Wednesday, March 21, 2012

These Kids Today

Dear College/University Undergraduate:

Your generation sucks.  Or so I’ve been told.  You are self-centered, recognition-seeking, gadget-addicted, fame-loving, loyalty-free, entitled, unfocused, and brash.  On a good day.

Or so I’ve been told.

While you may still be in college, much of your generation is entering the workplace.  A recent article revealed that people believe you are flakes (it's an old term, you may need to Google it).  You like to hit the exit at 4:59:59 each day.  Work is something you do when you’re ready for a break from Twitter.

Our society once believed in you as a generation, but it seems like every article, piece of research, TV show, and old man with a pipe has turned against you.  I cannot remember the last thing I read or saw that said your work or lifestyle habits were good.

Generational warfare is nothing new, and now the cross-hairs are on you.  It’s your turn to be the recipient of the “these kids today” card.  Everyone thinks you have it easier than they did; everyone thinks you don’t know what real struggle is about; everyone thinks you are going to fail in the “real world.” 

You know what?  They said the same thing about my generation.  And my parents’ generation.  And their parents’ generation. 

To be honest - you sometimes make it very easy to target you.  It’s not as though you haven’t provided some ammunition. 

Too many of you read, retweet, and thereby support juvenile websites like Total Frat Move.  I see what they post, and what you then forward on, imagine your guffaws, and want to shout into the computer: “grow up for God’s sake!” 

I worry that it’s too easy for you to sacrifice what you believe in for a few laughs.

I worry that you are too concerned about image.  It’s okay to be want to be liked, and want to appear confident and strong.  However, I’m concerned that you are in love with the ideas of being a good person and living a life of integrity, but forget that it’s really your actions and behaviors that create these things.  I'd like you to trade in your awareness wristband for a shovel every once in a while.

But, you know what...you’re young and these things are probably natural for younger people.  I was certainly guilty of many of them.  You’re still trying to figure it all out (and frankly, so am I).

I wonder sometimes if the heat that a generation applies on the one that follows is really an expression of fear.  We are afraid of the challenges our world (or our piece of the world) is dealing with, and we realize that our generation has done little to address them.  And so, we lift the gigantic monkey off of our shoulders and place him on yours.  He's mean and angry.  You’re young and idealistic.  Clearly you are the generation that will save us!

Once you have expectations that high - it’s no wonder the criticisms soon follow.  You may be the “savior” generation, but for right now, all you can be is young, appropriately concerned about your own self-interests, and prone to the same mistakes we all have made.  And for some reason, we now lack the tolerance for it.  We instead channel our inner Clint Eastwood and mutter "these kids today" under our breath.

I hate to say it - but I feel like we’re already looking past your generation to the next one; the one that is presently preoccupied with matchbox cars and rainbow looms.  Maybe they are the ones who will bring about a renaissance of inventions and ideas that will make our world better.  Maybe they will finally be the ones to save our public schools.  Maybe they will be the ones who can lead our society towards more equality.

We need to solve chronic poverty.  We need to defend civil rights.  We need to extend a helping hand.  We need to learn to be neighborly again.  There are so many things we need to do, and it seems like people have already given up on your generation.  They feel you’ll be too busy updating your Facebook status to give a damn.

It's unfair, but you can prove 'em wrong.

What about fraternity life?  Which generation will actually stop hazing?  Which generation will stand up and say “ENOUGH” to the “isms” we deal with?  Will we ever see a generation that no longer tolerates the fraternity experience being defined by alcohol?  Who will finally solve the issues that have been plaguing Greek life for over a century?

I know many of you.  I worked with many of you.  I think you can do it.  It's your time, and it's our fault for looking past you.  Just yesterday, I read an article about a fraternity planning a “Civic Leadership” week.  And another who organized a campus-wide campaign to end the use of the word “retarded.”  That's powerful stuff.

But, you need to do more (we all do).   And you can.  This can be the start of an era that changes everything.  Then, when someone says "these kids today" you can reply “yeah, these kids today are getting it done.”

Let them keep complaining about you.  Fight back with acts of significance.

