The Shift: New perspectives on leadership

Submitted by chris.troutman on October 30, 2017
Understand how workplace culture is changing so you can identify the right leadership approach for your firm.

Seth Mattison:
I want something to change. I want to move you to action. So, with that as a backdrop, I want to tell you a story this morning with our very brief time together. My hope is that this story helps give you a framework. We're going to build on some of the things you heard yesterday, but more importantly, it's going to give you a framework to think about how the world of work is evolving and changing today. And more importantly, it's going to arm you to lead new conversations with your teams and your people so you can move your organization forward in a meaningful way.

Seth Mattison:
Once upon a time, there were a group of people who had been in the world of work for at least 15 years or more. And when we think about this group of people, it's pretty safe to say that they grew up in a very different world than today's youth, all right? They grew up in, if you've been in the world of work for 15 years or more, it's pretty safe to say you came of age in a world based off of much more of a, dare I say, military-esque type modeled view of the world, right? Much more top down. Command and control. A world where, whether it was your mother or your father or the boss, if they said, "Jump," you said?

Speaker 2:
How high?

Seth Mattison:
Boom. See how good, some of you maybe grew up in this world, you immediately knew the answer to that question. And let's be honest, what was the punctuation following that remark? Was it a question mark or was it a period?

Speaker 2:
Exclamation mark.

Seth Mattison:
Exclamation mark, right? And you learned to respond accordingly. In fact, you were rewarded for responding accordingly. And I think if we had an image or a symbol that could represent this world, that almost universally we've come of age in, because images are so impactful. What's the old saying? A picture is worth a?

Speaker 2:
Thousand words.

Seth Mattison:
A picture's worth a thousand words. That's right. So, if I could surmise this world in one image, one symbol, that universally you came of age in, I think it would look something like this. What does that look like to you?

Speaker 2:
Org chart.

Seth Mattison:
Oh my gosh, could you say that any more excitedly? It's org chart. Org chart. It absolutely could be. What else could it be? What else could that represent? Family tree, right? Org chart, family tree, some sort of a hierarchical structure, right? These are very often the responses I get from my leadership groups, some sort of a hierarchical structure. But what's been so interesting in our research around the meaning and the implications of this image, is it turns out it represents so much more than just an org chart. It is this collection of rules and values and expectations. It is quite literally a view of the world. Bless you. And it's so ingrained, it's so baked into our very DNA that we don't even realize it's there, right? It shows up in unexpected places in our life. It shows up almost unconsciously in our language.

Seth Mattison:
When we say things like, and I just saw this happen, there were a couple of people, I was at a conference, they were walking through the halls at break, and one of them said to the other as they were passing by one of the meeting rooms, she said, "Oh, the higher ups have a meeting in that room." I'm walking behind, "The higher ups. The higher ups have a meeting in that room." Or we'll say things like, "When we come back from this conference, we've got to remember to do what?" Communicate that information where? Down to the troops. Or we'll give somebody a compliment, "She's so incredible, she really worked her way up, didn't she?" Right? We live in this world, but it's not just our organizations, our companies, historically this has been society for us. This has been our government institutions, our religious institutions, our higher education institutions, your nonprofits, and inside this world we've discovered there's a whole list of what I'll call unwritten rules we've all agreed to play by. Whole list of unwritten rules. And somewhere along the lines you got taught these rules.

Seth Mattison:
In fact, I want you to think back in your mind to your very first career job. Very first career job coming out of university, coming out of high school, right into work, and I want you to think about what was one unwritten rule that you learned about how to navigate in this environment. Unwritten rules of the hierarchy. And these unwritten rules, these stories, fall under a couple of categories that people share in. One of the categories that these unwritten rules typically fall under is what I call, the recipe for success in this world. The recipe for success. And usually the stories go a little something like this, you want to be successful in this world? You want to get ahead? Let me tell you something, here's how it works. You start on the bottom, you keep your head down, you keep your mouth shut, you work your tail off, and eventually if you are lucky, you will ascend up this world.

