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Great Expectations: Bridging the Generation Gap through Potential


As leaders we focus a lot on how we can inspire our teams and nurture professional growth of the individuals that create them. However, there is a specific set of challenges that comes with changes in generations or the perception that creates a divide between those generations.

When acknowledging that perception is reality, one challenge we face as leaders is to overcome the inherent “lack of responsibility” or “lack of work ethic” bias that many of us may feel about younger generations. There is also a common place saying that, “Stereotypes exist for a reason.” And while a manager may be cognoscente of certain stereotypes, a leader has to find a way to work past, or at least work with, those stereotypes where present.

I have also heard it be said that, “The younger generations have no sense of commitment, and they change jobs readily with the wind.” And to that I would challenge us as leaders to question, “Are we giving people that feel they have a unique contribution the reason and the ability to commit?” Commit to our work. Commit to our organizations. Commit to themselves. Because the reality is that many people want to be seen as valuable and want to have potential. The hard part is figuring out what and where a person’s potential truly lies, and how to encourage them to work to it.

“Quotas are good, goals are great, but potential is everything.”

One common method of encouraging potential is to set a quota. But great people work to potential, not to quota. The fact that so many organizations focus on quotas illustrates that there are either fewer potential minded people or we as leaders cannot distinguish the difference between goals and quotas and their effects on motivation.

Let us think about it this way. We all learned how to set SMART goals at one point in our leadership journey. So now I will encourage you to say out loud, “Quotas are good, goals are great, but potential is everything.” What I mean by this hierarchical analogy is that the more stringent and generic requirements that we put on individuals, the less likely they are to work to their potential. Conversely, if you are in the right place and you work to your potential, you will never have to worry about meeting your quotas or not making your goals.

So how do we identify potential? Great question! That question has a much larger answer that we as leaders have the challenge to work through with all of the individuals and teams that we hope to grow.

“Always work to your potential, working to anything else is wasting your time and talents.”

For now, I’ll challenge you to start by changing your mindset and views to reflect being potential minded, and see if that shift has any impact on the way that you help others. Who knows, you may find a new leadership style that altogether breaks traditional “Management” styles and behaviors by embracing transparency in individual expectations to maximize each contributor's unique potential. And while this mindset shift will not impact a short term gain on your top or bottom line, it will set your organization apart and inspire loyalty in those that match your organization's mission to continue growth day by day.

If nothing else, let this be a lesson for yourself as a leader to, “Always work to your potential, working to anything else is wasting your time and talents.”

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