Towering Leadership

On a visit to Coit Tower, one of San Francisco’s iconic landmarks, I found an excellent story of leadership. It’s remarkable partly because of its simplicity, but more so because it bridges a generational gap – something I believe many older leaders are struggling with today.

Coit Tower sits high atop Telegraph Hill, and offers a panorama of the City and San Francisco Bay. The best view is from the very top, so visitors take an elevator, which is operated by an employee of the monument concessionaire. It’s a slow ride.

On the way up, we were talking with the young woman who was running it. She remarked how lucky she felt, because this was her first job, and she loved it. “Most of my friends hate their jobs. But my boss is so great, he always takes such care with things. He teaches us how significant the tower is, and how important it is for us to do our jobs right. He shows us the little things about our work that make such a difference to our customers. He really cares about this place. We watch him, and he does everything the same way he wants us to do it.”

Contrast this story, with another.

Our neighbor’s daughter will soon graduate from college. Last summer, she took an internship with a technology recruiter in San Francisco. Her work was to call technology employees, and let them know about other opportunities. She’d never done this before, however she’s quite bright, and a hard worker. Her boss though, (in his 40’s), expected everything to be perfect, and publically demeaned every perceived mistake that was made, by her, or anyone else in the office. She couldn’t wait to get out of there.

Compare the two.

Both bosses wanted excellent results – their motivations were the same. However their methods were dramatically different. One acted as a mentor working alongside (not “above”) others to create a loyal, caring employee focused on the customer and attending to details. The other acted as a superior and a judge, which only built resentment and a longing to escape.

The quality of their relationships determined the assets that were developed.

A younger generation needs to be led, but it needs to be done with some patience and tactfulness. Sure, set a high bar for performance and expectations. But help them succeed at it. Don’t use experience or longevity as a dividing point. (The worst team member is always the one who comes across as knowing more, or being better than anyone else.)

Take on the mindset of a mentor … focus on building relationships to narrow the age gap, and as a vantage point from which to transform smart, well-educated, well-intended, and in-experienced workers into able producers.

Without the relationship part, you’re only left with a transactional exchange, which just highlights and magnifies your differences. Choose wisely.

– Jerry Strom

Twitter: @JerryRStrom. For more information about our leadership and team development programs, please visit . Join the mailing list to receive new articles as they are published. This article is based on research conducted for the *‘The Relationships Report: The Linkage between Leadership and Relationships,’ by Jerry Strom & Company, Inc. Find ‘How Leaders Build Relationships at Work’ at short insights on Twitter at #RelationshipsRPT

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