Reaching the top of a company or a few seats below has not been product of coincidence.
* Written by María Elena Platas, a headhunter and specialized coach in talent development and executive search for management levels. She is an associate in Caldwell Partners.
You are where you are because you have found -or created- opportunities that have carried your projects forward and have gained you the respect and admiration, not only of your subordinates, but of your superiors.
Your journey through the corporate organization chart gives us valuable lessons, from the most confrontational to the subtlest, which often go unnoticed.
Do you remember your first boss? What did you admired most about him? What bothered you and the things that surprised you?
Admit it, you always secretly thought you would do better when you were in their shoes.
Now that you have reached that goal of managing the responsibility of a managerial position, we do not often stop and reflect on what we would like to receive from our boss at each stage of this process, whether it be our first summer job or the first position as C-Level.
Have you ever thought about what kind of leader you would have liked to have in each of those stages? What kind of challenges you would have loved to take on? What kind of lesson and what kind of demand would have been incredibly formative in each step of your professional life?
According to what I have seen during my career as a headhunter, these are the most common features that employees look for according to their stage (age) of life:
20’s- They seek a mission, they seek something that gives them identity and satisfies their ideals of influencing and contributing their skills to build a better future, both for themselves and for the community to which they belong to. This age group has a lot of enthusiasm, but little direction towards which goals to invest in. What moves them is the emotion of belonging, creating and contributing. A good leader for this segment, in my opinion, is someone who helps the team to have an open and realistic view on all projects where energy will be very well received, but also, it is key to help colleagues land and choose a personal goal that can be adopted for the long term. A goal for this age segment will be a priority within the world that each of them wants to build.
30’s- People in this stage are looking for inspiration, it is important for them to have someone to admire and to challenge them so that learning does not stop. Basically, this group is open for a sensei who is aware of their potential so he/she can be aware of the situations necessary to overcome fear and give a result of “high performance” (this is a concept that is used in sports when competing against your own results). The members of the 30 level do not mind investing extra time in having to solve a problem outside their area of responsibility or truly taking initiative in a new or unknown project to continue learning, growing and being recognized by the effort they put in handing in results. A good leader for this phase is someone who has already held the position and has achieved results that are worth presuming, obviously within the context of the time that he performed, and in that way, like any martial arts film, he can become the master who truly drives his own pupils to surpass him.
40’s- I’m not going to lie, at this stage, what the employee looks for is money. Members of this level are familiar with having a better lifestyle than the last decade, probably with more responsibilities like mortgages and tuition, but with an economic comfortable lifestyle. They will do whatever is needed to have a better income. In the 40´s stage, many people change jobs simply because of an economic increase in annual compensation or benefits offered by the company. Beyond the glamour of the name of any position, what is really wanted is the feeling of having economic growth that allows them to have personal, family, credit and health stability. A good leader at this stage is someone who can teach the team more about financial planning based on a merit-growth scheme. These leaders do not stop demanding, setting clear goals or asking for clear, better results. An employee who feels well paid in his forties is going to be a self-motivated and a goal oriented person, therefore, your company will be in good hands.
50’s- This is a very complicated and very reflective stage, at this point in life, economy has disrupted all plans and has generated a versatile income by investing, having a side business, or a great amount of savings under the mattress, and probably in American dollars. These leaders have energy, experience and vast knowledge of the market; however, the future is scary and uncertain.
What 50´s leaders value most is stability; they are often excellent in their functions due to feeling comfortable, a feeling that is provided by not having anybody in charge of them. If they are going to accept innovation, it will be inevitable to count on an expert who advises and is responsible for the implementation, this because they normally do not go out of what they already know. Despite this fear of change, they highlight to be the most loyal and prepared employees on the floor.
A good leader for this stage is one who understands and motivates new horizons, but will follow them according to their own creativity. The leader in this stage must put a lot of emphasis on how much they appreciate the loyalty of employees to provide them with a safe environment where they can contribute with ideas without feeling that the company will lose stability.
+ 50’s- Strangely, the cycle here is repeated. An employee older than 50 years wants to have a mission, he desires to put his knowledge to the service of something that is bigger than him. Little by little, leaders in this stage feel in a sort of farewell tour of his workspace. In this stage, he will be life collecting the fruits of what he sowed for over 30 or 40 years. The best boss these people can have will be someone who values the years of contribution and provide him with the necessary orientation towards building the “legacy” they are able to leave in the company.
Being honest, I think leadership is a difficult trait, because growing up in hierarchy does not mean that we know how to lead the rest of our peers.
We have all had a boss who just did not know how to direct and communicate with us, which triggered a series of guilty remarks and problems.
The best guide to becoming a leader is remembering and imagining how he (our boss) would feel in each of the stages previously mentioned, and at the same time, knowing that the boss we feel this about is also feeling something of its own.
The road to leadership is not simple, but neither is it impossible, so I hope you are truly on the road or you have already become the leader that you would follow with your eyes closed.