Until a few years ago Janet Menzies believed the workplace was a meritocracy. Speaking on a panel discussing twenty-first century leadership hosted by Monash University, the former McKinsey & Co consultant said she believed if you worked hard enough and were talented you’d rise to the top. That changed in 2011. Working with the Sex Discrimination Commissioner Liz Broderick’s Male Champions of Change initiative forced Menzies to challenge that assumption.
She could see the signs that our corporate and broader culture could be better everywhere.
“If you are born a girl in this country your prospects are much less,” Menzies explained. She cited gender indicators on everything from poverty, to violence and career prospects as evidence ‘not that women will have a lesser life’ but that it might be more difficult to achieve the things they want.
She also told the audience what she would have done differently as a leader, which included getting as much critical experience as possible.
“Figure out what it takes to get your boss’s, boss’s job,” Menzies said. “And then get that experience.” She also encouraged women not just to get a sponsor but to be sponsors for other women too. She asked both men and women to think about how they could be champions of change in their own workplaces.
Menzies admission that she was a ‘late adaptor’ to understanding the challenges faced by women in the workplace is a great example of what the panel determined is essential for leaders. Having a nimble and self-challenging mindset to keep up with a fast-changing world.
The panel members – including entrepreneur, speaker and coach Holly Ransom and strategist, mentor, author and speaker Megan Dalla Camina – agreed that above all modern leadersneed to be adaptable. They need to be willing to broaden and deepen both their attitudes and skill bases, and to do that it’s crucial that they remain open to new ideas and ways of thinking.
Holly Ransom said a priority for leaders is reconciling the different ways the three generations populating the workplace at the moment think about work. How people are managed is paramount to building better and more successful workplaces now and into the future. Ransom, herself in her early twenties, said making sure baby boomers and Gen Ys understand how to communicate and engage with each other so they can work effectively is a key challenge in the hands of leaders at the moment.
Ransom said the flattening of work structures combined with the decline of traditional religious institutions and member-based organisations mean that Gen Ys are looking for passion and purpose in their work. For many their workplace is their ‘third place’, which in part would account for why so many 20-somethings are eschewing corporate life to start their own enterprises.
Dalla Camina, who is developing 12 rules for positive leaders, pointed to research that shows that surprisingly, there is not a single quality that all leaders share. Rather the majority understand their strengths and weaknesses. Dalla Camina says instead of focusing on their areas of deficit, the best managers fill the gaps by hiring and leveraging the strengths, skills and experience of other people.
Advancements in ideas, the potential and materializing changes to workplace structures mean we have already entered a new frontier in how we work. It’s not about numbers of men or women, or about one way being better than another. There’s plenty to learn from the wisdom of the baby boomers just as there’s much to capture in the enthusiasm and willingness of Gen Ys to embrace change. As ever, the most effective leaders will be those capable of getting the most out of everybody.
Whether leaders are tackling intergenerational challenges, gender inequality, or any other workplace obstacle, being open to change and keeping a positive mindset is critical.
How do you keep your mind open? Have you had to change your ideas or attitudes recently?