It seems that the majority of coverage on Millennials (born early 80s to early 2000s) focuses on their differences from other generations in the workforce, the Baby Boomers and Gen X. Here is a different perspective: they share four major similarities with their bosses when placed in leadership positions during real-time strategy games (Think of RISK on steroids). Here are our observations (non-scientific) using our advanced leader program.
Background. Our advanced leader program has supported a variety of businesses develop their leaders along with their business strategies. Now the program helps young people gain a competitive edge as leaders so they can excel in school, college or work. The curriculum develops the competencies that are in the greatest demand, such as strategic thinking, communication, planning and the know-how to effectively execute strategies under real-time stress. The lessons are validated through real-time strategy computer gameplay: participants must work together as teams to create nations, develop economies and compete against other teams using armies.
The program. Team work is critical to winning the game. Four roles exist. The subordinate ones are the planning, operations, and intelligence officers. (Only operations officer actually control the computer game.) Everyone will ultimately take the center leadership role, the commander. He or she is responsible for the overall success or failure of the mission.
Here are four major similarities observed between teens and executives who participated as commanders in different sessions.
1. Complexity, rather than simplicity, more often than not characterizes the planning process. For some reason or another, an overtly complex plan appeals to both executives and teens. Maybe it’s because complexity is associated with sophistication. For executives, complexity seems to be synonymous with the appearance of intellect or pedigree.
The complex plans nearly always fail. The most successful teams in past simulations have a consciously sought simplicity. Commanders who are the most successful are those who deliberately reduce the complexity into “essentials.” Moreover, they constantly ensure their team doesn’t lose sight of them no matter the chaos. One successful high school junior organized a 1.5 hour simulation, with its seven participants and nearly 2,000 computer units moving around, into three essential priorities: “Military, economy, and intelligence.”
2. The “noise” of strategy execution becomes a “siren song” to be a tactician. Who willingly jumps into a field of weeds when the path is clear, albeit narrow and winding? Our observations show both executives and teens do. Ironically, both seem to seek out the pressure if given the opportunity. Maybe it’s today’s quest for instant gratification: the boom of cannon, the roar of engines, and the flickering colors on the computer screens become too exciting to ignore. When given the opportunity to work in a headquarters (a quiet, separate room) or in the busy computer lab, commanders nearly always choose the latter. They justify the decision that having a first-person perspective is advantageous. Performance often suffers as a result for both executive and teen. Focusing on the spectacle (the simulation along with participant interaction) tends to overwhelm the senses, resulting in tunnel-vision. The commander seems to forget that their role is to keep the team focused on the essentials in addition to helping prevent tunnel-vision on the team’s end!
3. Speaking up is uncomfortable, even when self-interest is on the line. Participants have a tough time breaking out of their comfort zones in respect to communication. Here are two interesting observations. First, many are near-silent to those outside their immediate group even if they belong to the same organization or club. This is true for those who sit next to one another! Second, participants seem to want permission to be vocal. For instance, if an enemy army is marching outside your gates posing an existential threat, one would think people would be screaming to alert others! Under these circumstances you could hear a pin drop in the computer lab. The silence seems to suggest that many participants assume being anything but quiet is a threat to an assumed order in the team and mission. As facilitators we have to assure them they not only have the right to speak-up, and if necessary be loud, but an obligation to do so for the health of the team and organization!
4. Knowing and communicating the mission is best indicator of future success – and it occurs within the first five minutes of the simulation. Don’t think of a mission in terms of a corporate slogan; rather, think of a simple statement (one sentence) that assigns a large task according to the five Ws. A commander who effectively understands the mission and effectively communicates it almost always aligns the entire team toward the common – and the correct – goal. Moreover, he or she has alleviated unnecessary stress. When the “friction” of operations occurs, the accumulation of hiccups that inevitably manifest during execution, the team has a general idea of what to do and what not to do without asking. This enables the commander to focus on strategy execution as opposed to focusing on non-essential tactical questions or concerns.
Not clearly understanding and/or communicating the mission results in chaos. We call this phenomenon, “benevolent mayhem.” People want to contribute and strive to do so. Yet, by not fully understanding what is expected of them in very first place, the people start doing what they think they should as opposed to what the commander thinks they ought to do. A gap in expectations is created. What should be goal-oriented performance rapidly erodes into misguided effort, wasted resources and mass confusion. It is here that panic starts to kick-in for executives and teens. For instance, mayhem necessitates a need for order. Behavioral dominants will often “take-charge” of the situation and start dictating strategy from the trenches! The commander simultaneously loses control of the situation along with authority over the team.