Seth Mattison:
But you don't come flying in on the top and you don't take any shortcuts. Keep your head down in your mouth shut, period, end of story. Good things will happen. Recipe for success. There's also the rules around the fact that this is a world of scarcity. Limited slots to move up, limited resources. You got to compete for him. You want those dollars? You got to compete. You want that slot? You got to compete for it. Doggy dog. I had a baby boomer say to me recently, he's, "Listen, there were two rules I learned early on about how to be successful in this world. Two rules." I sit forward, hadn't had anybody position it to me that way before. Get my pen out, I'm ready. He's, "Rule number one, don't tell anyone what you know."

Seth Mattison:
Okay, so I'm trying to play it cool like I know what he's talking about, so it's, "Oh yeah, cool. Totally. I know that one, don't tell anyone what you know." In my mind I'm, "What the hell? Don't tell anyone what you know?" Help me understand this please. How is this a rule? What does that mean, to be successful, don't tell anyone what you know? What is that about?

Speaker 2:
Power.

Speaker 3:
Control.

Seth Mattison:
I'm hearing power and control.

Speaker 4:
Don't share.

Seth Mattison:

Don't share. And why not share? And what do you mean power?
Speaker 3:
Knowledge is power.

Seth Mattison:
Knowledge is power. Because if you have it and they don't, what does that make you?

Speaker 5:
Indispensable.

Seth Mattison:
Indispensable. You're safe. You're secure. It gives you power. People have to seek you out. So fascinating, because if you think about who has the most power today, who has the most influence today? What do they do with their information? They're giving it away. The person who shares the most information has the most power today. Totally flipped. So, this was a whole new world for me. Don't tell anyone what you know. Fascinating. But he said there's two rules. So, there's one more. I'm walking right into it, "Okay, cool. So, what's rule number two?" What do you think he said? "I can't tell you." There's also the unwritten rules of the fact that the top and the bottom don't mix, rules around the flow of information. Which direction does information flow? Down.

Seth Mattison:
And the most common unwritten rule falls under the category of respecting the chain of command, paying attention to the hierarchy, right? If I had a dollar for every time I heard the unwritten rule, a story from someone who said, "First rule I learned," wasn't written down anywhere, "was do not go above your boss's head." How many of you learned that rule? Please raise your hands, do not go above your boss's head. Thank you very much. Even if you're not raising your hands, we know you're lying, you learned this rule, everyone did. I'm speaking at a conference in the distribution space last summer, person doing my intro his name's Marty. We've got 500 senior leaders in the room, and he gets up there and he's, his summer interns are in for the summer, right? How many of you have a summer intern who's in for the summer right now? A few of you. Cool.

Seth Mattison:
So, it's crazy. It's hectic. Maybe it's frustrating and annoying, but it's also drives some energy into the room, right? And so, he's fired up, but he says to the room, he's, "Y'all wouldn't believe it," he's, "I've got these 20-year-olds flying around my place right now. They come rolling right into my office and ask me to have coffee and hang out." It was like someone told the room that there's civilization on Mars today, they're just, "What?" So, I come up after Marty gets off and I say to the room, I'm, "Just out of curiosity, how many of you at that age would have just rolled into the CEO's and asked to have coffee?" Dude in the back of the room is, "I wouldn't do that now, man. I wouldn't do that now. I'm definitely afraid of the man, he's the same age as me, I wouldn't do that now."

Seth Mattison:
It became so apparent to me that it's, there's this whole world and this whole language, you all know both boomers and X's, it's like 15 years kind of seems to be the mark of when you really adopt the language. It's almost as if I had asked you to visualize your organization, who you report to, who reports to you, even if you're small and pretty flat, I could almost pull this image out of your head. Now when we do research focus groups, interviews, with people under the age of 30 and definitely under the age of 15, which just out of curiosity, how many of you have children under the age of 15? Children under the age of 30? Almost everybody. But under 15? The Regeneration, some people call them Generation Z, in essence you have a working laboratory of what's coming next, right? That's plain and simple. So, the question everyone wants to know is, "Should we be excited or totally freaked out?" Maybe a little bit of both? You've got a reference point.

