Coachology: How to wrestle leadership roles from boomers

Do you remember the Y2K hoopla? It was a five-year buildup of massively over-hiring COBOL programmers to take care of the impending doom of computers not being able to handle the new millennium. People worried the switch from 19xx to 20xx would crash computers far and wide and we wouldn’t be able to do essential things like charge stuff on credit cards.

The clock struck twelve. The century changed. Nothing happened.

I feel like the same thing is happening with the hoop-la over the baby boomer exodus. HELLO OUT THERE! Do the people who write the press releases about baby boomer retirement not understand that this is the most overleveraged generation in history and they will work till the day they die?

The new glass ceiling is the gray ceiling. And how do you get a leadership job from baby boomers when they won’t get out of the way? Act like them. Sure, this means working 60 hour weeks, because that’s what baby boomers do. But it also means exhibiting the leadership qualities that baby boomers look for when they promote people.

Jo Miller teaches people how to make the shift into corporate leadership positions. She conducted interviews with more than 1000 people and she identified the 12 skills that are most essential to have if you want to get promoted into leadership roles. Her top four are:

1. Exuding an aura of credibility and authority with your presence

2. Making your accomplishments visible, instead of working hard and hoping the work will speak for itself.

3. Becoming a person of influence

4. Building a powerful network with the key players in your organization.

To see how many of the 12 skills you have, you can take this test.

Jo focuses on coaching women because she says that men do these things more intuitively than women do. She teaches a seminar on how to get these skills at companies like Intel, she has an online course, and she does one-on-one coaching for people who want to develop these skills.

This week’s Coachology offer is 90 minutes with Jo. You’ll be a good match for her if you are in a corporate job and you want to get to the next level but you are sort of stuck. She can help you get unstuck. You should already have good emotional intelligence because that is what it’s going to take to make the changes Jo will recommend that you to make.

If you’re interested, send an email to me with three sentences saying why you want to work with Jo, and she’ll choose a winner. The deadline is Sunday, August 5.

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15 comments on “Coachology: How to wrestle leadership roles from boomers
  1. Sean says:

    You nailed it. In corporate America, Boomers aren't getting out of the way. They've reached the top and feel a sense of entitlement to their positions at the top of the ladder. What's more painful is that in many cases they no longer have the skills to compete with mid-level managers in their late-30s and 40s or even entry-level employees in their 20s. What happens is you reach the ceiling and can go nowhere else – €“ so you leave the company. I've experienced this several times in my career. Fortunately I'm in a position where (at age 39) I report directly to the president. My team is young and eager to grow as well. We do not have a Boomer VP or manager standing in the path of our growth and development. It makes it easier to come to work knowing you can see the ceiling, but you're not in danger of hitting your head on it each morning. I wish more companies would recognize that to make the most of your investment in human capital that you must give your employees the ability to grow, and more importantly breathe.

  2. Chuck Westbrook says:

    Sounds like a great offering for anyone interested in moving faster than average.

    As for Y2K, I’ll say this–it wasn’t entirely without incident.

    I recall hearing that the sheer number of people who flushed toilets and picked up the phone right after midnight to make sure everything still worked caused there to be problems with the water and the phones!

    Urban legend? Perhaps.

  3. Carmine Coyote says:

    Ah, would that it were so easy.

    The “boomer” approach is institutionalized in the very structures and cultures of many of today’s organizations: macho management, ridiculous working hours, obsession with shareholder value, short-termism, and wildly different rewards for those who “have” and those who “have not.”

    Is there a “gray ceiling?” Yes. Does it need to be moved out of the way? Indeed it does. I’m a boomer and even I can see that.

    Will it happen by building personal skills? You must be joking!

    It will happen when society wants it to happen or the last boomer boss dies.

    This needs systemic, organizational, and societal change driven by changing values. It’s no use loudly proclaiming the need for change, then living your life based on the very values the boomers have put in place: conspicuous wealth, rampant individualism, social conservatism, and unconcern for the rest of the world.

    Who will “promote you into leadership roles?” The boomers currently in charge. What criteria will they use? The ones that got them where they are. . . plus that evergreen one: “Never pick someone who is going to challenge your own position.”

