Tim Elmore, in his book Generation iY, explains the fact that most young people today learn and interact through “uploading.” They engage in forums and activities via their various devices where they can indicate opinions, perspectives, and preferences continuously with instant feedback. Nonetheless, many of our formal leadership and learning environments continue to implement “downloading” methods to engage, lead, and teach those in our care. We talk at people, give orders or directions, and provide important information without stopping to receive input, give explanations, or listen to other ideas and opinions.

Once upon a time, not that long ago, many lived by the mantra that children were to be seen and not heard. That philosophy was applied to many in “follower” positions, such as children, students, soldiers, or employees. While it perhaps made life easier for those parenting, teaching, commanding, or managing, and simplified identifying goals by adhering to the desires of the leader, it resulted in limited perspectives dictating actions. The ideas and desires of those in leadership roles were “downloaded” to the followers and silent obedience was often expected. Some leaders still adhere to this top-down approach to leadership. Unfortunately, such an approach in today’s world is akin to relying on snail mail for your communication while the world around you uses the instant communication of email, texting, or social media venues. Your effectiveness, and the success of your team, are at stake.

Everyone, even small children, are conditioned these days to have a voice or opinion. Whether it is choosing a favorite game to play on a tablet or posting a response to a blog or online forum, we are an uploading society. This has created a perceived need and expectation in our culture to express ourselves and be heard. There are some severely negative consequences to this trend, including increased entitlement, narcissism, impatience, and changing social skills. However, there are also many benefits such as creativity and broad participation. Regardless of the pros and cons, leaders today must accept the fact that those they lead are used to “uploading.” Failure to provide opportunities for those in our care to do so limits our ability to gain respect and earn the right to speak constructively into the lives of those around us. At times we need to counter some of the negative aspects of our “uploading” culture. First, however, we must prove we are leaders who intentionally listen and “upload” from those we lead.

A few ideas for “uploading”:

  • Solicit ideas and occasionally allow children/employees to pursue a course of action they hold to strongly (even if you see problems with the plan) and help them to deal with the consequences of their decision/action. This will help teach cause and effect, critical thinking, and problem solving, some of the qualities diminishing in our society.
  • Ask open-ended questions regularly, especially when you have the time and space to actively listen and ask follow-up questions.
  • After listening to the input of others, there will be times when you as a leader need to make an unpopular or hard decision. When you do, explain your reasons to your followers, as this then becomes a modeling and mentoring moment.