Book review: ‘Leading with Vision’ by Bonnie Hagemann, Simon Vetter and John Maketa

Managers from the Baby Boomer generation are probably making assumptions about what motivates their younger colleagues that are fundamentally wrong.

When it comes to the world of work, there is one thing on which virtually everyone who’s been there for any length of time will agree: it’s nothing like it used to be. Where once the underlying concepts of employment were job security, career development, talent retention, loyalty and realistic remuneration, what we have today – according to Bonnie Hagemann, Simon Vetter and John Maketa, the authors of ‘Leading with Vision: the Leader’s Blueprint for Creating a Compelling Vision and Engaging the Workforce’ (Nicholas Brealey, £14.99, ISBN 9781857886825) – is “an extreme work environment” for young, underpaid and disillusioned employees. It is a vista that will certainly include excessive hours, and might well include anxiety, stress and anti-depressants. None of which is good for the worker or the profitability of the organisation.

Sick people don’t go to work. Neither do the demotivated, especially when meetings are endurance tests, no one knows who you are and you’re being treated worse than cattle.

By page four we are being reminded of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, in which the American psychologist tells us that all we need to enjoy life, or in this case work, is to feel loved, well fed, respected and secure. Employees may leave their jobs for more money, but they’ll stay for less if they are being looked after. And that’s the problem: the authors’ research in various US business schools has led them to the statistical conclusion that as managers we’re failing to nurture the emerging generation of millennials in the workplace.

The assumption on the part of employers is that these highly qualified 20-somethings, bursting with ideas and energy, are so desperate for a job of any kind that they’ll happily put up with conditions bordering on slave labour merely to keep their foot on one of the lower rungs of the employment ladder.

Middle-aged managers today (from the Baby Boomer generation used to long lunches, decent salaries and executive company cars) are treating Generation Y with contempt, undermining their potential to contribute and generally making their lives hell. What we need, contend the authors, is to bridge the generation gap with inspirational leadership, and to do that you need to lead with vision.

Vision in this sense will, of course, appear to engineering managers as a soft skill. But, fear not, as the book unfolds, with plenty of homespun anecdotes, the reader will start to get the hang of what the authors are proposing. And, although the book is at times written in some marvellous management gobbledygook about connectedness and transformation, there is an underlying wholesomeness about the authors’ message. If we really want to engage with Generation Y and unlock their potential, our vision could start with playing football with them sometimes or even sharing an after-work beer or two.

To make a positive change to the management atmosphere, say the authors, involves being less selfish, and that can’t be bad.

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