Engineer to Leader
"Imagine engineers and technical managers who are as effective with people as they are with technology."

STCerri International E-zine/Newsletter

#24: February 16, 2009

The Young Are Restless!

Last week I wrote "The Young Are Restless" and I received a number of emails commenting on my evaluation of the situation.  All were positive and in agreement with what I had written, and yet, there two sides to the story.  In this Ezine I want to address the other side.

You see, I got comments from Baby Boomers, and from younger and older.  

Predictably the Baby Boomers said that the youth are too impatient.

And the comments I got from young people weren't actually that they wanted to be given the keys to the kingdom on the first day of work (at least those who wrote to me didn't want it that way) but they did believe that they were proving themselves and not getting recognition for it.

And so, I'm going to add one more ingredient into the mix.

I've been coaching people for over a two decades, either my own direct reports or as a professional consultant and coach.  It doesn't seem to matter whether I'm talking to engineers or mid-level managers, or executives, or Gen-Xers or Baby Boomers, the answer is always the same.

There are two sides to this coin.  One is what the direct report wants and is willing to do to get it.  That's what last week's Ezine was about.

The other side of the coin is about the manager and the responsibility of the manager in this equation.  The equation made up of the direct report and the manager.

This Ezine is about the manager.

Enjoy and be well,

Steven Cerri

P.S.  Feel free to pass this Ezine/Newsletter on to a friend.

Note:  If you have missed my previous Ezines/newsletters you can find them archived at: 
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"Young People and The Manager"

Last week I told the young people, the young engineers, they had three choices.  

They could either "suck it up" and deal with the fact that they are playing by the manager's rules... or...

They could join a small company or start-up where the rules for advancement are not so structured.... or...

They could start their own company or be a contract employee and not be responsible (so much) to the organization.

But, as I wrote in my introduction above, that's only half the story.

The other half of the story concerns the role of the manager of the team in this equation.

No Pulled Punches
Let me begin by making it clear that what I always attempt to do in my Ezines is express my position based on what has worked in my career.  My words on this page or screen do not come from observation or from reading what someone else has said or observed.  This is all from experience, my experience.

So I'll cut to the chase.  Management is about getting results with and through a variety of resources.  Sometimes those resources include people.

Most managers tend to treat people like other resources... like money, or land, or equipment.

Most managers will modify the land to fit the need.  Or they'll get enough money or use the money to get what is desired.  Or they'll buy the right equipment to due a job or perhaps alter the equipment to do the job better or alter it to do a slightly different job.

Whatever the exact requirement, generally speaking, we often secure the right resource for the job and when we don't need the resource any more we through it away.  Or we get a resource that is close to what we need and then we modify it to fit the job.

Unfortunately, many managers treat people the same way.  If the human equipment doesn't do the job correctly, or doesn't do the job the way the manager wants, many managers often blame the equipment and try to make the person fit the job.  

"Oh, Bob is just not suited to this job.  We'll have to let him go and find someone who can do this job."


"I was told to put Mary on my team and I gave her a job and she just can't do it.  I'm going to have to let her go; there's nothing here she can do."

Now I understand completely that sometimes people are not suited to the tasks we have available for them.  And I also know that people can learn, which in a way, is like modifying a machine to do a different job than originally intended.

However, lets be clear, people learn and people are flexible.

"No, no you say.  I've met people who were completely inflexible" and not willing to learn.

While I would agree that there are people who are inflexible, my experience tells me that people are much more desirous of being successful than of being stubborn.  So the question I have for the manager who wants to blame his or her direct report for being stubborn is; "What have you, as the manager, done to amplify or diminish that stubbornness?"

Cut to the chase
In fact, this is the bottom line... 9 times out of 10, the responsibility of the manger is to help the direct report be successful.  IT IS NOT to make the direct report FIT the job, but rather to find a way to fit the job to the direct report so that the direct report can be successful.

Now I know... I can hear some managers complaining that my suggestion is unrealistic... and sometimes it is.  Guess what?  In those cases where my approach doesn't fit, don't use it.  Do something different.  Remember, I said 9 times out of 10.

So where am I going with this?
So what does this have to do with the "young who are restless"?

We can blame them if we want to do that.  We can complain that they have a short attention span... a product, by the way, of our willingness to hype, promote, and sell visual media.

Or we can blame them for not wanting to work for what they get... a product, by the way, of the examples we put on mass media indicating that fame, wealth, and success can come in an instant just by putting a video on YouTube.

Or we can blame them for a lack of critical thinking (something I read just yesterday in an engineering magazine)... a product, by the way, of our lack of support for a top notch educational system and a dumbing down of critical thinking in our culture.

So, as current adult managers and executives, we can blame the young people for who they are.  Or we can turn them into our apprentices and teach them what we think they need to know to be successful while we learn from them what they think they want in the way of success.

I teach a management class to undergraduate and graduate students at the University of California, Santa Barbara.  I'm part of a team in what is called the Technology Management Program, a great program.  The students in this program are a cross section of many academic disciplines from engineering, to biology, to psychology, to environmental engineering, to finance, communication, art, philosophy, and others. 

These are young people, who in some cases, are listening to me in class, while they are looking at their cell phones, while they have their computers open.

These are the bright, smart, compassionate, and independent young people.  At once independent and in the next moment requesting guidance. 

There is never any question that I'm the professor and yet there is always a question as to whether I'm learning from them or is it the other way around.  This approach allows us to move forward as a team, as a class, and I wouldn't change it for anything.

Now I know this all sounds a little too idealized.  And as my good friend from New Jersey, Joe would say... "typical Californian".  But it works.  

So if you want to be a manager of young people, you will have to make a space where you allow them to be themselves, not fit too rigidly the paradigm of management that is foreign to them.  Your job as a manager is to help them be successful, not make them wrong so you can turn them into what they are not and what you are.

One of the reasons I choose to continue teaching at the college level is because when I walk into that classroom there are young people in that room who are willing and eager to learn.  Willing to challenge what I say and accept it if I can defend it. 

The classroom that I walk into is no different than the company office the manager walks into. 

What I have found with young people is that most are very willing to pay their dues, they just don't want the dues to be arbitrary. 

Most are very willing to spend time in the trenches just don't make it punitive. 

Most are very willing to climb the ladder of success, just tell them how many rungs there are and when they can expect to be at the top. 

And they want your support in getting there.

There is not doubt that some of you who read this Ezine will have examples that are exceptions to what I've said here.   I'm not talking about exceptions.  I'm not talking about that 1 in 10 person who doesn't fit what I've said.  I'm talking about most of the young people.

Frankly, I find them a joy to work with, in the classroom and in the business environment. 

Remember, everyone wants to be successful.  The measure of what success "is" may be different for each of us.  The manager's job is to find out how each young person wants to be successful and do their best to give it to them.  It's ultimately what all of us strive for.  It's ultimately what all of us want out of life.

Be well,

"Imagine engineers and technical managers who are as effective with people as they are with technology?"

Steven trains, coaches, and facilitates engineers and technical managers to BE the answer to this question.  Steven is unique because he has made this transition himself.  Get Steven's latest thoughts at:

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Copyrightę2008 STCerri International and Steven Cerri.  You are free to pass this information on to others and to reproduce it.  If you reproduce sections in whole or part please give attribution to Steven Cerri.  Thank you.

Be well,

Steven Cerri
STCerri International

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Most of us believe that the behaviors that made us successful as engineers will make us successful at the next level of our careers.  Unfortunately, the skills that got you where you are today won't get you where you want to be tomorrow.
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