There is a distinct narrative playing in the British press regarding Dominic Raab’s tenure and abrupt end as Deputy PM and Secretary of State for Justice. On the one hand Millennials and Gen-Z’s are labelled as demanding & snowflakes, on the other hand, tough “old school” performance-focused leaders who have a forthright way of handling their staff.
The 7 Leadership Traits
Allegations of bullying levelled at Raab were investigated by individuals who do not fall into the category of Millennials or Gen-Zs. distinctly non millennial and Gen-Z professionals. If indeed these individuals brought bias into their decision-making process, it wasn’t likely to be to sympathise with the Civil Servants who brought the complaint. They confirmed a pattern of behaviour that was called out by his Principal Private Secretary (PPS) several years ago. In the past, his PPS pointed out that the methods he deployed to manage & lead people were simply not working. Instead of trying to grow, change, and develop, Raab dug his heels in, insisting his behaviour was right. That behaviour is inconsistent with the narrative of a hard-working, results-oriented leader; instead it smacks of someone who is led very much by their ego. An outcome focused individual would listen, learn, cultivate a growth-mindset, and win hearts and minds to achieve the collective goal. Below is a list of seven traits that leaders should master, in order to truly lead well.
Grow and learn from mistakes - own up to them publicly and welcome accountability.
Actively ask for feedback - seek out diverse views from junior to senior.
Say thank you - show people you’ve seen their efforts.
Listen to other people’s opinions - try to coach vs direct a conversation.
Relay constructive criticism privately - public humiliation never works.
Understand & respect your own emotions - therapy & coaching are great tools.
Have direct conversations early (with compassion) - don’t let an atmosphere fester.
Team & Loyalty
Leadership is a skill that people learn to do by doing. Often people land leadership positions after being an individual contributor, then rewarded with responsibility of managing people. First time leaders can often be a horrible experience for everyone involved because they fall into many traps that Raab continued to do (leading without empathy, publicly criticising people, showing little interest in staff as people). When I first started in a leadership role, I too made these mistakes and deeply regret the pain I caused. Unfortunately, some people do really continue to rise without learning any of the important lessons required for great leadership.
In a candidate-driven market, people vote with their feet and leave. Incidentally the number one reason people leave a role is because of a bad manager. In a poor economic environment however, people put up with poor leaders, even though they suck energy out of the room. Dominic Raab may be a fantastically intelligent man, and he was certainly a successful Politician (Secretary of State for Justice, Deputy PM), but operating at the highest levels in Government consistently, (or any company for that matter,) requires one to foster loyalty, to think about the team rather than oneself, to inspire others to do great work collectively. Outcome-focused leadership is about empowering one’s team to be autonomous. Micromanagement and criticism are failures of leadership. Success is growth from regular feedback loops coupled with support, not just constant belittlement and challenge. By failing to learn the leadership lessons, he has tainted his legacy.
Being an outcome-focused leader
Therapy & Coaching
Us millennials are a “generation therapy”. That has its critics, but has also resulted in a generation of leaders that know themselves, understand their triggers, respect their emotions, and consequently have a handle on them. It sounds perhaps very obvious to say, but it is unlikely one can be a truly fantastic leader without being interested in people. That doesn’t mean blurring the lines between personal and professional; it doesn’t mean giving people a free pass to do shoddy work - quite the opposite. It means showing an interest in the human condition, most importantly one’s own. The very best leaders show a distinct interest in receiving therapy, in being coached, in being held accountable by others. This commitment gives them knowledge, gives them tools, to in turn help others to produce their best work. By helping others, this leader is then inspiring the next generation of leaders. It’s an incredibly positive snowball effect.
Tough vs Direct
Have you ever met a truly great leader who describes themselves as tough? The definition implies that a person thinks of themselves as inflicting hardship and pain on others. Is that really what good leadership looks like? Great leaders are direct (I learned a huge amount from Kim Scott’s Radical Candor here); they’re instrumental in people making (good) changes through constructive and timely feedback; they support them to achieve the best possible work; and look after them in difficult situations. In short, they inspire people to perform at their best and put in the work to help them get there. Tough leaders focus on themselves, direct leaders focus on others.
Ultimately, the idea that Millennials and Gen Zs are too "soft" to handle tough leadership is a misguided stereotype that should be abandoned in favour of more constructive and empathetic leadership practices.
The notion that tough leadership is the key to success has been debunked through the case of Dominic Raab, whose unyielding approach led to his downfall. The narrative of millennials and Gen Zs being ill-equipped to manage leadership positions is unfounded and detracts from the real issue at hand – the importance of adopting an empathetic, direct, and people-focused approach to leading. By investing in self-awareness and embracing feedback, leaders can foster loyalty, inspire their teams, and achieve the best possible outcomes for all involved. It is time to let go of the "tough leadership" myth and instead prioritise empathy, growth, and accountability in our leaders, regardless of generational differences.