Advertising Leadership

Lindsay Pattison: We need a radically more human approach to leadership

By Lindsay Pattison, Worldwide CEO

May 25, 2018 | 4 min read

Change is happening all around as – as consumers we experience it every day, and as professionals in our industry it consumes our conversations.

black and white meeting

Meeting - pic by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Beyond the trends we tend to focus on – technology, consumer behaviour, agency transformation - the most profound change we are facing as an industry is our talent. Today, in marketing, Gen Y and Gen Z make up the majority of the workforce. Whilst these groups are too large to be put simply into brackets, certainly they hold different work values and attitudes that have significant consequences for work culture and leadership.

Gen Y and Gen Z expect to work in an environment where they can bring their whole self to work and be personally supported in a professional environment. Increasingly companies are much more focused on creating a positive work culture for employees. Initiatives and networks that focus on mental health, gender equality, sexuality, ethnicity, disability and neuro-diversity are critical enablers for our talent in providing support, helping understand issues and ensuring they can be their very best selves...

These type of initiatives plus inclusive policies for parents and carers, flatter structures and open communication and feedback channels, all require policy and structural change. But this has to come hand in hand with cultural change, and cultural change starts at the top. Without active leadership – through actions and words - policies will remain solely as pages in a company handbook.

So championing equality and a positive work culture is a key leadership requirement today. But good leadership goes beyond just creating a good culture. That old- and tough - adage that ‘you’re only a leader if someone wants to follow you’ has never been truer than for today’s workforce. Employees have super high expectations of leaders. From the outset of their tenure they expect to have ease of access to senior colleagues, to have a voice, and be involved in collaborative decision making processes. They seek immediate approval and reward for their efforts and crave personal development. They are loyal to their principles and respect leaders based on values, as much as skills.

This is a change for many leaders – the average age of a CEO is 54, making them firmly of the baby boomers cohort who hold very different values and behaviours to Gen Y and Gen Z. Broadly, they focus on structure, hierarchy and accepting of ‘command and control’. So no wonder then that there is a disconnect between leaders and younger talent: a staggering 86% of those surveyed by the Word Economic Forum said they had no faith in their business leaders.

So what does this mean for leadership today? I believe this calls for a radically more human approach. Successful leaders create more open, collaborative, empowering working environments. And they are more human themselves – empathetic, approachable, transparent, at times even revealing vulnerabilities. Leaders must empower and inspire their employees and create an environment that compliments their values. If not, as generations hardwired to seek out change and often equipped with the entrepreneurialism and digital skills to create that change for themselves, they will vote with their feet and find somewhere or something that does satisfy them.

Unsurprisingly, there is a strong business case for creating a positive work culture. Employee dissatisfaction results in higher turnover and difficulties in attracting the best talent. No wonder then, that it impacts the bottom line. According to Gallup Organization, organizations with low employee engagement scores experienced 18% lower productivity, 16% lower profitability, 37% lower job growth and 65% lower share price over time.

So we have no choice but to start leaning in as leaders, opening up and enabling our colleagues to feel empowered from the get-go. Rather than expecting younger colleagues to learn everything from us, instead we need to adopt the values and behaviours - empathy, energy and empowerment - that today’s workforce expect. So get your reverse mentoring program in place right away!

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