The Singular "They", And Other Things That Evolve

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Today’s blog post is a video blog. Here’s the video. And a transcript of the video is right underneath it.

The longer I live, the more acutely aware I become that we live in an ever evolving world.

For instance, have you heard that the Chicago Manual of Style has just decreed that because the English language evolves, we can now use what’s called “the singular they”? That’s right, we no longer have to say he or she, or him or her, when we can’t or don’t want to specify the gender of the person we’re referring to, or when it doesn’t matter. So I could say “Go find a team member who’s been working exceptionally hard lately, and tell them how much you appreciate them.” I don’t have to say how much you appreciate him or her.

So Language evolves. And so does the world of work.

In fact my good friend, co-author and business partner Bill Catlette doesn’t even use the work workplace very much any more, and instead, calls it the workspace, in respect of the fact that so many of us don’t really even have a place, with four walls and a desk that we go to for work these days, although we’re working, and gainfully so.

Well I’m not quite there yet, ready to abandon the word workplace, but Bill and I are in furious agreement about the point he makes.

And as leaders in the work…place…space, whatever we call it, we HAVE to respond well to those changes, whether we like it or not, if we’re going to continue to be relevant.

But, as much as some things change . . . some things remain the same. And I think it’s really important to understand which is which.

Ken Burns, the great documentary film maker, was speaking at my alma mater, Jacksonville University, here in my hometown, a few months ago. He was great. But one thing he said that really caught my attention was this. He said Humanity’s nature doesn’t change. Only its circumstances. And he’s so right.

But look at what’s changed in how we work. I mean, First, How we communicate, and how we use technology to do that, and other things. Secondly, the official relationship, employee, contractor, full time, part time, job sharing, the whole so-called gig economy. That’s changed radically for many. And third, how long you stay in a job, even if it is a more traditionally defined relationship, that has shrunk. Average job tenure – the length of time people stay with the same employer – has gone from nearly 20 years two generations ago to about 4 years today. There’s not much of a stigma associated with changing jobs every few years, like there used to be. In fact, almost the reverse is true today. If you stay in one place too long, some people may wonder if there’s something wrong with you. I don’t necessarily subscribe to that, but that’s how some hiring managers may feel.

And hey look, we now have four generations in the workplace, all tryna work together. And yeah, a 20 year old might see some things a little differently from a 75 year old. Although frankly I think sometimes we make too much of those differences among the generations.

Which brings me to my point. For those of us in leadership.

Here’s the thing. While the context in which we practice leadership is constantly evolving, and we’d better recognize that – the fundamentals of leadership remain essentially the same.

Number one. Having a sense of mission is motivating. Always has been. We’d better make sure people understand what our organization is all about, if we want em to get behind it.

Second. People want meaningful work. And the freedom to pursue it. The minute any of us begins to entertain the notion that what we do isn’t very important, we can’t possibly get into it like we need to.

And if our boss, or the company, or the system is somehow stepping on our crank or has their foot on our airhose, so we can’t actually DO what we’ve been charged to do? We’re not gonna put up with that for very long.

Third. I don’t care what year you were born, We need our leaders to tell us the truth. By that I mean, how am I doing? We need honest helpful feedback.

And finally, and this has not changed, and I predict it never will. People, still, today, young, middle aged, and old, reserve their best effort for a leader who CARES about them.

Some things change. Some things stay the same. Know the difference.

And hey. Just before I go… Both Bill and I deliver leadership seminars, and we keynote at corporate, government, and association conferences. Our topic Leadership, Employee Engagement, and specifically about the connection between people and the bottom line, however you measure that bottom line. And, I don’t know, people tell us we’re pretty good. They walk away with some inspiration, some motivation, AND some very specific things they can apply right away to develop a focused, engaged, and capably led workforce.

So check our website. Click on speaking. Look at our topics. Our videos. And get in touch. We’d love to work with you.


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