Leading the youth of today: Accept them and roll with it

Today's leaders face an increasingly young workforce. Resistance is futile: Learn to work with them.

Today’s leaders are still grappling with the disruption millennials have brought to the workplace, At a leadership and Innovation session at the 2018 Finance Indaba, Debbie Ransby, MD of Takeda, told the audience she still struggles with the sense of entitlement.
 
“They want a quick promotion, salary increases, flashy cars… I struggle with that. I had to work quite hard to get where I got.”
 
She added it was well-known that millennials don’t stay in jobs much more than two years, and many companies are having to work on retention strategies.

“But should we be spending money on retention? Maybe we need to look at it differently, get as much as we can out of them in those two years,and accept they are going to move on.”

Irene Singo, CFO at the Department of Mineral Resources, said it was sometimes difficult for older leaders to deal with the younger generation’s impatience and challenging of old systems.

“The public sector is quite hierarchical, and people deal with you in a particular way by virtue of your position. So you don’t think any person can just come directly to you and question your decisions – but that’s what happens. They question things! We didn’t mind doing a ledger every day. We didn’t ask why we were doing it. But they do something for a month and then want to know why they’re doing this thing, and want us to come up with solutions. We must be ready for that, and open-minded enough to implement some of the suggestions they make because it helps the organisation.”

 

Irene said she prepared herself to be a better leader by reading a lot about new developments, keeping herself up to date, and sharing with others. She said she was also on a WhatsApp group with some other CFOs, on which they could share experiences and discuss solutions to problems they encountered.
 
Debbie said she’d recently changed her approach to one of a lot more active listening, and asking powerful questions. “The team I work with is very talented, and they have the answers within themselves,” she said.

“But it’s not just about the leadership. New, young, fresh recruits have different outlooks, so I try to take the time to ask them what they think instead of giving them the answer.”

Graham Fehrsen, MD of CFO South Africa, who moderated the discussion, pointed out the old model suggested that you earned your way to leadership, but today’s approach was about recognising the innate leadership in people who were not necessarily subject matter experts.
 
Irene said, however, that in the finance space, she believed one still needed the skills base.

“Otherwise people grow very fast, and are in a leadership position with no skills base at all. So you can move faster, but there must be a plan and understand where you are. Get a mentor’s help to go through the steps. I sometimes take youngsters with me to important meetings. They just sit and observe what is happening, and it helps them to understand what your role is when you go to meetings and interact with people at a senior level.”