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Berger Blog

Expanding the discussion of Generatonal issues in organizations, Leadership, and Individual & Professional Growth.

Development and Coaching

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Lots of talk these days about supporting the movement and development of clients-- meaning how much can we do as coaches to shift complexity people have seeing the world in nuanced, multi-layered ways that hold different perspectives. More to come...
posted by Michael Berger, 8:31 PM | link | 0 comments |

A looming reality

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Before jumping in, I’ve re-done my website, reflecting the changes that have taken place in my business – both in what I’m doing it and where I’m doing it. To see it, go to www.transformational-consulting.com.

A few recent bits of information I’ve come across recently around the continuing shifts in our generationally diverse world.

For one, two different studies have come out recently about Gen Y/Millennials and their workplace habits, especially around social networking. A recent Lexis Nexis study shows that 62% of Millenials and Gen Xers go on social networking sites at some point during the workday, and more than half of these workers believe what they do in their social networking activities is none of the company’s business – even though it’s happening on the company’s dime. The notion is where some take breaks for a smoke or a cuppa, younger employees go on Facebook.

Furthermore, a Deloitte study showed that two-thirds of Boomers think the increased use of technology and internet – Blackberries, iPhones, text messaging, Facebook, etc – is damaging workplace etiquette. The counter argument is that people want to, (and feel the need to) be in contact with friends and family, and this enables them to do so, for reasons that are important to them.

Are any of these things big surprises? Not to most people. However it does point to the continuing struggle that is on the verge of tipping over. In the next 5-10 years, the Boomers will see their share of the workforce shrink even more. As it is, combining the Gen Xers and the Millennials gives a slight majority of the workforce. And while senior managers are more likely to be Boomers, that, too, is changing as Gen Xers are now moving into more and more executive leadership roles.

And if you wanted any other proof that this matter is moving from the interesting to the front-and-center, you should look at his month’s issue of Harvard Business Review. There’s an article in it, “How Gen Y and Boomers will reshape your agenda, drawn out of a big study from the Center for Work-Life Policy. The study is about the “bookend generations” of Boomers who are dwindling but still having an impact and the Gen Yers, who are representing a larger and larger role in the workforce. While the study points out that these two generations share some similar workplace values, one of the central points is that the younger workers are the present and the future, and we’ll have to make adjustments to deal with the ways these younger employees are not like the older, familiar ones.
posted by Michael Berger, 6:26 PM | link | 0 comments |

How are you showing up?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Before jumping in, I’ve re-done my website, reflecting the changes that have taken place in my business – both in what I’m doing it and where I’m doing it. To see it, go to www.transformational-consulting.com.

Lately, the recession has been creating some interesting wrinkles to the practice of leadership. We are witnessing the greatest economic downturn in at least three generations, and despite the recessions that have hit since the 70’s, leaders seem quite ill-equipped to deal with the current economic crisis. It’s quite easy to lead when the economy is growing, but when times are tight, money is scarce, and fear is high. A different leadership presence is needed.

It brings to mind a bit of work I’ve done with some clients around their presence. How are they showing up each day in their role? What lots of senior executives don’t remember is how contagious their moods are to the entire organisation they lead. When the CEO is anxious or gloomy, people see it and smell it. And it spreads – like a germ. The simple question about how a leader shows up each day – calm or anxious, engaging or evasive, open or closed – has a profound impact on every other person in his or her organisation.

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posted by Michael Berger, 8:28 PM | link | 0 comments |

The Current State

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The demands on leaders have taken a bit of a turn over the past six months.  I was listening to a radio discussion somewhere that was talking about the changes that we’ve seen since last summer.  In August of 2008, it was pointed out on the program, when the Summer Olympic Games had begun, the housing issues were barely emerging and nothing on Wall Street had yet garnered any real attention.  In Soeul, the Chinese government was worried that their economy was growing too fast.

Not even six months later, a global economic crisis and nationwide employment and real estate crisis are all any one talks about.  The Chinese government now is worried about the surging unemployment in industrial centers across China.  Living overseas as I have been for the past two years, I’ve been able to be at the edges of the conversations, somewhat involved but not at the center of them.  Despite my location, I’ve participated in work with leaders and been in the discussions with them about the new challenges they’re facing.

   “How do I lead with so much uncertainty and instability all around me?”

   “How can I lead confidently when I’m not even sure about my job?”

   “It’s not easy motivating my staff in the middle of all this muck!”

The reality is that all of these worries are grounded.  It isn’t entirely about attitude and perspective, as it often can be for a leader.  Many leaders, when given the chance to step outside of their normal perspective, they see that their cognitive and emotional states determine their behaviours and results.  And that by finding ways to change their thoughts and feelings, they can change their outcomes, without anything “real” ever changing. 

