How on earth can they grow?

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The late-night phone call from one of our next generation leaders in training had more than a touch of desperation about it. The voice on the end of the line carried that sound of “ I’m really losing this! Please help”.

Georgie is a bright spark. Great university degree and after a long search, now in a high-powered job with a boss just a few years senior. The trouble is, Covid has meant that she has never actually met her boss in person, nor has she actually met the rest of her team. She was ‘onboarded’ into the role entirely virtually, received three days basic training (who’s who etc) and told to get on with it.

Which she has been trying to do – but without the ability to pop into the next office to ask her questions, she has been making mistakes and landing on the rough end of her boss’ frustrations. Communication is at a low ebb. And the boss is clearly avoiding her.

Georgie is not alone. These ‘Covid Generation’ new leaders are frequently trying to do their jobs from a small bedroom either in a flat-share or back at home. Because they are out of sight they are finding themselves, all too frequently, out of their superior’s mind too. Those gentle words of encouragement which we took for granted because we could pop in on our younger team members in pre-Covid days are not happening, and the stress on the young leaders is mounting.

Add to this the fact that, in order to make their mark, so many of these new young leaders are having to put in super-long hours. Anything like a healthy work-life balance is out of the window as they stay glued to their laptops in an increasingly desperate bid to get noticed.

As I write, a poll of business leaders I inspired on Linked In is showing that 26% of them acknowledge that ‘Stress in General’ is the biggest challenge faced by younger leaders in their organisation, and 26% particularly identify work-life balance as being the critical issue. The remaining respondents identify (in pretty equal measure) communication challenges and lack of collegiate support from peers.

Fortunately for Georgie we had been working on developing ‘resilience’ through Personal Mastery. It’s quite a skill to let things go from the mind, and to re-centre the attention on something positive and worthwhile. It’s also takes real courage to drop the anxiety and to inwardly refresh the energies by spending a ‘Quiet Time’ period – practising breathing exercises and other mindfulness techniques.

As many coaches reading this will recognise, it’s not your words of wisdom which bring comfort to those you are helping….it’s your EARS. Just being there to listen to all the frustrations, and to provide that feeling of ‘you are not alone’ in facing this kind of situation, seems to be the most effective immediate medicine.

But the incident does raise some important questions, which leaders of all levels need to address.

If more senior leaders are not ‘watering’ their younger colleagues with encouragement, and not evolving self-esteem by offering an ‘ear in the present’, how are these next generation leaders ever going to grow? Georgie’s example was pretty dramatic, but certainly not an isolated one.

If senior colleagues are so unawares of the additional pressures faced by their younger team members at this time, just what levels of awareness are operating through our companies?

Of course, it’s possible that they are aware, but are themselves far too involved and busy to do anything about it. Maybe nobody is really listening to them either?

One of the best tips I ever got from my own mentor was that, as human beings, we are gifted with two ears and one mouth, and we should use them in that proportion. Nobody can grow, without being listened to. Really listened to, that is. With concentrated attention – and with nothing else going on. (Which raises another issue about ‘multi-tasking’ while on Zoom etc!!)

I’m not a gardener, but I do know that young plants frequently need a stake beside them to be attached to during those formative times.

If we are genuinely concerned about the mental and emotional health of our young leaders we need to put some more stakes in the ground that they can clearly see and connect with. Without that, we will all be in difficulty not too far down the path.

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