Seth Mattison:
So, when we talk to these groups and we say, "Describe to us your world, if you're working your organization, who you report to, who reports to you, or the world at large." If I could pull this image out of their head that they're describing and throw it on the screen for you, it would look like this. They see a network, they see an interconnected web of people and talent, ideas and information. They see what is quite literally a physical manifestation of the virtual world of the web they've come of age in, just projected into the real world, right? It's chaotic and disruptive, and most importantly, it's playing by an entirely different set of unwritten rules. They're bringing them with them. Now, when we discovered this, the first thing we wanted to dig in and find out around the research, was what's influenced this factor?

Seth Mattison:
What we're finding, and this bleeds in from the millennial generation into that next generation, the Regeneration or Gen Z, starting in the 1980's the family org chart was flattened. All right? Baby boomers and Generation X's set out to reinvent the parent-child relationship. Boomers and X's think differently about parenting. I'm going to give you a similarity between parenting styles and this is what they say, that almost universally they will say when they talk about their own parents, "You know what? I loved or love my traditionalist parents," if they're still with us or if they passed away, "loved them, but let me try something, it was a, my way or the highway, type world with that man or that woman. There was never a debate. There was never a discussion. We got thrown in the back of the station wagon and taken wherever that dude wanted to go. Period. End of story."

Seth Mattison:
And I just knew that when I had children, that at a minimum I wanted it to be a discussion. We're going to work through things together as a family. The end of the day, I still have the final say, most of the time, but we're going to do it together. Totally cool, works, little did you know you'd have a ripple effect felt 20, 30 years later in the world of work. Because fast forward, what happens? If I came home late, if I got in trouble, much like my peers, I got in trouble, what happened? Well, let me tell you what didn't happen, I didn't go back and cut a switch or run from my mother with a wooden spoon, pulled up a seat around the kitchen table, we discussed, we took a vote, and then we decided together as a family as to how to how I should be punished. I grew up in a democracy, how many of you grew up in a dictatorship? Raise your hands. All right. Penalties got handed down swift and quick. Period. End of story.

Seth Mattison:
We're discussing this fast forward a little bit farther, you've got a whole generation of youth that have been the chief technology officer in their homes since they were 12 years old. How many of you have a CTO in your house right now and it is not you, or at least one on speed dial, right? You've got them out of the house. And we laugh about it and we joke because it's funny and it's interesting, but we step back and we look at, what are the implications of this? We find we've got a whole generation of youth that have been teaching the adults in their lives how to do things from a very early age, but that's very counterintuitive the world. Most of you came of age in where information, wisdom, and knowledge was bestowed down from the person with a few more gray hairs, a few more years of experience. You didn't show up in your mentoring relationships thinking, how many of you had a mentor growing up, coming of age? Can you see that person? Can you think about that person?

Seth Mattison:
When you sat down with them did you think to yourself, "I'm going to teach this person a whole bunch of stuff"? No, you showed up, you kept your mouth shut, you tried to learn everything you could. Now they're pulling into that saying, "I'm going to teach you some stuff, you're going to teach me some stuff. It's going to be an exchange of information." Now sometimes people will say, "Really, Seth, are you trying to say youth are teaching adults how to do everything today?" Please give me a break, no, I'm not going to be that facetious as to say that. But when youth, and you know this with your own children and the talent you see coming into your firms, when they have such an innate understanding around one of the most disruptive elements in society today, technology, they show up and view authority in a very different light. They now see an authority figure as peers. That's a transformational shift.

Seth Mattison:
40 figures are peers, both in the marketplace and in the world of work. So, you take the flattening of the family org chart and then secondarily, and this is maybe a little bit more obvious, but I think we've stopped being amazed by the implications, is the unlocking of the internet and the unleashing of mobile and digital technologies, right? The fact that they are quite literally living in the network, right? And sometimes people will say, "Well, aren't we all living in that world Seth?" You are, but you are a digital immigrant to this new connected world, which is really just a fancy way for marketers to say, what? You remember life before the internet. How many of you can remember life before the internet? Okay, can we, first of all, just agree with a horrible place that was, right? What a horrible dark place. Never want to go back. That question, I asked that question a couple of weeks ago. There's a 25-year-old, she was probably 25, sitting right there and I said, "How many remembers life before the internet?" And she raises her hand and she says, "I remember dial up."

