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Great Expectations

By AICC Staff

September 28, 2016


The Emerging Leaders Initiative-theme team with the coveted Chairperson’s Challenge flag at the third annual Chairperson’s Field Trip.

I recently had the privilege of spending a day discussing leadership with AICC’s Emerging Leaders (EL) group during the third annual Chairperson’s Field Trip. In anticipation of the meeting, many of us had gathered online to discuss different types of leadership and prepare interviews with leaders in our own businesses. The ELs arrived in Richmond having conducted interviews, read articles, and completed leadership assessments. For a few months they had also been submitting questions to a panel of seasoned leaders.

I came away with a conviction that this generation differs from mine in two important aspects: They are more teachable and more transparent. Boomer expectations were reflected in comedies like How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, in which J. Pierrepont Finch advanced from window washer to board Chair in two weeks. “Fake it till you make it” was his strategy. Our leadership expectation was that we should just know how to do our jobs, and if we did not, we would try to figure it out without admitting ignorance. This group of ELs is not afraid to admit inexperience, and they actually listen when experience speaks. In fact, they prioritize trust, transparency, and reliable feedback as being the most important aspects of leadership.

Do they expect ever-increasing opportunity, wages, and influence? They do, and so did we, but they are unafraid to say it out loud. Do they want all this increase to happen within a 40-hour workweek? Yes, they do. However, being a constant worker myself, I will not be the one to talk them out of seeking balance between work and whatever happens out there when people are not working. When they understand the value of the objective, they are as dedicated as any who came before them.

As a mental health professional, I will go on record that attention spans are getting shorter, the ability to delay gratification is diminishing, and the volume of information is increasing logarithmically as comprehension decreases. Our brains are changing the way they process, but disciplined thought has always been a learned skill. The ELs I have spoken with are aware of the need for hard work before comprehension and influence may be gained. If you would contend that the diminishing attention span is generational, I will dare you to wait 20 minutes before Googling the next time you have trouble recalling even the most trivial memory. Disciplined thinking, including memory, will atrophy without practice.

The panel, affectionately referred to as Emerging Elders, included Chair Mark Williams, Andy Pierson, Joe Hodges, Jana Harris, Jerry Frisch, and David Callif. Each shared invaluable lessons learned from their mentors, and their mistakes. Their remarks were characterized by humility and gratitude toward those who saw the spark of leadership in them and provided opportunity.

The ELs’ interviews of their employers fueled further discussion of leadership expectations. The structure of the interview was open, but I asked them to include the following:

  • Please tell me about the transition or development you went through when you first gained authority. How did you develop influence? What difficulties did you encounter?
  • Knowing me as you do, is there any coaching you can offer to help me increase my influence?

They found that once the subject was broached, the conversation was easy and enlightening.

The panel responded with wisdom and personal experience to questions such as these:

  • I think that some of my ideas are dismissed because I am young. In your company, how would you want me to address that impression?
  • In your family business, what can a nonfamily member do to get onto a leadership track?
  • If I were dissatisfied because of lack of advancement, how would you want me to approach it in your company?
  • How do you identify what goals the company should pursue?

A number of panelists expressed surprise at how much they learned in the exchange. The open dialogue allowed a senior leader to ask, “How would some of you like a boss to communicate to you about a problem?” Another checked his own perspective, asking, “What do you need from your supervisors to feel valued for your work?” I asked one question that received a short and immediate reply: “Do we make too big a deal of the generational differences?” They said, “No.”

To exercise all this leadership knowledge, the ELs contested the Chairperson’s Challenge—a leadership-themed cake-decorating competition. Each team was judged on execution of their assigned leadership theme, decoration skills, cake edibility, and teamwork. The Initiative-theme team took the honors and signed their names to the coveted Chairperson’s Challenge flag. No one else got an award; what did you expect?

Recurring_BOX_Leadership_New_EllisScott Ellis, Ed.D., is a partner in P-Squared. He can be reached at 425-985-8508 or

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