In this current state of change and turmoil in the marketplace, the worries and challenges that leaders are working with are more than cognitive and emotional states, however some of this same distancing of perspective and shifts in out thinking and feelings can, in fact, have a tangible impact on how effective and successful leaders can be through these challenging times.

posted by Michael Berger, 8:56 PM | link | 0 comments |

And for some good reading

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


…from the Desk of Sheepish Self-promotion, Bea Fields, a colleague of mine, has just published a really good book. “Millennial Leaders” is a collection of interviews from some of the most successful young professionals in their 20s. In addition, there are interviews with a handful of experts in the field of generational matters in organizations. I was included among those experts, talking about how younger people are a bit different than others in the organizational context.


So I recommend taking a look at it at Amazon. I think it’s a good read.

posted by Michael Berger, 8:49 PM | link | 1 comments |

Pessimism or Optimism

Sunday, September 23, 2007

I was having a conversation with a close colleague today in which we were discussing the different ways people react to negative or bad things, even tragic things that happen. There are two ways (probably more) that people react to bad things. The pessimist will experience the event and think that the bad thing was bound to happen, wasn’t a big shock, and is something that will potentially – if not probably – happen again. The optimist will see that same negative event and see it as a fluke, a mistake, something that was unexpected and is unlikely to occur again. The pessimist, just the other. Martin Seligman, a psychology professor at University of Pennsylvania and former President of the American Psychological Association, who wrote, “Authentic Happiness,” and “Learned Optimism,” looks at optimism and pessimism at learned expectancies. That people either expect good things to happen, and to continue happening, while pessimists see the same thing about negative experiences.

To me, I see it as a leadership opportunity. Seligman contends that people can learn – or be led – to stances of either optimism or pessimism. In my mind, it’s about choosing optimism. If a leader is in a situation that has gone poorly or that others think is “jinxed,” then there’s a space to lead people through the pessimism and into an expectation of good things happening next, and next, and next and….
posted by Michael Berger, 10:39 PM | link | 0 comments |

Some new questions emerging

Thursday, June 07, 2007

It’s not about getting the young to act like the old, doing things the way we used to do them or have been doing them for years, it’s about a greater, harder shift that we need to find ways to ease ourselves and our organizations into. The obvious desire it to re-shape everybody to be little mini-me’s – young clones of the older people so things can keep on going once I’m gone. Some of this is about legacy. Some more is about mortality and preservation. Whatever you want to call it, it isn’t the recipe for future success, primarily because it is based on a reality from the past. See this story for a little more on this.

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posted by Michael Berger, 8:05 PM | link | 0 comments |

Buying a future

I came across a story on American Public Radio’s Marketplace the other day that was talking about a new way college students and recent grads are working to get an edge upon graduation. The company, University of Dreams, will find you a well placed internship to get you on the road to professional success. They offer good internships with desirable companies and in desirable locations. What makes University of Dreams different is that, for one thing, there’s a fee, and not a small one. Second, it’s not just about finding you an internship, it also provides room and board, health insurance, transportation, seminars to support the experience, even weekend excursions.

One young co-ed described it as a bit like “sleep away camp.” Now the geezers are saying, “GIVE ME A BREAK!” (I think I can even hear them.) But the younger folks – the Millennials – are saying, “Well that’s a cool idea.” And with Mom and Dad having already spent $100,000 on the college education, what’s another $10K to really seal the deal?

Now the reality of it is that this is a natural piece that’s really just filling the gap. As a generation that’s been painstakingly supported and nurtured (some would say coddled) up through college, this makes sense. These kids have been having their parents advocate for them, provide for them, enable them, and pay for them starting at birth, and continuing through college. You may have seen in this space and in other places how parents have been spotted arguing grades with professors, going on job interviews with their kids, calling HR when the performance review isn’t positive enough for Mom and Dad. This is just another piece of the process.

One thing that it means is that young adults entering into the workforce will be prepared at another level, one that enables them to enter in to the workforce with a bit more of an edge. Another by-product of this slice of reality is that they’re being given yet another skill or experience that takes them farther away from previous Generations, who are likely to say, “I had to work for my opportunities, not have my parents buy them for me.”

And while all of these things are true to some degree, it’s just another example of the way things are different for the Millennials from the previous generations. Neither good nor bad, just what is. Will this be a widespread phenomenon? It’s too early to tell. However, it is another niche that exists on the landscape and will continue for a little while.

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posted by Michael Berger, 12:29 AM | link | 0 comments |

Global Millennials

Friday, June 01, 2007

I had a request the other day from a journalist in Canberra (AUS) to comment about a story that was in the Wall Street Journal recently. The question comes from a story in the Journal that discussed the notion that this current youngest generation – The Millennials (born after 1980 and before 2000) who are now entering the workforce in some greater numbers –are the “most praised generation” in history. The charge is that they need more praise, more positive feedback, more ‘we’re all winners’ sentiment in their work, much as they’ve had in their entire lives up until this point.

