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Gen Y Leaders, Boomer Coach

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Start up GenY leader
Working as a coach in this environment may seem easier because there are fewer fire drills and the predictability of a structured model is somehow comforting.

In the startup engagement with young leaders, two differences are striking: the number of things in flux and the speed of change. Connor’s Managing at the Speed of Change (1993), is a useful resource. Connor advocates adjusting the change volume to a level that people can absorb. This makes such good sense. However, in a startup, change volume is exponentially higher, with little focus on trying to reduce it. Working long and hard is a badge of honor. They pride themselves in their ability to be fast, responsive, and agile. In fact, one of the programming methodologies is actually named Agile. It isn’t always pretty but it can generate amazing results. I work in mature technology companies that try to maintain, or mimic, that fast pace of the startup. The younger leaders accept it with much less challenge than their older colleagues.

While holding coaching principles sacred, these engagements also have elements of mentorship, advising and consulting driven by the start-up mantra: do what has to be done. The coaching approach requires maintaining one’s balance amid all of the activity and adherence to guiding principles. The guiding principles I believe critical for the coach include: managing one’s anxiety, maintaining respect, remembering that these are the client’s decisions, teaching fishing rather than offering fish (unless immediate starvation is imminent), and adhering to one’s ethical principles.

The contracts I have made with young CEOs tend to be much less specific relative to measurable results. This reflects the reality that this is usually the first time they have engaged a coach and often their first significant leadership assignment. They may even be trying to do something that no one has done before. We set a general direction, taking action and choosing our next step based on results of the last action.

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