When my eldest daughter, Amie, was a child I brought her to visit my Aunt Lil. Lil was a wonderful old lady who, in her later years, suffered with cataracts and couldn’t see very well. Amie ran around her house, climbing on chairs, pulling open drawers, all the usual stuff that you’d expect from an inquisitive 2 year old. Amie, is Chinese and was adopted from Taiwan. Being our first child, we took great pains to dress her up for those ‘show-off’ visits and were so proud of her (the later kids got dressed in Penney’s Boutique).
Future Focused: Aunt Lil, who had a couple of grown up children herself, was intrigued by Amie. She said: “Oh, I’ve heard a lot about this child. She is beautiful. And so clever, into everything, isin’t she?”. I was bathing in the reflected glory, soaking up the praise. Then she said: “I can see her in my mind’s eye, in a couple of years. With all that energy she will probably have her own little take-away”. I was stunned. A Heart Specialist? Maybe. A Barrister? Perhaps. But, her own little take away? Afterwards I found it funny but my wife was less than amused.
Stereotype Roles: Now my Aunt grew up in an era when the only Chinese people she’d ever encountered owned or worked in restaurants. She didn’t mean to be racist, her views simply reflected her experience at that time.
Firm Views: Those of us who are sporting grey hair may suffer from some similar stereotypes in relation to managing people. We learned to manage in an earlier era when ‘employees should be seen and not heard’. We learned to comply, to do what we were told, to follow the rules. But the Generation X and Generation Y staff that we manage today, grew up under a different regime. They negotiated what they’d eat for breakfast and what they would wear to school. When they come to work, they have a continuing expectation of involvement in decision making, being part of the show. Not silent and compliant, but partners in the management system. And they have zero expectation that they have to wait until their own hair goes grey to move into the decision-making space.
Turbo-Charged: Your thoughts about engaging staff may need to be reconfigured. Maybe it’s time to release the reins and let the younger staff have a go at some of the difficult stuff that you do. Because, just like Amie, they might be capable of a bit more than the general stereotype. Perhaps recall the words of Christopher Logue in his poem Come to the Edge. ‘Come to the edge. We might fall. Come to the edge. It’s too high! COME TO THE EDGE! And they came, and we pushed, and they flew’.
PS True Story: Spoke to A HR Director last week in a company with a history of very poor industrial relations. We were chatting about kids when she said: “My daughter is giving so much trouble at the moment we refer to her as SIPTU”. That makes me quits with Mattie Merrigan (who was slagging me about blogging about our dog, Louie).
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