The great singer Tom Petty (you’re going to have to Google him also) once sang...”I won’t back down, no I won’t back down.  You could stand me up at the gates of hell, but I won’t back down.”  It's classic rock for you, but may I suggest that as your anthem.

There are lots of people out there who don’t want to believe in you.  Not me.  I still believe in these kids today.

Sincerely,

An Old Guy (who's going to be there with you)


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Three Cheers for the Gut

So, I've written about how great leaders should be disciplined to core purpose, and how they should control impulsiveness by slowing down.  It's only fair that I give credit to the other side of that coin: the gut.

No - not the gut that comes from excessive late night runs to Taco Bell or a daily DQ Blizzard.  Rather, the gut inside that gut - the one that comes with feelings, instinct, passion.  The one that told you she was the one you should walk over and talk to.  The one that told you that you should help that person pick up their scattered newspaper on that windy day in the park.  The one that told you NOT to go in there, or NOT to go that way.  The one that told you to go ahead and make that phone call - and then stayed with you as you heard those tense rings right before the person on the other end picked up.

The gut that tells you that you ought to just go for it.  Dammit.

In many sectors of our society today - including higher education - we have been actively downplaying the gut.  The trendy terms are “intended outcomes” and “R.O.I.”  We are being asked to measure everything...twice...BEFORE we even take the first step.  What do you intend?  How will you measure success?  What do you expect will happen?

What if you have no freaking clue, but it just feels like the right thing to do?

The intended outcomes movement is definitely not a bad thing.  I like how it helps us focus.  Most organizations have limited resources, and so they need to be appropriately discerning when it comes to how that money is being spent.

We’ve also lost trust in the gut.  Many years ago, it was easier to trust your instincts because you didn’t have much else to rely on.  Nowadays, we have countless stories of ideas that failed because they weren’t very well thought out.  We’ve seen big events crash and burn because critical details were missing.  We’ve seen organizations flame out because they didn’t take the time to figure out their true reason for being.

It’s been a rough few decades for the gut.

I actually really like the idea of intended outcomes.  It makes sense to “begin with the end in mind” as Stephen Covey taught us.  However, I have to admit something.  I think unintended outcomes are a whole lot more fun.  And frankly, more human.

I just think we should be careful not to take it too far.  We have a tendency to run quickly past the middle of the spectrum on our way to get to the very opposite end.  The gut hasn’t gone anywhere, and it can still be very wise.

By the way, research has shown that the best decisions are more often made with gut instincts versus conscious deliberation.  In addition, our motivation to pursue ideas is stronger when they come from the gut.

Maybe the gut - more than anything else - explains our founding and growth as fraternal organizations.  I don’t think our founders sat in a room and wrote out a list of intended outcomes, desired objectives, success measures, etc.   If they had to, they might have just said, “ah screw it, let’s just go read Latin, or something.”  I was reminded by a reader who wisely pointed out that for most organizations, the Ritual, creeds, constitutions, etc., came after they were already off and running.  They went with their gut.  They felt it was right to start an organization that brought men or women together.  Why?  We’ll never know their mindset, or should I say gut-set, at the time.  They took a step forward and expected good things would happen.

Sometime action begets clarity, and not the other way around.  While we should strive to “think first, act second”, the organizations we love so much may not be here today if that advice was followed.

It’s not to say they wasn’t some intellectual energy at play.  Early fraternities had other organizational models to borrow from.  There was a mix of mind and gut in the formula.

How do we resolve the humanness of gut instinct with the practicality of thoughtful planning?  A couple thoughts:
  • Results create more clarity than planning.  Go with your gut and then spend a lot of time evaluating what happened.
  • When your gut tells you to do something, test the idea with trusted peers.  Most likely this will tell you as much about the feasibility of the idea as a chalkboard full of outcomes and objectives.
So, let’s celebrate our evolution to more thoughtful planning.  It has definitely helped us.  However, let’s not sell ourselves out to that.  There is a time for planning, and a time to go with your gut.

So now what?  You have a fraternity to lead.  Or a campus.  Or a headquarters.  Or even a family.  It’s time to take that organization to a higher level.  What should you do?

Put away the pen and paper.  What does your gut say?