    Organizations lag society, they don’t lead it. Change society’s values and they must – eventually – change too.

  4. Caitlin says:

    The reason why Y2K was relatively hassle free was BECAUSE they hired all those COBOL programmers and reprogrammed everything essential. Nothing happened because the work had already been done.

  5. Working Girl says:

    You know, you always say what workaholics boomers are and how focused they (we) are on money and I’m wondering if that’s really true. Are there any data out there supporting this?

    As I recall it, when they were twenty-somethings boomers were just as idealistic and unmaterialistic as are the twenty-somethings of today.

    Of course the folks who are in upper management are money-grubbing workaholics. Those are the kind of people who become top managers, no matter what generation they belong to!

    But will they (we) ever retire? That is another question. A lot of people simply don’t have the money and will need to work till they drop in their traces. Of course retirement is sort of a new thing, societally speaking.

    I may not have actually made a point here. These are just Friday musings. In any case, I don’t see the benefit to pitting generations against each other. Generations are sort of artificial constructs, really.

    * * * * * * *
    Hi, Working Girl. I think your issue here is that you want to know if I’m talking in generalizations, or is there really data to bak this up.
    There’s data. I link to it in the post — the that’s what they do link. It goes to a post i wrote about the new book by Sylvia Hewlett from Harvard Business Review Press and based on almost a decade of research.

    I hate the book becuase it is a baby boomer telling gen-xers how to be moms. But, besides that, it is based on tons of research about how baby boomers works, and concludes that baby boomers work much longer hours than gen-x becuase baby boomers like it. And baby boomers get their identity from work in a way that gen-xers don’t.

    Baby boomers are focused on money becuase they are focused on hierarchy and invdividual acheivement and the way they measure all this is with money and power. They have had to compete extremely hard for everything their whole lives because there were so many of them, so they are naturally competitive about power and money and they choose to work long hours to play this game. They like the game. They’re comfortable with it. This is all in Hewlett’s book. (Also, consultant Bruce Tulgan, at Rainmaker Thinking, has great reserach to support this stuff.)

    This is how I get to my generalizations. I mean, there are tons of reports that support the generalizations, but Hewlett’s book has it all in one place.

    –Penelope

  6. Working Girl says:

    Huh. The idea that we (baby boomers) are more competitive because there are so many of us—I hadn’t thought of this. It makes a kind of sense. It’s funny because I don’t feel competitive myself and I don’t sense this from people I’ve grown up with. Maybe it’s just my particular milieu (I hang around with losers?). Certainly the baby boomers in power (the top managers, the ones writing the biggie books) are competitive because that’s how you have to be to get to that point.

    Anyway, I am repeating myself.

    In general, I do feel strongly that people are pretty much the same generation after generation. Do you read any nineteenth century literature? I’ve read a lot of Dickens and Trollope and the thing that strikes me the most is how much these 200-years-ago people resemble you and me! Human nature is so utterly unchanged. It’s reassuring really. (And, in other ways, scary!)

    You know, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. There’s a reason it’s a saying.

  7. Almostgotit says:

    Sometimes it’s a good idea to get ideas from more than one book.

  8. Doug says:

    Reading this blog, you’d think everyone under 40 is working for themselves or changing jobs every 18 months. Why should we care then if baby boomers won’t move out of the way at some ancient corporation?

    * * * * * * * *
    This is a great question. People change jobs when there is no way to continue growing in the direction they want to be growing in their current job. Because corporate jobs are not generally geared toward personal growth but rather toward money and power, people hit a wall in their jobs every 18 months.

    But this doesn’t mean it’s what people want. Everyone, no matter what their age, would rather have a stable path to a life they want rather than a path of high risk and uncertainty. In fact, even entrepreneurs try everything they can to mitigate the risk they are taking:
    http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2007/04/23/you-dont-need-to-love-risk-taking-to-start-your-own-business/

    So, once we understand that everyone likes stability, it’s easy to see why people would like to figure out how to grow into another position at the same company than have to leave the company. Or even at another company. If you can figure out how to get into a leadership position in your chosen field, you will not have to change careers or start your own company in order to grow. People like stability. Deveoping yourself into a leader is a good path to stability for people who are already in corporate life and doing well.

