Thursday, June 28, 2007

Governance Rehab Comes Calling in Florida: Water and Turf Wars

Wherever I go I like to study the local environment, see what’s going on. Being from water plentiful Canada, the water woes of Floridians caught my attention on a recent trip to Jupiter. With water levels perilously low due to sporadic rainfall, saving water is emerging as a major issue. But taking such action is not so easy with entrenched policies that prevent effective individual action. Silly stories abound pointing to policy-making at its worst.

Take a homeowner on Marcos Island, near Naples. City officials made him get rid of $15,000.00 worth of artificial grass in 2005 on the grounds it was offensive and might pose an environmental hazard. In protest, he painted his house with polka dots.

Developers and home owners associations fare no better in their strategy to conserve water. Or, should I suggest—anti-strategy? Near Orlando, a resident tried replacing sod with plantings that required less water. The developer stopped him in his tracks. These stories are increasingly reported across the state. Many homeowners’ associations still require grass lawns with certain shades of green. Alternatives such as sturdy ground cover and drought-resistant plants are not allowed. The battle is heating up as more enlightened homeowners defy the out of date policies.

Leading change is one of the most difficult aspects of leadership. Florida’s water and turf wars illustrate just how much leaders from the grassroots level upward cling to tradition often far beyond when the facts are in. Many hope that other solutions such as desalination of water will provide the needed respite and off set any need for water conservation. Others might want to lead the way but are caught with so many competing interests, they don’t know where to start. But, non-action and placing one’s trust in hope comes with high risk. The situation can quickly devolve into folly and cause untold extra costs.

There are times when political action is the only way for change to happen at the pace that is required. The water issue seems fragmented with no coherent strategy. As with all change, that’s the beginning of the journey. At this stage of the issue, politicians are well-positioned to bring some coherence to a vital quality of life issue. Good policy sooner rather than later can guide sensible action right down to the homeowners’ associations.

In the absence of comprehensive poitical action, courageous individuals and researchers will continue to put forth their ideas. The debate will get louder. A politician somewhere, if not already, will step forward. In the end, it is individual action that counts no matter who you are.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Hanging Out With Twenty Somethings: A Leadership Fitness Check Up

When you are outnumbered by three to one for several days with the twenty something generation, it’s a Margaret Mead anthropological experience. Demographers are on a hot streak again educating baby boom leaders in the art and science of welcoming the Gen Xers to the workplace. When theory and practice come together, it’s an eye opener.

Picture this. We’re on our way to dinner heading to the parking lot. One young man is holding a large garbage bag in his right hand, a cell in his left wandering around looking for the dumpster while having an animated phone conversation. The other young man is on his cell. The young woman is checking her text messages. I’m the only one determinedly working on my “slow” philosophy simply enjoying the surroundings.

The car is no different. Text messaging and cell phone talk. No good conversation here.

At the restaurant, things improve. Talk meanders to hot women and men among the patrons. I do my “be interested” not “interesting” approach by asking a few questions of each. What do they think of the water shortage problem? How are things going? The young people get engaged and put forth some fascinating views. I’m now more in my element!

I am beginning to tune in. I am in a different culture. Just soak it up and enjoy it. Let go of my own “way”. So, I decide to sit back and just “be”. Isn’t that what anthropologists really do?

I remember when I was in my twenties. Very keen. Full of new ideas. So happy to be out in the work place earning money, being independent. But, the work environment was not entirely welcoming and that feeling of being out of place persisted for many years. It is waning somewhat now because more of us in the baby boomer crowd are in leadership positions. Yet, with each successive wave of the generations, the culture divide is never far away. It’s a reality even more so with increasing diversity of ethnic backgrounds.

Technology adds to the complexity. The younger generation of workers has been raised on Web-based tools---chat rooms, wikis, blogs, personal broadcasting, peer-to-peer networks and the ubiquity of the cell phone. Their brains are hard wired differently. I watch them with amazement as they update their websites taking advantage of free ware to make picture collages, add new friends, alter the graphics. I’m counting on “Web Tools” for Dummies to being me up to speed.

The advent of the Web has added an element of pace and a new means of conversation for leaders to grasp and work with. The Net Generation moves fast and takes no prisoners. As demographers keep reminding us, young workers want feedback now. They want action asap. Yet, like in my younger days, they face a generation ahead of them that seems slower off the mark and resistant. In our defense, we value process and some reflective check points (call it managing risk).

There’s an upside. I can imagine that NetGen group is developing a new adaptive strength---tolerance. In turn, it is fostering, at an early age, the development of valuable skills in mentoring and coaching upward. Maybe that’s a good thing as during my twenty something days, the communication was decidedly one way.

For the baby boomers, let’s take some tips from the anthropologists: seek out the Net Gen’s views. Immerse and listen. Learn.

In his poem Experience, Ralph Waldo Emerson celebrated and encouraged differences:

Life is a train of moods like a string of beads, and as we pass through them, they prove to be many colored lenses which paint the world their own hue and each shows only what lies in its focus...[we] need the whole society to give the symmetry we seek.

When solving a problem, diversity almost always trumps individual ability. When making a prediction, diversity matters just as much as ability. Scott Page explains this in considerable detail in his book, The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies. The challenge is to work with not against it, especially regarding Gen X. For baby boomers, it’s a tall order and one that is no different than that which confronted those that came before us. We have no time to waste though if we want the best and the brightest to be on our teams.