INsight/ How Executives Talk

Manila, 26 April 2017 — Most executives over 50 achieved success by using Purple, Blue, or Orange language, and sometimes Red. How does that limit their business today?

By language, I mean the value set that you use in your business. Your preferred style of communication may resonate with your co-workers in the company, or it may not. 

When there are disagreements, they are not always about the content of what you talk about. More likely, they are different styles of communication, that reflect different values.

The way the world works today is very different from the 80s and 90s when many current executives went through their formative years in college and as young professionals.

One of the biggest challenges for executives today is how to engage and retain the next wave of managers who are Generation Y, the so-called Millennials. Why is this a challenge?

The only way to work across the generations is for executives to embrace unlearning—even a deconstruction—of the mindset that brought them to where they are now. Tuning into the wavelength of the new GenY managers is key, as is learning to listen to their ideas.

Why is this so important?

Today's generation of emerging GenY managers stands on the shoulders of the executives who built the business into what it is today. They build on—and transcend—the values of their bosses. And they are highly mobile. They choose where to work, and are ready to move.

GenY managers understand that businesses are based on robust rules and procedures (Blue) and a healthy dose of entrepreneurship to achieve results (Orange). Yet they go further, with a 21st-century mindset. And to advance their career, they seek out businesses that match their values.

What are 21st-century values? In today's world, working in a collaborative manner and conserving the environment has become more important (Green). Moreover, the need for creative thinking to cut through complexity with smart solutions has never been more urgent (Yellow).

Green and Yellow are two value systems that resonate deeply and loudly with Millennials. They see that these are needed to bring our societies and our planet forward to a sustainable future.

Few of today's executives would disagree with this. And yet, many find it challenging to change their ways to embrace these new cultures in their communication styles at work. 

Furthermore, when you observe the behavior of senior professionals as they transition into positions of executive authority, it is clear that many are grasping for models how to behave in their new positions.

Oftentimes, the new executives will end up embracing a more conservative rather than a more progressive style. They revert to the Purple, Blue or Orange styles they grew up with, with the occasional Red too. This, unfortunately, can cause problems to make their business grow.

Unlearning is tough, yet necessary to help their business succeed in today's challenges. The Millennials yearn to discuss this and show executives what they are worth with their 21st-century values that reflect more Green and Yellow thinking.

Fortunately, it is possible for executives to transcend their current communication styles and go beyond their limits of today, to Work In All Colors. They can open their doors to invite their upcoming GenY managers to engage and work together in new ways. It starts with a new way of communication.

More so, even in today's fast-changing world, it is possible for executives to become role models for the new wave of GenY managers. For many, though, that will take unlearning and then adopting new leadership behaviors and communication styles that resonate with the Millennials' preference for Green, Yellow, and even Turquoise thinking.

It all starts with the executives getting a clear understanding of their own leadership behaviors and communication preferences where they are now. The next step will be to use their new skills to empower the GenY managers so that they can lift the business to the next level.

Without an executive who listens, the most talented GenY managers might move on.

What color language do you normally use to communicate with your GenY managers at work?