I hang out with people 30 years younger than I am; on purpose. They give me hope. They are intelligent, self-aware, pay attention to world events, and they care. When I describe them this way, I hear others in my generation launch in to a litany of complaints about the “next generation” or “millennials”.
I taught kindergarten for years. Now, many of the kids I had in my classroom are between 27-35. I have the good fortune of receiving calls and invitations to tea to catch up and hear what matters to them. Almost all of them are the first to admit they are over-educated and under-experienced. They are open enough to say, “support us, don’t judge us.” They are willing to learn, be mentored, challenged, and to grow. What they don’t want is to hear how I did it (45 years ago) because it’s not relevant now, and they don’t want me give them advice. They aren’t asking for advice. They are asking to be heard, seen, valued, and supported in bringing what they have to offer in this rapidly changing and extremely uncertain world. They are also deeply overwhelmed.
Of course, I am generalizing. And, I believe my generalities hold up. I am speaking of young adults in our country. And, I have friends and colleagues in several countries who say very similar things.
I am also accused by people in my generation of only spending time with the ones ‘like that’. Of course, why wouldn’t I?
I joke about (true story) standing in the hallway of the school where I taught kindergarten, watching my 5 year old students attempting to stand in line. One day I saw a little boy punch another one in the face and call him a foul name. As I witnessed this all too common behavior (in 1993), I remember thinking, “they are going to wipe my butt someday…I want them to be NICE!”
We were experiencing the first wave of children in the USA who spent an average of 35 hours a week in front of televisions. The research was showing the impact of that was having a negative effect on their social skills, vocabularies, and even cognitive development. Eating dinner around the table was an indicator of improved skills, and, many of my privileged students either ate in the back seat of a car on the way to activities, or in their rooms in front of their OWN televisions.
We used to say “get kids ready for schools.” When their environments changed, their behaviors changed. Some of us changed our focus and began to get schools ready for the kids who were coming.
I see a parallel in the workplace. We want them to fit in to our environments that are the old model of hierarchy, command and control compliance-based leadership where the word accountability is thrown around as though it is punitive rather than supportive.
I’m generalizing again. And, if we are going to create environments that are ready for who’s coming, we need to listen, learn, adapt, and stretch our thinking and ways of being.
Among the skills in highest demand now are agile thinking, exploring multiple perspectives, managing paradoxes, and relationship skills. We aren’t teaching those and we aren’t modeling them.
Why am I hopeful? Our kids.
Who are we willing to BE, and what are we willing to do to support their transition into the workplace and help them develop the important relationship skills necessary to be self-aware, self-manage, and have empathy?
I challenge myself to remember: if we aren’t modeling what we are teaching, we are teaching something else.
Let’s stretch, it’s not so bad…it’s like yoga (which means union), a little at a time.