Have you read Daniel Burrus’ book "Flash Foresight"? It is a fantastic study of the concept of radical, world-changing ideas. Burrus doesn’t just list the ideas or new gadgets; he helps us understand the thought processes of these innovators and to think about life in a different way. His newsletter is equally motivating as his books.
There is a lot of gloom in the news, and when a new gadget promises to make our lives better, it’s a quick transition for some folks to feel that everything will be OK because of their new toys. No matter how bad we think the economy is, people still wait in line to buy new gadgets. There must be something to this.
The fact that the human mind continues to invent new possibilities is inspiring. For example, we don’t have an energy crisis at all, Burrus said, we just need to learn how to tap the many sources out there. And because of smartphones, whole generations of developing countries are coming into the 21st century having skipped right over the 20th: They never had cable TV, but TV broadcasts on those little phones because of satellites and wireless technology. Technology can take us to new heights of human understanding and create health and prosperity where bulldozers and roads can’t begin to reach.
So what’s wrong with a little speed?
Even with Gens Y and Z, speed can be your downfall. No matter how far we’ve come into the future with the toys, the needle on the human psyche hasn’t moved all that much.
When you work with large numbers of people and have seen such a wide variety of perspectives, this idea of the human psyche comes into very clear focus. Problems haven’t changed much over the last 30 years, although you hear about the problems faster via Twitter. What people want, how they react, the pain they feel and the joys they seek remain the same.
Maybe Abraham Maslow had it right ("A Theory of Human Motivation," 1943). Perhaps, so did Spencer Johnson ("Who Moved My Cheese?," 1998) and Daniel Burrus, too. Everything we need is here, we just have to strive to find it and adapt.
Maslow’s hierarchy states that until one level of human need is met, it is very difficult for someone to move to the next level. Apply this to the speed of technology versus the inherent deliberateness of leadership.
Much has been written about how quickly we’ve moved into the digital age. Fax machines, which only came out in the 1980s for general use, are nearly obsolete. No matter how quickly the machines change, you will notice how difficult it is for some people to adopt that technology. There are few people in the U.S. who would buy a smartphone but are still worried about food or shelter, the basics in Maslow’s pyramid of needs. Maybe we have already self-actualized with our iPhone 2.0 and just don’t feel the 5.0 will make enough difference to have to adapt to it.
We have a tendency to think the younger generation is quicker to adapt. Ask an 18-year-old about Facebook. Many use Google+ or something different, because they want their own methods. "Facebook is for my mom," one Gen Z said to me. So are they really quicker to adapt to new technology, or are they just making up new things because they want their own version? Are they really changing, or will they also resist moving away to a new platform too, when they get a bit more gray hair on their heads?
How does this affect your leadership style? Why should this matter? Studying these types of trends helps us understand the root of human behavior. Because human motivation hasn’t changed enough that you can ignore the foundation of leadership, which is to know each person well enough to know what will help them succeed, and what to do to help the group you are leading reach your common goal.
Watch the patterns and study the trends. Anything that helps us gain insight into what will motivate the team is good for the leaders. You could find thousands of texts in the bookstore, online or brick and mortar, about leadership and how to be a good leader. Wikipedia has scores of leadership references about everything from charismatic authority to crowd psychology to theories including the leadership behaviors in chimps. But in the end, leadership is not as much about your own behavior as it is about your understanding of human nature and the people that are in your care. Our focus of study as leaders can’t continue to be on ourselves.
We can get caught up in the need for speed and forget the people. Leadership is an area where we have hundreds of years of human behavioral sciences to help us do the right thing more often. It’s comforting that in this area we can rely on that long history, because the nature of humans isn’t moving at the speed of light like everything else. Study a little, and learn from the long study of our emotional state of mind. You’ll benefit from some old-school documentation that you can probably look up right there in the palm of your hand on your smartphone.
In the areas of cultural diversity, generational diversity, technological advancements and even human resources law, we are not so fortunate. But in the case of one human to another, helping each other succeed, we can take a moment to think, to breathe and to carefully consider our actions based on tried and true concepts.
The recommendation is not to ignore the technology, or to avoid change. The idea is to study the concepts of building relationships with your employees the same way you do for finding and keeping customers. Learn more about the concept of listening more than you talk, taking an interest and learning what level within the Maslow pyramid your employee fits. Consider analyzing your employees’ talents and passions, and take time to figure out how to maximize their strengths and manage the weaknesses.
These aren’t new ideas, but that is the whole point. Studying the "old" basics of human nature, psychology and sociology are the best ways to understand how to lead, inspire and bring out the best in the people around you.