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Berger Blog

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

The Corporate Compromise

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

I had a conversation with a the leader of a large division of a major media company the other day – I’ll call her Kira. We were talking about situation that I am working on with a senior member of her staff – I’ll call him Perry.

Perry has been on Kira’s team for about 18 months, and by all accounts, it’s been a pretty stormy time. One of the big problems with their relationship is that Perry wants to move up the corporate ladder and enter the vast pool of Vice Presidents. While there isn’t that much to be gained strategically, it does provided some increase in power, but brings more pay, more stature, and more influence outside the walls of the corporations. It’s something that Perry feels is long overdue and that he deserves.

Kira sees things a little differently. One quality that has kept Kira from making this promotion happen is her belief that Perry doesn’t “get” the Corporate Compromise. – the proverbial drinking of the Kool Aid. According to Kira, there are times when the message comes down for the Powers that Be, and that you, as one of the field generals, need to support that message, even if you don’t buy in to it.

For me, personally, this is one of the great challenges that we can slice and dice in lots of ways. Kira, who is in her late 40’s-early 50’s, is a baby boomer. Baby boomers make the corporate compromise – a compromise in their values or a justification of something that goes against their beliefs – in the name of success.

“It’s about playing the game,” Kira stated. “It’s about being able to decide when you want to fight it, when you think you can influence it, and when you think it is something you can or can’t live with.”

She said that she asks herself a few key questions when faced with a situation that forces her to make the Corporate Compromise.
1. What is at stake?
2. What am I being asked to do?
3. Can I still do my job?
4. Can I do what I have been asked?
At this point, Kira explained, you need to decide Am I in, or Am I out. That it isn’t about work-arounds or what-ifs. It’s about playing the game or passing.

To the Boomer, especially one who can draw a very thick line between work values and personal values (a notion I don’t totally buy), this can work. To a different person, maybe a Gen-Xer or a person who isn’t so comfortable with one set of rules for his or her work life and personal life, this system doesn’t really hold up.

Now, I’m not going to poke my values any more into this debate. However, I will put forth the notion that there are many leaders who are making this kind of compromise every day, and I believe that it is a compromise that is going to be supported less and less, and by fewer and fewer people as we move forward. Right now, ethics are the big buzzword and some leaders are going to make the ethical choice NOT to drink the Kool Aid for fear of being splashed across the pages of the Wall Street Journal.

However, another dynamic is beginning to unfold. People like Perry are going to continue saying, “Forget it. I think that this kind of compromise is a crock.” Will people like Perry be forced to stay in positions lower on the food chain than they deserve or will they have to leave their companies? Some may, but only in the short term. The days of the Baby Boomer corporate compromise are numbered.

Copyright 2005 – Michael Berger, Transformational Consulting. Reprinting or reproduction without permission is prohibited
posted by Michael Berger, 6:30 AM | link | 0 comments |

Generational Hindsight or Blind-sight?

Sunday, April 10, 2005

A colleague of mine was sharing a story about a company she was working with recently. The company is in the transportation business – shipping really big things across long distances in the United States and Canada. Since China has become such a huge trade partner, lots of goods are coming in to the West coast and need to get all over the continent. The industry hasn’t seem a boom like this in many years. She told me they are hiring people as fast as they can.

The work she was doing recently involved some training with senior leadership of the business. As they were talking, she asked the managers she was with, “So, how many years do you have here?” One said 25 years, another said 28, a third said 32, and a fourth said 24. “Oh, the baby in the group,” she replied. “No, just 24 years here. I had ten at a competitor before coming here,” was his response.

So just at one table, there was more than one hundred years of experience. The significance here is that while all of these people were building up the years, this company hired no one. Literally, no new people. Over the course of 17 years, this company had brought in almost no new people at all. And today, they are hiring like crazy.

As these managers were talking about the issues that are facing the company, it was clear that an entire generation had been skipped. When these managers start heading out the retirement door -- and some already have – there is no one to take over their jobs, just a bunch of 20-somethings with fewer than a year’s time on the job.

And now, they need to do something to make the next 5-10 years work.
posted by Michael Berger, 11:22 AM | link | 1 comments |

A view from a different seat

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

I just returned from a vacation to a dude ranch in Arizona and had some amazing insights, sitting perched atop a horse, of all places.

So here I am, trying to control something that is much bigger than I am, something that could harm -- or even kill -- me, and something that knows I'm not really the boss. How many leaders feel the same way about the team or company they are trying to lead?

For one thing, I learned very quickly that if I gave no other information or instructions, that the horse would either not go anywhere, or it would simply follow the pack and do what those around him did. When the horse did follow the other horses, there was clearly leadership happening, I just wasn’t the one providing it. Talk about humbling!

When I did begin to feel a little comfortable in my new position of power, I realized that I was way over-doing it. The horse needed just gently nudges or tugs to do just what I wanted, not the hard kicks and strong pulls on the reins I was giving. It took a little time, but I began to learn the subtle nuances that were needed for this situation.

One other fascinating insight I got was watching the ranch's wranglers -- men and women who understood horses better than I ever will and who have spend thousands of hours in a saddle. Despite their expertise, despite their wisdom, despite their ease with these huge animals, it was clear that they were never entirely in control. They could lead as best as they could, in whatever style worked for them, but it was never absolute control. There was a certain degree of latitude they had to allow for all the time. And they knew it. To try to absolutely dominate their horse would have been damaging, to the horse, to their relationship to the horse, and to how well the horse performed for them.

How about that for a lesson in leadership?
posted by Michael Berger, 12:23 PM | link | 1 comments |
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