Now Available at The Book Shack

Now Available at The Book Shack

Dr. Mark Gesner is now being featured as a local author in Dade City, FL where Your Life is Your Message is now available at The Book Shack! If you live near Dade City, please support this local bookseller by going in and getting a copy of the book!  Not a Floridian?  That’s okay, you can also buy the book directly through the publisher, SAGE, and at other fine booksellers including Barnes & NoblesBoswell Book CompanyElliot Bay Book CompanyVillage Books & Paper DreamsBooktopiaTarget, and Amazon.
Leading Across Generations

Leading Across Generations

At the start of our On The Table discussion about Leading Across Generations, I had to smile.  Appearing on my Zoom room screen were my fellow panelists, all of whom were younger, more ethnically diverse, and considerably more hip than me.  It was apparent that I was invited to represent a generation that was more . . . seasoned.  And so, in order not to get defensive about my status as an elder, I amused myself by thinking up euphemistic monikers for my advanced state of being. I also wondered if I could quickly call my daughter for a youth enhancing screen filter.  It was a delusional start, but it kept me from turning off my camera.

Fortunately, the moderator helped us all feel welcome, and I was able to mostly listen and learn.  My fellow panelists, representing Gen Zers to Xers, were clear about their leadership lenses. They urged us all to “unleash opportunities” for younger generations by putting them in leadership roles, build networks of influence across generations, and lean into mentoring in ways that break down barriers and build up pathways for new ways of thinking at the helm.  For my part, I thought it important to note that the way people learn is often different across the generations, and that positional power does not equate to meaningful leadership influence.  I also have learned that the most impactful leaders are the ones who align their actions with their core values, and who ultimately realize they have to feel empowered themselves in order to effectively empower others.

My fellow panelists urged that we all start practicing what we were preaching by engaging in intergenerational discussions about leadership, and to each use our own influence by being more inclusive and action oriented.  Since our discussion, I’ve taken their guidance to heart by being more conscious about mentoring younger colleagues, and by intentionally identifying and referring younger professionals, particularly leaders of color, to serve on organizational boards of directors. 

There’s no doubt we all deserve a seat at the leadership table and that we need to be vigilant about creating opportunities for leaders from all generations to be successful.  Personally, I’m hopeful that people will not stereotype what I may appear to be on the exterior.  But for backup, I’m going to text my daughter about that filter… calling her would be so passé.

This reflection piece was written for the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service following an “On the Table” panel discussion hosted by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.

The Ease of Influence

The Ease of Influence

Here’s the great irony. Leaders are often wary of change because they fear resistance from their followers, the time it will take to adapt to the new change, and the fallout of a dip in productivity during the shift to a new state. But what we have re-learned lately is how easy it is for leaders to influence the masses for good or for ill. 

Are you wearing a mask as you go out in public? Why or why not? If you say yes, it is likely because you trust the leaders who are advising you about the rationale for doing so and by the modeling they are providing. If you are not, it is likely because you trust the leaders advising that not wearing a mask is a mark of your personal freedom, are modeling not wearing one, and are even advocating that it may be a mark of weakness or a harbinger of infringement on personal freedoms to do so. 

How did we come to this? After all, the science around mask wearing is clear. The countries that are successfully fighting the current pandemic are doing so, and common sense would suggest that the use of masks and social distancing are relatively easy fixes to stay safe.  The mask, after all, is neutral, but leadership influence is not. 

Where we do seem to agree, is that seeking that elusive concept of herd immunity against Covid 19 to end our seclusion, restart our economy and return to some semblance of normality is a good idea. Whether through a vaccine or otherwise, we want our lives back. But I worry that in the process another kind of herd immunity has taken place. One that has inoculated a good percentage of the population against the truth. When a message is repeated often and loudly by a leader whom we follow, it’s not truth that matters, it’s the influence of the leader that does. Most importantly, we follow what  leaders do, even more than what they say.

So, to be clear, the irony is this — leadership influence is much easier and more powerful than we suspect. It appears we can be led right off the cliff, like the lemmings into the sea. We can also be led to great heights of productivity and generosity. I’m sure historians would be laughing about now asking wryly, haven’t you been paying attention to mankind’s relationship with leaders?  Didn’t you take notice of Attila the Hun, Hitler, and Henry the VIII on the one hand, or Moses, Gandhi and Joan of Arc on the other? It has always been true that leaders can’t exist without followers and during times of crisis there is an even greater longing for strong leadership. We all want someone to assuage our fears, help us feel safe and give us back some semblance of control and stability. Toxic leaders know how to exploit such needs, and yet, to thicken the irony, more positive and less self-serving leaders are less likely to advance their leadership quite as strongly, desiring to take great care with such power. It is also true that devolution to baser ways of thinking and doing marks paths of lesser resistance. It’s always easier to default to worst case scenario thinking and reptilian reactive responses. It is indeed more difficult to practice the discipline of optimism, hope and positivity. We need leaders to help us want to do this kind of work. 

So, hear this. As a leader, you hold in your hand the capacity to tear down, destroy, and defeat. You also hold the capacity to uplift, empower, and envision a fairer, safer, and more just future for those you lead. If you are the latter type of leader, think carefully about your influence. Now is not the time to be reticent. Now is the time to lead.