Chip Espinoza: Part 2 of an interview by Bob Morris

Chip EspinozaChip Espinoza was born in Espanola, New Mexico. His mission in life is to help organizations become worthy of human habitation. Recently, he has focused on the integration of Millennials (AKA Gen Y) into the workplace. He is the co-author of Millennials Who Manage: How to Overcome Workplace Perceptions and Become a Great Leader, with Joel Schwarzbart and published by FT Pearson (October 2015). He is also the Academic Director Organizational Psychology at Concordia University in Irvine.

Chip also keynotes internationally and across the country on how to create environments in which managers and Millennials can thrive. He is a leading expert on the subject of Millennials in the workplace. He consults in the civic, corporate, and non-profit sectors. He has authored several articles on the subject of leadership and is the go-to person for news agencies on the subject of integrating younger workers into organizations. He has been featured on Fox News, CNN, CBS Radio, and in major publications. Chip is also the author of Millennial@Work

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Morris: When and why did you become so interested in Millennials?

Espinoza: I kind of jumped the gun on this question earlier. As a professor, they intrigued me. I see them as engagement ready—plug-n-play if you will. They want to contribute in the classroom, the workplace and to society. I noticed that my professor colleagues misinterpreted their behaviors and I hypothesized that the same was happening in the workplace.

Morris: To what extent has your association with Concordia University facilitated, perhaps even accelerated your research on Millennials? Please explain.

Espinoza: The classroom experience affords me a front row to observe Millennials. The university has sponsored me to speak at young professional groups and they encourage me to write. I also believe that being connected to Concordia gives me credibility on an academic level.

Morris: The term “diversity” continues to buzz around discussions of healthy organizations. My own opinion is that diversity has more to do with values, perspectives, and points of view than it does with gender, age, and ethnicity. What do you think?

Espinoza: I like Donna Hicks work on dignity. It goes beyond respecting one another. Dignity is different from respect in that it is not based on how people perform, what they can do for us, or their likability. Dignity is a feeling of inherent value and worth. Millennials embrace the concept of diversity. I would challenge you to find a male Millennial who won’t work for a woman or any Millennial who would be against inter-racial marriage or discriminating against someone due to sexual orientation. My concern in the diversity world is that the Baby Boomer narrative on diversity is being superimposed on Millennials. Diversity is something Baby Boomers are trying to do and GenX and Millennials are already doing. To your point, GenX and Millennials see values, perspectives and world-view as the diversity discussion.

Morris: As you already know, major research studies in recent years indicate that, on average, less than 30% of the workforce in a U.S. company is actively and positively engaged. The others are either passively engaged (“mailing it in”) or actively engaged in undermining their company’s success.

Here’s my question: How best to increase the percentage of those who actively and positively engaged?

Espinoza: Organizational theorists have known how to engage employees for almost a century. It is about executing what we know to be effective. Many managers juxtapose results with valuing people. You can value both at the same time. Here are a few things Millennials want (from my earlier book Millenials@Work) from their organizations:

o To have more opportunity
o To be listened to
o To be accepted
o To be rewarded for work
o To know how they are doing
o To have a say in how they do their job
o To be recognized

Ironically, in my latest book, Millennials Who Manage, older employees managed by Millennials claim to want the same things.

Morris: Looking ahead (let’s say) 3-5 years, what do you think will be the greatest challenge that CEOs will face? Any advice?

Espinoza: Talent acquisition, knowledge transfer, generational diversity, and retention will continue to be serious concerns. I think the golden thread is equipping management to work with Millennials. Let’s face it. We are going to see organizations needing to replace 40% to 60% of their workforce. Management has never been more important!

Morris: Now please shift your attention to Millennials Who Manage. When and why did you decide to write it and do so in collaboration with Joel?