    Penelope

  9. Jo Miller says:

    Carmine Coyote,

    I want women to know you CAN advance your career by building personal skills.

    For too many women, their strategy for getting promoted is to work hard, work harder, in the hopes that someone higher-up will notice their brilliance, and reward them for it. Which results in your reputation getting buried under a pile of work, i.e. burnout and frustration.

    One of the coaches on my team has had had 70% of her coachees negotiate a promotion in the last 11 months, by building the skills Penelope listed. Until the corporate workplace ‘rules of the game’ change, there are many ways women can proactively take charge of their own advancement.

  10. Peter Varhol says:

    As a boomer, I would say to someone seeking my leadership role, “Take it, it’s yours. But be careful of what you wish for.”

    It is much better to carve out a career path that is varied and interesting, rather than one whose denouement is a leadership role.

  11. Tom says:

    I’d like to add an observation about the boomer generation, THEY WILL NOT LET GO! It’s like they’re holding onto everything they have with an iron grip, I find that they are incredibly selfish.
    When you talk about advancement, being in the IT industry I find the best way to advance myself is two-fold:
    1) Get certified in the areas you currently work on at work. Example at my job I installed two computers with a particular type of software so that I could use it to help the company and help myself
    2) Don’t work for small companies – they’re great because many will let you “be your own boss”, but they stink because the only way you can go up is to change jobs.
    BTW I work in a company with the owner being male, myself being male, and one lawyer who is male, there are 30+ women, and that about does it for the entire company. I have a lot of “game”, I find that’s the best way to deal with working with 30+ women, they like me, they listen to my suggestions, and together we get a lot done. I have no problems with it and enjoy my job completely.

  12. L. Bates says:

    Wow – sometimes I feel squeezed – the Gen X’er in the middle between the boomers who won’t budge and the Gen Y’ers who are super amitious.

    The good news for you Gen Y’ers is that there are a heck of a lot less of us Gen X’ers than there are boomers OR Y’ers. If you wait a little bit, there will be no choice but to move up Y’ers, because of the sheer drop in volume when the boomers finally age out.

    Don’t forget, Y’ers, when you’re trying to help move them out, the boomers are your parents…

  13. Torchwood says:

    Yep, dunno about in America (USA)
    but in Britain and Europe they are already starting to tell people that they will be paying mortgages their ‘first’ mortgage for thirty five years or more, and that they’ll have to work into the seventies before they have made any significant pension contributions.

    High powered jobs come with good health and pension plans, relocation costs & incentives.

    Your average Joe is looking at buying a one room studio flat with a massive mortgage hoping that prices will continue to rise astronomically
    So that he can sell up and move out from his/her cell. But they haven’t quite stopped to figure out where they are going to move out to when property prices rise well above income increments

    OK so nothing to do with this post, except now more than ever single career women are looking for partners who can get them out of the trap they have fallen into. Mortgage to the hilt hoping you’ll get promotion and your income will rise, and that the property will leave you a sufficient remnant for a deposit on a decent home

    Who is driving this social engineering?
    Women putting careers before raising children, may be liberating for ‘successful’ women, but not so hot for women locked into a job they hate to pay the mortgage on a studio flat that grows more and more claustrophobic.

    And ladies there are not enough princess or bosses out there to get you all out of the trap.

    Of course if your family help you with the home purchase, or you inherit the family grand home or large house/flat in the City, the dream goes on.
    If you are not in this situation, maybe you’ve just been suckered into the unreachable dream.

    Sure success & independence are great (whether you are female or male) but modern society is making it impossible for your average Joe or Jabe to get on the husing ladder without a partner (of whichever sex). C’est la vie.

    If you are competitive and on your way up, I can’t give better advice than Jo Miller, certainly better advice than stomping on toes or stabbing work colleagues in the back to get ahead

  14. mike says:

    Interesting that you deleted the post I left yesterday….

  15. mark says:

    Mike,
    she deleted mine too… all she wants to hear is what feeds her ego.

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