Say what you will about the challenges of managing Millennials, but they are certainly productive. Using coffee bars as offices, laptops as desks, Slack for meetings, and Skype for presentations, they are adept at operating, anytime, anywhere, in today's wireless, virtual world.
Indeed, the two biggest differences between the older generations and those entering the workforce over the past 20 years are that the newcomers are linked to broad, omni-dimensional networks, and they carry the world's entire library in their pockets.
Today's knowledge workers not only work when and where they want, but they have fast access to more and better information than anyone could have dreamed of 50 years ago.
While some Baby Boomers complain these new younger hires are less likely to respond to leadership, due to this new independence, I think that can be a good thing if the right predicates are in place.
The new rules of workplace teams.
Because of the complexity of operating in a global marketplace, businesses today are as frequently led by teams as by individual leaders. These coordinated, high-trust groups of peers, all working from the "same page" and with the same set of values, are dynamic, nimble, and can respond organically and quickly.
Retired Army General Stanley McChrystal's book Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, describes how adaptability trumps command-and-control leadership at all organizations, from small startups to the Joint Special Operations Command.
But while the principles the general describes may be new to many management teams, the concept isn't.
Leaderless teams are everywhere.
For example, a decade ago I invited the St. Lawrence Quartet to introduce Stanford MBA students to the notion of leaderless, rapidly adapting teams. The music that came from the two violins, viola, and cello, was beside the point. I wanted these students to see with their own eyes a form of leadership I hoped they'd see again -- or maybe facilitate -- in the business world.
At one point, Geoff Nuttall, the quartet's co-founder, asked the students who they believed was leading the quartet. The vote was split four ways. Then he picked at random an MBA student with no apparent musical training to conduct. There was no degradation in the music.
As one who teaches leadership -- its power, principles, and best practices -- I was not surprised. All the novice conductor had to do was trigger the first note, after making sure, of course, that the musicians were all reading from the same score. The quartet then did the rest, reading from each other's subtle body movements, such as a raised eyebrow that signaled anticipation or breathing patterns, and myriad other signals.
Making it work.
The bottom line is that running stuff is a team sport; the job of the CEO is to be the best coach, to help with the selection of the music, to get the team started on the downbeat, and -- above all -- make sure the right musicians are in each of the seats.
In the workplace, this means empowering your employees to master their own roles, only stepping in to "lead" at the start of a project or when ricks or changes arise. That way, each of your performers can star on their own terms, doing their best work as part of the team instead of simply following the direction of others.
But remember, just as no single violin can make a quartet and no single athlete can carry an entire team, no CEO is the reason a team succeeds. They can, however, cause a team to fail--by selecting the wrong piece of music, or by not giving the team a chance to lead, or by hiring (or failing to fire) those who make up the team once the objective is set.