Espinoza: I will address the “when” first. I usually allow time for Q&A after I speak. The questions prepare me for what is next with respect to organizational challenges. I started getting a lot of questions asking how to manage people older than you. The “why” is easy—I feel indebted to the Millennials who inspired me to write about them in the first place. The book is my way giving back. I wrote the last chapter as if I were in a classroom conversing with them. Joel actually participated more in the writing aspect of my first book, Managing the Millennials, than my co-authors. I highly value his insight and so when Pearson offered me a contract for the book, I invited Joel to work with me.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Espinoza: I was amused by a term that older workers used for their Millennial managers—Baby Boss. I think the head snapping occurred when the results from our survey based on Google’s manager expectation model revealed the 25- to 34-year-olds were ahead of all other age groups in empowering their employees. Overall, 25- to 34-year-olds came out either first or second on all but two of the nine dimensions we surveyed.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

Espinoza: I think it is more personal to me than what I first thought. It was a natural progression for me to write about Millenials transitioning into management but I found myself getting emotional as I wrote. I really do want to repay them for all they have given me. What better way than to help them transition to the next level of their career!

Morris: When managing Millennials, what is the “good news”?

Espinoza: They are first and foremost problem solvers. They are optimistic. They are well educated. They are creative. They are open to change. They are learners. They are technologically savvy. They are open-minded. They are imaginative. They think third-way. They want to achieve. They want to contribute. They are flexible. They are achievement oriented.

Morris: Any “bad news”?

Espinoza: Okay. It is not in my research domain but I am concerned that Millennials are stressed out. They have a higher suicide rate than other generations at their same age. They have the highest diagnosis of depression at their age than other generations. I think we have raised a generation that does not know how to be sad. They are programmed for success and the threat of failure is devastating.

I also think they struggle with decision-making. They do not want to be wrong and therefore they will make decisions by indecision.

Morris: With regard to leadership development, why should the focus be on the self  rather than on credentials such as technical skills?

Espinoza: Technical skills get you in the door but it is the ability to self-regulate and manage relationships that allows one to leverage the talent of people around her or him. I mentioned distributive leadership above. I believe we have to move away from a leader-centric to leadership-centric model of leadership. The first stage of moving that direction is leader development and the first lesson should be self-leadership (knowing about the self, gaining perspective, self-awareness). Edwin Friedman suggested it is the nature and presence of a leader that most impact a system, not knowledge or skills. I have worked with countless organizations that exhaust energy adapting to the weaknesses of the leader. I had a leader announce to his/her team the other day that he/she was the smartest person in the room. It perhaps was true, but that is where self-regulation should come in. The days of one genius surrounded by a bunch of worker bees are hopefully done. I know Millennials won’t buy into such a scenario.

Morris: How do you define “immaturity”?

Espinoza: For the sake of our conversation, I would like to define it as a lack of self-regulation. Therefore, immaturity is the inability to act in your own long-term best interest or consistent with your deepest values. As aforementioned, self-awareness is critical to self-regulation in that it is the process of identifying, among other things, our values.

Morris: What is its relevance to managing or being managed by Millennials?

Espinoza: If you lack self-regulation, you will find yourself saying things and taking actions that are often counterproductive to productivity and building working relationships. People who lack self-regulation are often invasive of others. They can be perceived as being controlling, antagonistic, or even subversive.

Morris: What are the significance and implications of the fact that humans are emotional creatures?

Espinoza: Again, it means that we have to be emotionally intelligent. It also means that what works one day may not work the next or what works for one group of people many not work for another. I love managerial leadership because it is dynamic. The implication is that we have to stay curious about what compels, what motivates, what inspires, what relates, and what energizes.

Morris: At one point in the narrative, you observe, “The people who care about us the most are the ones who are most likely to hold us back.” Please explain.

Espinoza: As weird as it sounds, it is generally not the people who are against us who hold us back in life. It is often the people who are most invested in us. Ironically, key relationships can become threatened when you start exploring your own path. This is true when it comes to relationships with parents, mentors, and bosses. It’s not always true, but many times these important people in our lives feel threatened in some way by our independence from them. There is an inner conflict that comes with exploring your own voice. The threat of losing support or sponsorship from an authority figure can be daunting. You have to think long term and not short term. In the short term, you may second-guess yourself or be tempted to acquiesce. Sometimes we don’t move forward because the people who love us the most unconsciously sabotage our efforts.

