Seeing Beyond Arm’s Length
If you are, like me, a Baby Boomer or of Generation X, you’ll recall the public service announcement, “cross at the green, not in between”. And your parents and early schooling would have ingrained the message, “Look both ways before you cross the street.” While you were looking both ways, have you ever noticed a Millennial crossing a busy street? How they are often not looking at anything beyond the forward reach of their arm (which sometimes cradles an iPhone) or the slight side-eye reach of a virtual phone (which is the companion they are speaking with)? Farther than their forward and slight side arm’s reach is beyond their scope: in back and to the sides are not of significance. Their attention is immediate, grounded in the now, and in arm’s length. It is not on moving vehicles, lights, other people. Think of this as their “safe zone.”
Why is There a Zone?
This zone developed partially by technology: a reliance on Google to answer immediate questions, Amazon and Grubhub to deliver physical needs quickly, Netflix to stream entertainment in one touch, dating via instant swipe, and selfies to record where they are now. This is how their world has developed, been reinforced and rewarded in present tense and in their hand.
That’s just the smart phone piece and dependence. Helicopter parents afraid to have their children make potentially poor decisions, random school violence, climate change’s natural disasters, an education system that focuses on memorization and test taking, reinforce the need for a limiting “safe zone”. They want to feel there is some place where they feel safe, where they have control. Can you blame them?
How Does This Zone Get in the Way?
If you’ve ever experienced one of my presentations on how Millennials view their world, you’ve already heard what I’m talking about. If you have tried to motivate a young professional on your team to pivot away from their phone, or an immediate task, and be more engaged in a broader scope, you “get” the restrictive nature of the zone.
I’ve written previously about Millennial’s preference for living in the now in how they rent furniture, clothing, small appliances, homes. https://susangoldbergleadership.com/understanding-millennials-options-to-live-now/. If as a parent, teacher, boss you allow them to stay in their comfort zone, Millennials will not grow, challenge themselves, connect the dots of their work, and cannot succeed professionally and personally. They won’t succeed as the next generation of leadership on your team or at your organization.
How to Stretch the Safe Zone?
If you treat young professionals as direct reports who can only deliver on specific detailed tasks, they will never get beyond those tasks nor from stealing as much time as possible to glance at their phone. They’ll be bored and detached. That doesn’t help anyone.
However, getting to my last blog on how everyone loves to learn https://susangoldbergleadership.com/when-everybody-loves-to-learn/, if you engage younger talent in conversations and inspire them to ask questions, you allow them to discover the work more holistically and promote their curiosity. If you put things in perspective, explaining how the task/project affects and who it affects to the end result, they have a better sense of their impact to the project and organization.
Acknowledging them by consistently asking for their opinions without judging for their response allows them to see they work in an open enough environment for them to take small risks. Encouraging and trusting emerging leaders to show initiative and then praising the example regardless of the outcome, as further encouragement will motivate them to stretch. Giving them exposure as a team member to more senior aspects of the business that they might not yet qualified to be part of, but can aspire to, sends a message that you trust them and want them to stay. It also sends a message that you can see them in a senior role at your organization.
Everyone has their safe zone. Millennials have tighter zones than other generations for many reasons. If you allow the young talent in your projects, staff and organization to stretch beyond that space, you’ll be rewarded by their increased participation, productivity and personal growth. You’ll begin to have a view of the well-rounded and prepared leaders they will become. The safe zone will expand beyond the reach of their phone.
If you’re thinking developing young talent is important but are too busy to make a plan – let alone put it into action, I’ll work with you to get it done. If scheduling a one-time workshop is your answer to leadership training but your young talent is still showing signs of frustration, a workshop is not the answer. Developing emerging leadership is my life’s zest. Let’s work on supporting emerging talent and retaining them together. Contact me at Susan@SusanGoldbergLeadership.com