Do you know your people?

  • Published
  • By Col. Otha Soloman, Jr.
  • 71st Medical Group commander
In the medical profession, it is a basic rule to know who you are treating. This is done by lab tests and physical examinations; however, the bulk of the information is derived from the patient's medical history.

The medical history gives pertinent details that may relate to the patient's present condition. This information helps the provider better understand the dynamics and makeup of the individual seeking care.

Effective leadership is based on a similar premise.

To motivate and maximize the efforts and work ethics of their subordinates; commanders, superintendents, supervisors and others in leadership positions must have some sense of working knowledge about the people they supervise and lead.

Leaders must understand that each individual has unique attitudes, values, expectations and goals that have been conditioned primarily by past experiences. Society has overwhelming influences on behavior relating to cultural, socio-economic, work ethics, morality, etc.

All these factors influence the behavior in the work place. To effectively increase productivity, morale and commitment it is imperative to know the influences on the workforce.

The Air Force is comprised of personnel that span three separate generations. Their differentiation is based primarily on age: The Silent Generation, 54 -71 years of age; the Baby Boomer Generation, 36-53 years of age; and Generation X, 15-35 years of age.

Each generation has its own identity, characteristic behavior, morality issues and work ethics that are unique to its time. Air Force demographics reports that the average age of active duty officers and enlisted personnel is 35 and 29 respectively. As you can see the majority of Air Force personnel are members of Generation X.

The Baby Boomer generation consists of people born between the mid 1940s and late 1960s. This represents the largest generation of births in the world to date. They have molded and shaped society in all aspects due to their large numbers.

The Baby Boomers have a drive for openness and communications; especially regarding taboo subjects such as childhood abuse, sex, menopause, aging and death. Their solidarity in this area enables them to make some widespread social changes.

In the work place, they are ambitious and goal oriented. Today, these are the people in the higher echelons of government, to include the Commander in Chief, and represent the senior leadership in the USAF--they are generals, colonels, lieutenant colonels, chiefs, senior master sergeants, senior civilian and contract employees.

They have a strong set of ideals and tradition and are family oriented. Baby Boomers have concerns regarding the future, are traditionally politically conservative and socially liberal. They stand up against society for racial equality, war and conventionality.

Generation X makes up a population that parallels the size of the Baby Boomer generation. They are products of latch-key parenting and high divorce rates. Members of this generation live for the present, like to experiment and are looking for immediate results.

Many people of Generation X are self-centered, cynical and somewhat dependent on their parents. They are more global, technologically oriented and culturally diverse than previous generations.

This generation questions authority and feel as though they are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. According to Muchnick, author of Naked Management, in terms of their future, this generation feels abandoned, cheated and left to defend for themselves.

The significance of all of this is that Generation X is a viable pool in today's work force. They are questioning traditional approaches to management in the work place and respond poorly to intimidation and authoritarian leadership styles.

Generation X requires coaching and feedback from leaders and supervisors and wants clear and precise communication. They want to know what is expected of them and what benefits they will get in return on their investment in the work place.

Generation X wants immediate promotions for a job well done. They are confident that they have a lot to offer an organization if they are given respect and the chance to shine. They expect their opinions to count and to know that they make a difference.

Today's leaders must be able to develop sensitivity to what's going on in the work place. They must have access to information and be aware of issues concerning the attitudes, values, expectations and goals of subordinates. Leaders must understand that their personnel behave rationally and emotionally and that both can be productive in the work environment.

So, what are some of the concerns that are important to Generation X in the workplace? They want to be involved, trusted, appreciated, respected, challenged, understood and recognized. Generation X wants to foster a sense of pride, desire flexibility, communication; feedback, and honesty in the work place.

Leaders and managers must embrace the differences and challenges they face in motivating today's work force. They must be innovative and committed to successfully manage Generation X to maximize performance and job satisfaction.

Now that you are armed with additional information about the people with whom you interact, the question still remains: Do you really know your people?