Monday, February 13, 2012

It's not all about "I"

Adolescents and college students today are 40% less empathetic than 10 years ago.

Why is this a matter for concern?

Consider this: When the Boomers retire, there will not be enough workers from Generation X (born 1965-1983) to fill all of the leadership positions. As a result, the Generation Y employees will be pushed into management positions, ready or not. 

And leadership requires soft skills, like empathy. 

Vanderbilt University undergraduate graduation
I recently attended a Growing Leaders conference for Super Intendants across the state of Georgia to learn the ins and ons of this generation of students. Tim Elmore, president of Growing Leaders, calls this generation the iY generation. These students were born after 1990, in the second half of the Y generation. They grew up with iTunes, iPads, iPhones and learned along that way that everything is about "I." 

As a result of access to endless information on the web and a growing emphasis on the self, these iY students are becoming less and less compassionate for those in need. 

This lack of empathy will become a huge problem when these adolescents become leaders of organizations in the future. The best leaders recognize that they are only leaders if they are followed. And so they desire to connect with their followers, understand what drives them and what their passions are, and ultimately to empathize with and meet them where they are. 

A perfect example of an empathetic leader is Coach John Wooden, who twice refused a post-season invitation to the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball (NAIB) national play-offs. Why? Because Clarence Walker, an African-American guard on his team, would not be allowed to attend. (It was 1947.) Wooden viewed all of his players as family (even those who sat the bench). 

In his blog post, Michael Lee Stallard concludes the story beautifully: 
"Wooden reflected 'virtuous leadership' that made his players and fans feel connected to him both rationally (for his skill as a coach) and emotionally (for his virtues of respect, fairness, empathy and humility). If American leaders become intentional about developing these and other virtues in themselves, the leaders and the people they lead, 90 percent of people in the American workplace would be doing the right things and giving their best efforts rather than the 10 percent who are today."

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