Morris: There are dozens of passages throughout your narrative that caught my eye. For those who have not as yet read the book, please suggest what you view as [begin italics] the most important point [end italics] or [begin italics] key take-away [end italics] in each of these passages.

First, Learning as a Way of Being (Pages 4-6)

Espinoza: Peter Vaill wrote a book titled Learning As a Way of Being. He defines learning as the changes a person makes in himself or herself with respect to the know-how, know-what, and, especially, know-why. The idea is that we should always be learning or we will cease to be able to change or adapt. I think the best work on leadership today is by Ronald Heifetz. His work is focused on adaptive leadership.

Morris: Stereotypes and Generalizations (6-8)

Espinoza: It is important to understand that stereotypes and generalizations have an impact in both positive and negative ways. Of course not every person born between 1980 and 2000 is exactly the same. There are differences within generations. That being said, generations have a personality just as individuals do.

Millennials are an easy group to identify in terms of their appearance and are therefore highly subject to being stereotyped. When a negative stereotype about a group is relevant to performance on a specific task, it is referred to as “stereotype threat.” Individuals who are highly identified with a particular group may experience increased susceptibility to stereotype threat.
Understanding perceptions and why they may exist helps to explain and demystify tension and conflict that surfaces as a result of generational discord.

Morris: What Do You See as Positive About Being Managed by Someone Under 35, and, as Downside? (13-15)

Espinoza: In general, workers under 35 highly value Millennials’ ability to relate, be helpful, be open-minded, and be understanding. Employees over 35 appreciated their energy, enthusiasm, open-mindedness, fresh perspective, and understanding of new technologies. It is interesting, in my early research, Millennials entering the workforce reported advantages they claimed to have in the workplace. The advantages turn out to be strengths that are recognized in them as managers.

Morris: The Concept of Dignity as a Mind-Set (21-24)

Espinoza: Donna Hicks explains, “Dignity is different from respect. Dignity is a birthright. We have little trouble seeing this when a child is born; there is no question about children’s value and worth. If only we could hold on to this truth about human beings as they grow into adults, if only we could continue to feel their value, then it would be so much easier to treat them well and keep them safe from harm. We must treat others as if they matter, as if they are worthy of care and attention.” Dignity is different from respect in that it is not based on how people perform, what they can do for us, or their likability. Dignity is a feeling of inherent value and worth.

Morris: The Desire to Please Your Boss (28-30)

Espinoza: The desire to please your boss is a good thing, but it could mutate into a weakness. One of the first challenges of getting promoted into management is negotiating the tension between the desire to please the person who promoted you while still remaining true to yourself. The tension is normal, and the fact that you feel it is probably indicative of why you were promoted. A key to being true to yourself is having the ability to differentiate from your manager and peers in a healthy way. As my sister used to say, “Why are you letting that girl live in your head rent free?” Friedman suggests self-differentiation is about knowing where you end and others begin.

Morris: Organizations by Nature Exert a Powerful Force Against Self-Differentiation (34-35)

Espinoza: For centuries, leaders have made bad decisions that were not in concert with their values or what they believed. Although there were clearly a few rotten eggs, most members of the leadership at Enron didn’t begin their careers with the intention of destroying the lives of innocent employees, cheating investors, or undermining the public’s confidence. Perhaps for a myriad of reasons, these people just could not resist the gravitational pull from the organization because once they got inside, it had more influence over them than they had over it. It is not uncommon for the founder of a thriving business to take it public and then find that she has less control over the company than it had over her. Ultimately, her founding principles will meet with challenge, and she will have to give in, step down, or get out. It is important to be aware of the influence our organizations have over us.

Morris: What Does It Mean to Be Authentic? (38-39)

Espinoza: Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones wrote a great piece in Harvard Business Review titled “Managing Authenticity.” In it, they argue that establishing authenticity as a leader is a two-part challenge: “First, you have to ensure that your words are consistent with your deeds; otherwise, followers will never accept you as authentic. The second challenge of authentic leadership is finding common ground with the people you seek to recruit as followers. This means you will have to present different faces to different audiences, a requirement that many people find hard to square with authenticity. Authenticity is not an innate quality—that is, you are not born with it. Second, being an authentic leader is not something you can say about yourself; it must be attributed to you.