Seth Mattison:
You could hear the collective grown in the room, right? As everyone's realizing where you were in your life when dial up was around, she can remember that far back. So, flattening of the family org chart, the unleashing of the internet and mobile digital technologies, unleashes the world of the network. Now the network has a different set of unwritten rules compared to the world of the hierarchy. The first, it's ushering in a period of unprecedented access, specifically, access to information, right? There are no more secrets today, right? The veil has been lifted, not only on just general information in the marketplace, but decisions that are made at the highest levels of the societal hierarchy. They have ushered in a period of elevated expectations for truth and transparency. I talked to so many people who say, "You know what? I love my company, I love where I work, but I don't have a freaking clue what's going on around there," right? Every decision is made behind closed doors, every conversation on the phone as a whisper, it's unacceptable. They have unparalleled access to information in this world.

Seth Mattison:
Secondarily, it's brought in a period of exponential reach. Today, anyone, anywhere in the world can put forth an idea that reaches the masses. Doesn't matter your age, doesn't matter your credential, doesn't matter your title, anybody can get into the game, the barriers have been lowered. And finally, it's brought in a period of hyper-immediacy, instantaneous, so you can go from unknown to worldwide fame in less than 24 hours, for both good reasons and for bad, right? The echo chamber kicks in, it's instantaneous. So, you've got access, you've got reach, and you've got hyper-immediacy. That's totally opposite to the world of the hierarchy, where things take time, and most of the time you're on a need-to-know basis of information. And I have plenty of leaders who say, "You know what? People didn't even know my name for the first five years I worked there, let alone ask for my opinion or asked me to bring ideas forward."

Seth Mattison:
And we see how fast they're able to leverage this technology to get into the game. They're launching million-dollar and billion-dollar ideas in disruptive technology in every single space, and landing on the cover of every single business publication rolling out today. And it's not that these generations of youth are inherently more intelligent or more savvy, it's that they've got the tools and the access. Because this is interesting to me, you just look at the cover, look at these covers, right? And I want you to think back to when you started in your career. How many people your age did you see on the cover of a business publication? I mean I think about Alan when he was up there, it's when he started out as an engineer at Boeing, it's, who was on the cover of the business publications? I'll say it for you because I know what you're thinking, old white dudes. It's old white dudes, that's who was on the cover, that's it, right?

Seth Mattison:
How many of you have teenage daughters? All right, teenage daughters, this is who they're looking at, this is who they're seeing what's possible. If she can do this, this is Bethany Mota, she's 19 years old. YouTube channel generates between three quarters of a million and a million dollars plus annual revenue, wouldn't you like to have access to that? They actually do have some money, and they're seeing if she can do that I could surely show up in your firm and influence one policy, one procedure. The challenge is they don't always know how to deliver those ideas, right? They show up and they're looking at your policy or that technology and they're like, "This looks like you've been doing this since 1979. Can we bring something to the table?" And if there was a thought bubble over your head in that moment it would say, "You little punk." You're damn right that's been in place since 1979 and we have perfected it since then, but you wouldn't have a clue, you weren't even a glimmer in your father's eye at that time."

Seth Mattison:
It doesn't matter if it would've saved you money, made your money; the idea is not heard. It's the realities of the world of the network. Now this is what I find so fascinating, I get to do about 70 events like this a year and I don't say that to brag or sound important, I tell you that just to give you some perspective of doing that many events allows me to see what's everyone talking about, who are the speakers that are coming in and what are they talking about? And what I'm finding is that this is the world that everyone loves to talk about. This is the world that magazines love to write articles about, that futurists love to come and talk about, right? This is the world where leaders are totally transparent. It's fluid, it's flexible, we're empowered with new mobile technologies, career paths can go in any direction, you can work from anywhere at any time, on and on and on and on and on.

Seth Mattison:
But what I believe is that we are creating a false narrative about the reality of work in every industry. Because the truth is, what we're failing to acknowledge, what we're failing to address, is the fact that the structures, and more importantly, the deeply embedded culture of the hierarchy still exists in our world today. And these two worlds are at battle right now, and most of us are not consciously aware of it. We're living in a half changed world right now and I have not met a single leader, a single organization across a single industry, that is not trying to define and determine what this transformation means for them, that's not feeling the tension that exists between these two worlds. Because the truth is gang, when we look at these, these images represent so much more than just the actual structure of our organizations, they represent all of the unwritten rules that shape our culture. It's policy, it's procedure, it's dues pain, it's etiquette, communication, all baked into these images.