The little bit of buzz around this article – a buzz that I saw cross oceans and continents quite quickly, I’ll add – is how much truth is there to this, and more locally, how relevant is this to life in Australia-New Zealand?

From what I know about the Millennials, whether more praise is needed for them or not isn’t really the central question. One can assume that because of the way things have been for them – all of the attention, support, equality that has been forced on them over their years getting to this stage in life – certainly points to the possibility that if you don’t give them the kind of praise they’re accustomed to, then they are going to be confused, at best, and hurt or pissed off, at worst.

The geezers may be saying “Tough Beans!” right now, and the Gen Xers may be saying, “No one was there to give me all that attention,” so there probably may not be so much tolerance for this, but it doesn’t really affect the way the Millennials are going to be experiencing the cold hard truth of the current norm.

If there’s any solace inside of this reality, the need for Boomers and beyond to provide more feed back, and I mean feedback in general, has been something the Gen Xers have been demanding for 15 years. (Whether or not the Boomer managers ever responded to that need is another question.) Now, the breadth of the feed back has simply been expanded.

And as far as a regional truth, there’s some variation on that as well, but not so much. The complaint in the article was that sometimes you need to give negative feedback to young employees and they need to be able to handle that. You can’t give everyone a medal just for showing up, regardless of the team’s record, like the kids experienced in youth soccer. Well, why not? Why can’t more people get recognized for just showing up? “It was great to have your contribution this week, Brendan.” Or, “I appreciate the attention you gave the project this week, Brittney.” Is that unreasonable or is it just a part of the leadership style that will be effective from this point forward? This isn’t about you, after all. It’s about them.

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posted by Michael Berger, 12:29 AM | link | 0 comments |

Do we feel it yet?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

“Transformation of an enterprise begins with a sense of crisis or urgency. No institution will go through fundamental change unless it believes that it is in deep trouble and needs to do something different to survive.

Lou Gerstner, former CEO of IBM speaking at Harvard Business School


All we can do is provide you with a framework, made of up some of the structure and supports you need to be successful in the future, but you need to build that future yourself. No one else can do it for you and the sooner you are able to take responsibility for that building, the sooner your future will become your present.

So what is it
that prevents us from seeing the need for the changes that is sitting right in front of us. In the US, the needs couldn’t be any more plainly visible. Public health care and gun control systems that allow for a person to be armed – both psychologically and ballistically – with the weaponry to senselessly kill 32 people and affect thousands, if not millions, of people. A federal budget, national debt, and trade deficit that are more out of balance than any other time in history. An educational system that as American kids falling further and further back relative to our new global marketplace neighbours (or competitors, depending on how you want to think about things.

What is needed is the kind of courageous leadership that can’t be done by one person acting in isolation. Those days are over. Visibility and scrutiny are too intense. Expectations are incredibly high, but so is the level of skepticism. Middle managers and professionals in their 30s and early 40;s want to be enabled. More seasoned employees and leaders want to be respected and valued. The youngest employees want to be inspired and included, but also let and taught with a degree of respect that many older colleagues think is premature. The job leading at the top of this melange of styles, wants, needs, and expectations is difficult one. It’s a challenge that is really beyond the capacity of most leaders in our time. But there is a way through. It’s a way of collaboration, of sharing the control and the power, the spotlight and the spoils. The challenge now is to find ways to accept the reality of the urgency we are facing and the need to look for a new way to lead and succeed. Until that happens, slipping further back and moving further to the margins are the only changes that will happen.

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posted by Michael Berger, 8:46 PM | link | 0 comments |

Great questions

Monday, December 04, 2006

I was having dinner with a friend the other night. He was talking about his son who is in the military. His son was up for an aircraft commander position and was in the middle of the examination process. He had been tested on the technical stuff and the procedural stuff. Now he was being tested for the leadership. "So, you're flying into a storm area to do a rescue of a boater in distress off the coast. You're down a man and "X" isn't functioning. It's starting to get dark," his examiner asked. "What would you do?"

My friend went on to describe a whole bunch of other scenarios his son was put into and asked about. There were issues of leadership, critical decision-making in time sensitive situations, situations where people's lives were at risk, situations of conflicting priorities. I was very interested to hear about the ways that this young man was asked to think and reflect, then act considering so many possibilities and constituencies.

He passed the exam.
posted by Michael Berger, 7:04 AM | link | 0 comments |

BergerBlog now on Technorati!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

posted by Michael Berger, 9:04 AM | link | 0 comments |

Engaging and Informing

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I was recently at a conference talking about the Generational lens of dealing with conflict resolution and mediation, and the conversation turned to informing and engaging. We had a pretty good conversation about the different ways each generational group needed to be given information and the different ways each group wants to be included.

