Thought Leadership Blog

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Start them Young to Help them Succeed in the Workplace

The key to assessing motivation and predicting results of employees is to pinpoint information they may not even know of themselves.  How do we do this?  Carefully crafted investigations through behavior based assessment and interviewing. Why do we do this?  Work ethic is detectable, complex and begins early. While successful organizational development depends upon the creating and sustaining of extrinsic (situational) motivation, an individual’s intrinsic (from within) motivation can be very difficult to change and requires an entirely different approach. 


Work ethic is a core fundamental unique to every individual.  It is developed over our lifetime and benefits from the earliest start possible.  It begins with reaching for the infant toy rather than having that toy placed in your hand.  It stems from inspiration… inspiration through need (sometimes desperation) and requires the belief set that work will influence results.  Those too coddled fail to develop the need.  Those not exposed to role models attaining results fail to buy-in to the outcomes.  We know these fundamentals are shaped and reinforced over our lifetime.  


Somewhere in the early 90’s, at a CEO Summit for which he was keynote speaker, I had the good fortune to work one-to-one with Bob Galvin, former Motorola CEO and son of founder Paul Galvin.  Bob & I instantly connected on an essential finding:  future leaders can be pointed out by age 14.  A very controversial summation at that time, people have jumped on board to that thinking more and more.  While several interpretations of “leadership” exist, the leadership we speak of here is visionary leadership and invention through inspiration, creativity, problem solving and risk taking, something for which Bob has been multiply awarded, something that stems from work ethic.  


Why can we spot leaders in their early teens? 


1)      Intrinsic motivation starts in early childhood, part nature and a lot of nurture.  Messages through parenting and life’s experiences teach a child the connection between hard work, results and rewards.  It requires risk tolerance and effort. “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” (Wayne Gretzky) 

2)      Success breeds success.  Those who get a taste of accomplishment early can acquire a hunger for it, and of course – a confidence in the ability to attain.

3)      Leadership is not the automatic progression of doing something else well.  It is a distinctive skill set, orientation and career path.  It is marked by characteristics which reveal themselves early in life and need nurturing.  Leadership is also not a degree in management without the knowledge of how to do anything else in specific at which to lead. 

4)      The leadership we speak of here requires willingness to fail and go on, problem solving and a lifelong learning commitment.  Each of these fundamentals are easiest developed at an early age.

5)      Many scientists and psychologists believe our highest level of pure intelligence is at birth and with learning peaking during our first 2 years of life.  Wisdom, education and experience fill in over time proportionate to our exposure.


Can this type of leadership emerge later in life?  Yes, through dedicated choice and/or circumstances of revelation impact.  


Work ethic can emerge from an intrinsic sense of responsibility and/or when we believe we can or are desperate enough to try to “control our own destiny.”  Leadership is both a subset of work ethic and a combination of behavioral characteristics.  We cannot lead effectively if no one is willing to follow.  We should be willing to lead by example.  Whether a leader of creation/invention or a leader of others, effective leadership relies upon creating inspirational ideas and/or directly inspiring others. 


Effective leadership, like any career path, requires commitment.  Commitment requires work ethic.  Parents can be most effective in developing work ethic when they lead by example, create need (inspiration) and reinforce the rewards of work.  Think about the term “street smarts” to further understand the importance of “need” in work ethic development. 


Whatever the choices or extenuating circumstances of one’s life, work ethic is simply “doing your best” with sincerity and willingness of sacrifice.  If education is the target, substantial learning is not reliant upon financial resources but rather the willingness to do the work to learn.  People have been self-taught with very little financial resources… Abraham Lincoln, for one.  If advanced education is the desire, college can be self-financed.   Start them young wherever you can.  Parents need to understand their role in work ethic development and they must start at infancy.  If they aren’t willing to do the work, maybe they should just provide access to a proper role model and then leave the kid alone to figure it out. 


Make no mistake.  We know the “leave alone” approach can be over-used and backlash with other developmental problems, which is why so many attentive and well-intending parents fear and under-use it – also affecting work ethic and leadership..  We’re looking for balance, commitment, role modeling and work ethic in our parenting.  We’re looking for parents to teach their kids to successfully “leave the nest” by providing supportive age-appropriate guidance, work skills and motivation.  The work ethic development trail can be very telling and predictive to future workplace outcomes.   It can be visible in a self-prepared resume and can be detected in a carefully crafted interview or assessment exercise.  Again, most commonly, it begins in early youth. 


Jessica Ollenburg - Wednesday, October 29, 2008