Lead in turbulent times. The value of experience. Second part – Dismantling some stereotypes (Chapter 1)

Stereotype: illogical belief that limits creativity and that can only be changed through personal reasoning on that topic.

During the following lines, I am going to try to dismantle certain stereotypes or cliches that exist in the popular imagination about the different behavior or the different attitude that experienced leaders have with regard young people regarding the situation in companies. I will specifically refer to three types of topics:

  1. The experienced leader represents the past, while the young one represents the future. In other words, when there is a future project with a long term idea, it is better to choose someone with years ahead than someone whose future perspective in years is lower than the past. This is false. And it is a mistake.

  2. The accelerated changes that happen in our environment demand young leaders who adapt to changing circumstances, because experienced leaders, we do not, or we do it too slowly for our times. This is false. And it is a mistake.

  3. Experienced leaders are expensive compared to how cheap young people are. These types of statements are made without understanding that the wage cost is only a part of the overall cost of a person, and also only one side of the equation. Someone is expensive or cheap based on what they give in return or offer, not on the absolute value of its payroll. Therefore, in general, this statement is false. And, again, a mistake.

In this chapter we will deal with the first point. I start with my argumentation.

Why suggesting that a young profile is more suitable for a future project than a more veteran one is false and also a mistake?

Those who think that age is a handicap from a physical-biological or mental point of view are wrong. And much more, those who argue that for medium-long-term projects, a young person has greater guarantees of permanence in the organization, fidelity and loyalty to it, etc., than an older person. In addition to the fact that any medical study refutes this biological argument (every day, our longevity is greater and of better quality), statistically it is proven that at this moment, there is not a single leader who is in a position to guarantee permanence in projects beyond a reasonable time of 5 to 7 years. Virtually no one. And the reasons are several:

  • The once valued loyalty to the company has not existed for a long time, at least in the industrial sector.

    • Neither in Spain nor in Europe (perhaps slightly with the exception of the United Kingdom, where labor regulations are much less rigid) do we have the “mercenary” spirit, if the word is allowed, that exists in the USA, where people can change job even more than once a year, for reasons that are unthinkable here: for example, it happened to me in a factory in the USA that an operator resigned to me, because, working 50 hours a week, the competition offered him 60. And the reason as simple as the fact that he had more money in his pocket to spend it on Sunday in a mall.

    • But we also don’t have Japanese loyalty to companies, to the point that people are attached, almost indelibly, to the company they work for. As an example, I will say that I have witnessed in Japan being with people who had changed their surname and had put the one of their company.

    • We are, therefore, in the middle ground. We are loyal to the companies we work for, but we like to enjoy life, our spare time, family, etc. Our cultural and behavioral patterns make us have an intermediate behavior between the most liberal positions (the case of the USA), and the most protectionist (the case of Japan).

  • The reasons because of a person stays in an industrial company have changed significantly in companies:

    • In the past the reasons were more related to the solidity of the company, so that the main reasons for being in them could be some of the following ones:

      • The security of having a job in a reference company, or that at least transmits that security of permanence in time.

      • The remuneration.

      • The “paternalistic” concept of the company, as caretaker of its workers, with actions such as:

        • Company canteens.

        • Masters schools.

        • Prevalence in the jobs of the relatives of employees, so that the oldest companies are full of employees who are relatives with each other. This trend became the opposite in some companies (relationships were avoided) and now, surely, we are at an intermediate point, as it should be, where no one is hired because they are a relative of anyone, but their hiring is not avoided for that reason . The one is as unfair as the other.

        • Flag companies of some regions, where most of the employees belong to that council or region, even at the risk that their qualification is not by far the required for the needs of the company.

        • Other reasons.

    • Today, the reasons to be in a company are very different. The general culture, and a relevant fact, as it is the incorporation of women to work, which means a correction of a historical social imbalance (still of course, it is not enough), makes these reasons be such as:

      • Conciliation.

      • Enjoy free time.

      • Labor flexibility, more now with the advent of teleworking.

      • Training by the company.

      • Others.

  • Every time we work more by projects, and not by hours, or by tasks, or functions.

    • In the curriculum what has been achieved, the achievements, are valued more than the traditional functions of yesteryear. And once the project has been completed and the goals have been achieved, there must be another to replace it. And that does not always happen within the company itself, but the new project begins outside.

    • In light of the above, the figure of the Interim Manager is being institutionalized (in some countries more than in others, certainly, but with a consolidated progression throughout Europe), a figure that presents important characteristics of:

      • Quick adaptation to positions.

      • Focus on priorities.

      • Definition of objectives.

      • Orientation to results.

    • Mobility, ease of movement, encourages people to go where the project is, with relative independence from where it is located, in a very clear professional and demographic movement from rural areas that are left unpopulated to overcrowded urban centers.

      All of the above affects all workers, especially executives, regardless of their age. But it is no less true that except in the exceptional case of Interim Managers, where highly experienced profiles are sought, the movement occurs much more in young people in search of new opportunities and with more vital energy for geographical movements, than in more mature profiles, with a more settled life and with less desire for change and surprises.

      It is not true, therefore, that young executives guarantee greater permanence in projects and loyalty to companies than experienced leaders do. And besides being false, believing that is a mistake.

      Next chapter: Part three – Dismantling some stereotypes (chapter 2)