A Boomer participant in her mid-50s explained that for her, it was, “Tell me when to show up, tell me what we’re going to do, and tell me where to sign the agreement. Anything beyond that just makes things a lot more difficult to manage.”

The 23-year old Millennial, who had been thrust in to an HR Manager role – while still in Grad School working on her Masters – sat by shaking her head. “You’ve got to be kidding!” she retorted, half-playful, half-horrified. “That would never work for me or for anyone I know,” she went on.

“I want to know what’s at stake. I want to be a part of creating the agreement, finding a time and place I’m happy with,” the younger woman continued. To her, being told when and where to show up and being expected to sign on the dotted line is something that would never pass.

And herein lies yet another example of two of our three major generational groups missing things that are obvious to each of them. It isn’t about knowing that all of the Millennials need to be checking in with and engaged at every step of the process – although that isn’t a bad idea, to a degree. Nor is it to just assume that the needs of the situation will simply be accepted. The reality is that there is a little bit of both.

We need to understand that the “others” have some different needs and different expectations, and to not be aware of those expectations and look for ways to meet them – proactively! – is just going to make things harder than they need to be.

MB
posted by Michael Berger, 10:39 AM | link | 0 comments |

The new reality of Adutescence

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The new reality of Adultescence

A recent posting of mine discussed how some grad programs are faced with the challenge of dealing with students who have very active parents – active in the way that the parents were advocates and watchdogs over their kids from preschool on.  

I came across an article the other day that was published last summer in the Greensboro/Winston Salem Business Journal that went a bit deeper in to the issue.  The article is titled, “College Parents:  Be propellers, no helicopters.”   Written by Leo Lambert, the president of Elon College, the article refers to the matter of delayed adulthood, or "adultescence,"  caused by the Baby-boomer parents who have been heavily involved in their children's lives are reluctant to sever those ties at college.

Of course, I continue to get emails and phone calls from colleagues all over the world who experience this reality in the workplace.  The one incident that stays in my mind is the parent who called the HR manager 27 times to advocate on her son’s behalf regarding a position.

Some Baby Boomer executives I work with respond with utter disbelief when I tell them these tails, but the list of HR types and senior managers I know talk about the Parent factor with increasing frequency.  They say to me (especially the older ones) that this is ridiculous.  Ridiculous or not, it is part of the new reality.

Michael Berger
posted by Michael Berger, 1:00 PM | link | 0 comments |

Cultural Creatives: A potential bridge

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

This past weekend, I attended a workshop put on by a colleague where he addressed, among other things, some of the emerging social norms that may have some real impact on our society moving forward.

As many readers have seen in this space before, the shifting demographics among the generational groups making up our society has already had a profound impact on how we work, how we play, and what is considered “normal” in our world.  I mean, what percentage of the people did you see walking down the street with a Venti Starbucks in one hand and a cell phone in the other five years ago?  (Of course, today they have a Bluetooth earpiece in their ear so it just looks like they’re having an animated conversation with their coffee!)

The point that my colleague raised came out of a different method of slicing and dicing US society.  Cultural Creatives was written by Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson in 2000, in which he broke society down into three groups:  the Traditionals, the Moderns, and the Cultural Creatives.  He describes the cultural creatives this way:

The Cultural Creatives care deeply about ecology and saving the planet, about relationships, peace, social justice, and about self actualization, spirituality and self-expression. Surprisingly, they are both inner-directed and socially concerned, they're activists, volunteers and contributors to good causes more than other Americans. However, because they've been so invisible in American life, Cultural Creatives themselves are astonished to find out how many share both their values and their way of life. Once they realize their numbers, their impact on American life promises to be enormous, shaping a new agenda for the twenty-first century.

Where this idea is interesting to me is the way that is cuts across the Generational dynamics that I’ve been talking and writing about.  When I describe Millennials as people who have a greater commitment to tolerance, community development and support, and actively work to bring resources together because they know the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, it sounds like they are Cultural Creatives.

When I talk about Gen-Xers who are fed up with the institution because they refuse to be fooled by the Political message and the spin, and are turned off by conventional norms because they see the damage that is being done to the planet, they sound like Cultural Creatives.

Many  Boomers are reverting back to the values and dreams that they had when they were young in the 60s. Of course for many of them, they got sucked into the vortex of their productive years, where they strove to out-earn, out-spend, and out-consume their peers.  But now, they are realizing that they are, in fact, part of the problem and they want to use all of their “success” to become part of the solution. They sure do sound a bit like Cultural Creatives.  

The book and the ideas in it are an interesting and different packaging of our society that will not take the place of Generational distinctions, but it provides one of the bridges to build across the Generational Divide.


posted by Michael Berger, 10:19 AM | link | 0 comments |
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