Friday, February 13, 2009

Generations and Job Loyalty

Okay, I, too want to read this "Daring to Lead" report after the teaser Eric just gave us. If I understand correctly the first paragraph that Eric quotes, the report is concerned because:

a. They feel nonprofits need committed and talented leaders, and
b. 75% of nonprofit execs don't think they'll be in the same job in 5 years.

What's the problem with that? Why is the second sentence contrary to the concept of committed and talented leaders? I think there may be some generationally-based assumptions going on there.

I understand the value, generally speaking, of employee loyalty. I think Fred Reichheld's work on loyalty (of employees, customers, and investors) is compelling. I certainly raise my eyebrows if someone comes to me and says they've had 125% turnover in the last year. But the leader at the top of the organization chart must intend to stay there more than 5 years? Even if you are arguing that companies need a certain consistency in their direction and culture, why do you assume that the transition of a single leader is necessarily going to lead to that?

Why can't nonprofit organizations grow and thrive by having committed and talented leaders in their top positions for three or four years at a time? If I am a committed and talented leader, I should know myself well enough to match my specific leadership competencies with the specific needs of the organization. It's quite possible that I will realize that they only need me for three or four years in that position. None of this rules out a leader staying with an organization for ten or twenty years. There's nothing to say the match can't last that long. Organizations and individuals can grow and change together. But I don't assume that staying ten or twenty years is synonymous with effectiveness, and I wonder if that is part of me being Gen X.

I don't remember where I first heard it, so I should probably do some research on this statistic, but I did hear that the Millennials are coming into the workforce expected to have four or five CAREERS during their working life. That's four or five different careers--not just four or five different jobs. Contrast this to just a few generations earlier where employees expected to get a job, work there for their career, and retire with a gold watch. This relates to the societal trend around the speed of change, so I am not surprised that each new generation has an even more "radical" expectation that the generation before about job or career tenures.

So pay attention to assumptions you make about how long people "should" or should not stay in particular jobs or careers. Sometimes it may be your generationally-specific assumptions talking, rather than a real understanding of the leadership needs of the situation.


Eric Lanke said...

"Why can't nonprofit organizations grow and thrive by having committed and talented leaders in their top positions for three or four years at a time?"

Great point, Jamie. I can't respond to it from Daring to Lead's point of view, because I haven't read the full report yet.

But I will say, from my own perspective, that if organizations can only grow and thrive by having leaders stay in their positions for twenty years, then we're going to see a lot of failing organizations in the next two decades. Success has been redefined. "Thriving" means sustained success over frequent leadership changes.

rickmoyers said...

These are great comments. As one of the co-authors of Daring to Lead, I would say that our concern was not that leaders weren't staying in their positions for 20 years, or that they lacked loyalty, but that talented and committed people were burning out early in their tenure because of the overwhelming demands of the executive director job. Frequent executive director turnover (every year or two or even three) is hard on an organization. However, I also believe that shared leadership, the ability to develop new leaders, and the ability to thrive under a succession of leaders are hallmarks of an effective organization.

Eric Lanke said...

Thanks, Rick, for speaking up. If you're going to follow our conversation on Daring to Lead, it looks like I won't need to speak from the study's point of view. It'll be great having you as part of the dialogue!

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