Saturday , March 2 2024

Interview with Kelly and Robby Riggs, authors of ‘Counter Mentor Leadership: How to Unlock the Potential of the 4-Generation Workplace’

I had a chance to interview Kelly and Robby Riggs, a father and son team who combined forces to write Counter Mentor Leadership: How to Unlock the Potential of the 4-Generation Workplace, which I reviewed for this site. The two are business coaches with perspectives that reflect their generations: Kelly is a Baby Boomer and Robby a Millennial. As they argue, today’s leaders must embrace new skills and approaches to better manage today’s multigenerational workplaces. We spoke about incongruent values, how new mindsets disrupt traditional leadership approaches, and why that’s a good thing.

How are Millennials disrupting traditional workplace styles?

Boomers, in a quest to give their children an idyllic childhood that they didn’t have, produced a generation in which everything revolved around them! Millennials were taught differently, encouraged to play differently, and educated differently. So, why are we surprised they are different in the workplace?

Millennials are disrupting traditional workplace styles in a number of ways. They’re not scared of walking away from a “good job.” In previous generations, that was unheard of. You showed up, did what you were told, and collected a paycheck — regardless of the challenges you might have faced. But, if Millennials aren’t fulfilled or engaged in the workplace, they simply jump on a smart phone, open LinkedIn, and apply for a half-dozen jobs before your boring staff meeting is over.

Of course technology has played a big role in the disruption. For example, Millennials question the need to be at work from 8 to 5 when they can work just as effectively on their laptop in a coffee shop.

In what way are Baby Boomer bosses squandering the potential of their Millennial employees?

For most Boomer managers, in just about every way. The majority of Boomer leaders — in the absence of effective leadership training — cannot seem to get out of their own way. They’re mired in the past (“the way we’ve always done it”) and usually believe the younger generation should have to endure whatever they endured in the workplace. The thought that Millennials may be able to do something better, quicker or more efficiently doesn’t square up very well against “I’m the boss, just do what you’re told.”

Typically, the biggest gap is the use of technology. Millennials have never known a time in which they didn’t use technology in every aspect of their lives. Streaming video. Instagram and Snapchat. Productivity apps. They enter the workplace with a wealth of knowledge and skills in technology that most Boomers have no clue about, but they often encounter resistance because their managers lack experience with it.

How has organizational leadership changed in today’s world?

In many ways, it hasn’t changed — and desperately needs to! Traditional managers learned how to be a leader by watching others, and usually they’re “managing” others utilizing a mindset and set of theories pioneered by Fredrick Winslow Taylor in the early 1900s. Although the workplace has evolved from the industrial economy 100 years ago to the knowledge economy of today, and employees have changed just as dramatically, managers often still employ a top-down, do-what-you’re-told, micromanagement leadership style.

Effective leaders, on the other hand, have adapted to the new workplace and see their roles quite differently. They emphasize people development and communication. They understand the value of trust. They no longer feel the need to make every decision or solve every problem.

Most importantly, effective leadership today is focused on creating great teams rather than creating efficient assistants. The complexity of today’s workplace requires that each employee become independently capable of producing extraordinary work.

What must a BOSS (Boomer, Old-School Supervisor) do to better tap the potential of a multi-generational workforce?

First thing: acquire a copy of Counter Mentor Leadership! — #shamelessplug.

We believe there are three key areas of focus: First, leaders must adopt an “other people” orientation. If leaders expect the younger generation to “own” their results, they must first be willing to invest in those employees. If you treat people like renters, they will never act like owners!

Second, leaders who aspire to be successful in the chaotic, four-generation workplace must practice next-level communication skills. Note that poor communication is the primary cause of employee disengagement! More to the point, clarity is essential to allowing employees to build trust and perform at the highest level. We advocate a very specific and intentional process we call the Counter Mentor 1-on-1 Meeting. This critical meeting provides the opportunity to create that clarity and dramatically improve employee engagement.

Finally, we believe leaders must learn to coach and develop employees. Note that there is a significant difference between coaching and the more common managerial practice of criticism. Coaching is focused on transforming potential into performance.

How does the Counter Mentor Leadership framework lead to a high-performance workplace?

Research indicates only 12 percent of managers with a focus on relationships are considered good leaders, and only 14 percent of managers with a focus on results are considered good leaders. However, managers who focus on both are considered good leaders 72 percent of the time!

But, according to the research, only 1 percent of managers fit into that category! Why? Because managers are almost never taught how to do so.

Our COUNTER framework teaches leaders how to create a workplace culture in which people thrive, develop trust and are valued for their contributions. It teaches leaders the skills to build relationships and create results.

Learn more at


About Patricia Gale

Patricia Gale has written and ghostwritten hundreds of blogs and articles that have appeared on sites such as Psychology Today, Forbes, and Huffington Post, and in countless national newspapers and magazines. Her "beat" is health, business, career, self-help, parenting, and relationships.

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