Some believe that to be authentic, you have to present yourself the same way in every situation. At first thought, this notion seems reasonable, but when you really think about it—not so much. The way you interact with your boss is not the same way you need to interact with your family, peers, team members, or clients. It is not only okay to present yourself differently in various situations but crucial to being perceived as authentic.

Morris: The Challenges of Being Authentic When Transitioning into a New Role (43-45)

Espinoza: Leadership transitions require us to move out of our comfort zone. Herminia Ibarra found that leaders in transition most often grapple with authenticity in the following situations: 1) Taking charge in an unfamiliar role, Selling your ideas (and yourself), Processing negative feedback, and Having a playful frame of mind. Beware that the first three challenges listed above can trigger a bad case of imposter syndrome (feeling like a fraud). Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes define the imposter syndrome as, “The psychological experience of believing that one’s accomplishments came about not through genuine ability, but as a result of having been lucky, having worked harder than others, or having manipulated other people’s impressions.”

Morris: The Maturational Perspective (47-48)

Espinoza: Maturational theory is a more traditional belief that people change, mature, and develop their values, attitudes, and preferences as a function of age. It is actually a strategy deployed by many organizations. The idea is that once Millennials grow up (get a mortgage, family, etc.) they will start acting like us and sharing our values. Personally, I would not make that bet. Even if it were to happen, Millennials are putting off seven or more years what other generations have done. Waiting for Millennials to “grow up” is risky when it comes to knowledge transfer, talent development, and competitive advantage.

Morris: Identifying Biases in the Conference Board Results (71-72)

Espinoza: When speaking of bias, I am referring to the way we/I did things coming up and using it as a blueprint for what everyone else has to do. There is bias in organizations about who gets a voice, how you get promoted, and how we do things. I am not saying scrap what works. I am suggesting that we pause and examine if our bias inhibits Millennials from fully engaging.

Morris: Managerial Leader Competencies Needed for Managing Millennials (95-98)

Espinoza: In researching for first our book Managing the Millennials we identified nine competencies for managing Millennials: Show them the big picture, Make it matter to them, Include the details, Build a relationship, Be positive when correcting, Put their imagination to work, Create the right rewards, and Be flexible.

Morris: Managing Millennial Teams (106-108)

Espinoza: Millennials want to find meaning in their work, and they want to make a difference. They want to be listened to. They want you to understand that they fuse life and work. They want to have a say about how they do their work. They want to be rewarded. They want to be recognized. They want a good relationship with their boss. They want to learn. But most of all, they want to succeed. They want to have fun!

Morris: Please explain the book’s conclusion: “We close this book with the following piece of advice: Don’t overthink your next decision. Don’t put the pressure on yourself to make the perfect decision. Your next decisions is only the decision before the next decision after that.”

Espinoza: Millennials overthink decisions and put way too much pressure on themselves to make the perfect or right decision. As I stated earlier, they will even make a decision by indecision. They desperately want to live up to the expectations families and friends have of them. I guess I wanted to close the book with—chill, you are going to do great even if you don’t make the right or perfect decision every time.

Morris: For more than 25 years, it has been my great pleasure as well as privilege to work closely with the owner/CEOs of hundreds of small companies, those with $20-million or less in annual sales. In your opinion, of all the material you provide in Millennials Who Manage, which do you think will be of greatest value to leaders in small companies? Please explain.

Espinoza: I think the best value to leaders is understanding the generations for the purpose of integrating a younger workforce and transferring knowledge from an experienced workforce. I also think smaller companies may not have the resources for management training or recruiting and therefore there is not a lot of margin for error. The book can be huge resource for emerging leader development.

Morris: Which question had you hoped to be asked during this interview – but weren’t – and what is your response to it?

Espinoza: “What is my personal mission statement?” It is…Helping organizations to be worthy of human habitation.

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To read Part 1, please click here.

Chip cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

His website link

Concordia University link

LinkedIn link

Twitter link

FT Pearson Press link


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