. Gender does seem to play a role. Having very clear performance evaluation criteria is a way to preclude some of the potentially negative biases. Organizations also need to offer opportunities to women to have more demanding development job experiences, which allows women to demonstrate their competency. And I’d say, leading change is one of the ways that women might be particularly well-equipped to do. Some studies show that women are more transformational by nature; they often use management styles that seem to be more collaborative and amenable to leading change.
My second observation relates to the power of mentoring nowadays. One of the pieces of advice that I share with my students, which is research-based – find your mentor. And I’m not saying it should only be a mentor functioning in strategic networks – often in different industries, who might be able to open doors for you. But find a developmental mentor as well, someone who can give you very honest and constructive feedback about how you can grow in your leadership competencies. Developmental mentors can come from your relational network inside or outside your organization as well as within your personal network. It’s the advice I share not only with women. This applies to both genders, especially younger generations that are in the workforce. Finding the right mentors is one of the critical ways that women can help foster their own development. Of course organizations have a great responsibility to help shepherd those development opportunities. In the meantime, however, women can work to help themselves grow and find opportunities to lead.
Joanna Socha is the editor-in-chief of W Insight
Edited by: Phyllis Budka