After conducting MH&L's Editorial Advisory Board Roundtable recently, I came away with mixed feelings about the future of logistics leadership. First, we all agreed that it's getting harder to draw talent to careers in logistics. Second, the talent that is drawn to this field doesn't tend to stay long. They either use their position as a stepping stone to another position in their company or as an escape hatch to another company—sometimes a competitor.
One of our advisory board members feels this is a generational thing. Al Will, a retired Marine colonel, said he sees some of the major characteristics of Gen Y as character deficiencies rather than leadership traits. He sees some of these traits clinging on stubbornly inside military personnel leaving active military service and entering civilian life.
“If you study the characteristics of Generation Y you find some real shortfalls in performance which are detrimental to manufacturing and logistics,” Will said. “Specifically, they don't understand cause and effect, everyone is their peer, happiness is guaranteed, work your own hours, poor communications and personal skills and a poor sense of teamwork.”
I'll add here that Will still believes military life can play a major role in countering these kinds of narcissistic attitudes, but they are tough traits to exorcise once ingrained.
“The military takes these young people, and for the most part, instills the opposite,” Will concluded. “The military is not profit/loss oriented and will spend whatever it takes to protect its personnel so there is still some â€˜culture training' required. The basic clay is there 95% of the time.”
Will's attitude about Gen Y is reflected in a Pew Research study that found baby boomers like him and me—born between 1946 and 1964—cite work ethic, respectfulness, and morals as their defining qualities, while Gen Y chooses technology, music, pop culture, and liberal leanings—followed by superior intelligence and clothing as their defining qualities.
But there are some who would argue with Al Will, saying that Gen Y narcissism is actually conducive to strong leadership. A Wall Street Journal article quoted Shirley Engelmeier, a diversity consultant who advises Fortune 1000 companies on employee engagement, as saying that Gen Y's impatience with the status quo shows an ability to question the way things have always been done and devise new ways of doing business.
When I read that I figured she was just a Gen Y'er at heart, if not in age. But I don't believe that of Chip Scholz, an executive coach, author, speaker, facilitator and entrepreneur I've been following on LinkedIn. He blogged recently that we're living in an era of continuous invention and experimentation, and this requires a new kind of leadership.
“I think it takes strong, visionary leaders to unleash the power of emerging technologies, turn ideas into practical tools everyone can use, and change the way we live and do business,” he writes. “Conservative leadership, focusing on what works now, can negatively impact the technological and social advances required over the next 20 years — particularly in emerging fields like nanotechnology, genomics and gene therapy, robotics, artificial intelligence, biomedicine, bioengineered food, environment, energy and health care.”
OK, I'll buy that, Chip. But trying to attract one of those types to a leadership role in the fields of material handling and logistics may take some innovative thinking on the part of the older generation they would replace. It may start with actually applying some of those technologies mentioned above. World class companies are already applying robotics, artificial intelligence and alternative power sources to make their supply chains more competitive. MH&L has been writing about some of them. Below are links to a few of those articles. Why not share them with the next Gen Y'er who comes through your door? If it happens to be your son or daughter, all the better. Your footsteps are worth following.