Seth Mattison:
And now every single one of us is deciding and determining where we are in this and how we move forward. Because every leader I work with says, "You know what? I know we're operating somewhere in between this, but for a fact, I know our marketplace is responding and behaving like the image on the right. And the workforce that's coming in, who we need to attract to be able to set our firms up for the future, are living and breathing in this world. How do I do it?" Or I'll have leaders say, "Are you trying to say Seth, that this is some sort of, out with the old in with the new? Are you trying to say that the world of the hierarchy is going to be blown up and the network is going to take over? One is bad, one is," absolutely not. Neither one of these is better or worse, but they both exist.

Seth Mattison:
And I think for our collective generations, this is going to be one of our defining moments, because we are coming out of 150 years of industrial revolution built on the back of that model all that's colliding headlong with the world of the network. And what we have found in our research is that there are a series of what I call, tension points. Specific tension points that exist between these two worlds, and they all influence and play out everything from, again, loyalty, communication, where and when work happens, career paths, et cetera, et cetera, knowledge sharing. But we've been able to determine, a consulting firm we've partnered with that, in order to cross the abyss, there's a number of factors that play out. But there is one mindset, that if it exists in the culture is a key determination that you will not be able to bridge the abyss between these two worlds. One mindset. If it exists, you won't be able to do it. And that is a mindset that says, "I don't believe that they might know a better way."

Seth Mattison:
If you have a leadership ethos, a leadership mindset that exists in your culture that says, "I do not believe that they might know a better way," you won't be able to cross it. And that's not just about senior leaders having that mindset, that is also about new talent that shows up in the world of the network and looks to the image on the left and says, "I don't believe that they might know a better way because you don't have the latest technology, you don't have the latest iPhone six plus." We have to show up just like how I was talking about yesterday, I create a culture where people are willing to bring their questions, to question everything, to say, "Maybe we don't have it all figured out." To move past the idea that, "Don't tell anyone what you know. Don't tell anyone what you know." How do you solve the problems? How do you get past the idea that people don't bring their questions, they don't bring their problems unless they have a solution. Then we don't... everybody's working on everything in secret.

Seth Mattison:
The only way I know how we're going to be able to bridge this gap is we've got to be able to pull forward the best of both of these worlds and trade a leadership ethos where leaders no longer see themselves leading from the top of the chart, but instead from the center of your network. The center of your network, where whether it is 5 people, 500 people or 5,000 people, leaders no longer see themselves as kings and queens leading from a kingdom, but instead from the center of the network. Because now you have the ability to communicate and connect with every single person in your firm, and more importantly they have access to be able to communicate and connect with you. This is where your customer is going to live as well.

Seth Mattison:
But we cannot get there until we step forward and are brave enough to let go of some of the unwritten rules that we are carrying with us from the world of the hierarchy, determining what we want to keep and pull forward, and what we're willing to embrace in the new world. It can't be an, out with the old in with the new. But this will be the future, and if you can get there, if you can find it, it'll dominate your space. I wish you the best of luck and I'll help in any way I can along the way. Godspeed. Thanks for a great morning everybody. Thank you.

Seth Mattison of FutureSight Labs delivers a 20 minute seminar on his observations of trends in leadership and organizational structure. He explains how firms across all industries are experiencing a transformational shift from traditional workplace values to incorporate more contemporary views and approaches.

Key Points

Hierarchy and information hoarding—the old model

  • Unwritten rules: information flows down, it's a world of scarcity, you must compete, start at the bottom and work your way up.
  • Hierarchy can be represented as an organizational chart or family tree.
  • This structure has permeated our society, its institutions, even its language.

Networks and information sharing—the new model

  • Unwritten rules: access and immediacy, the organizational chart has flattened—parents and leaders have become peers.
  • Best illustrated as a network, life imitates the web.

Letting go of the rules—creating a functional culture

  • Develop a culture where leaders no longer see themselves leading from the top of the chart but instead from the center.
  • Leaders who balance the best of both worlds will get ahead.
Show Social Media
On
Show
Hide
Include in Schwab Investing Insights email alerts
Yes
1115-A8T3