Skip to content

Archive for

Why you need to be both a mentor and an intern at work (REVIEW)

wisdomThis review first ran in the Sept. 29 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Wisdom @Work: The Making of a Modern Elder

By Chip Conley

Crown Publishing


The future belongs to those who give the next generation reason to hope.

Philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said it. And those of us in the back half of our careers are uniquely positioned to give this to our younger colleagues.

The timing’s right for elders to make a comeback in the workplace, says Chip Conley, author of Wisdom @ Work. Conley sold his boutique hotel business and joined Airbnb when he was 52 years old, working alongside 20-something digital natives and reporting to a CEO who was young enough to be his son.

Lots of us will find ourselves in similar situations at work. In 2002, 24.6 per cent of the American workforce was 50 years or older. That grew to 32.3 per cent in 2012 and could hit 40 per cent by 2032.

Every organization would be wise to adapt to an aging workforce and hire more people like Conley. Demographic diversity should be included along with gender and ethnicity as employers make the move to becoming more inclusive, welcoming and supportive organizations.

Along with providing “wisdom insurance” to young leaders, elders can offer high emotional intelligence, good judgment built on decades of experience, specialized knowledge, humility, holistic thinking, an ability to see the big picture and a vast network of contacts. Elders do a masterful job of combining know-how and know-who.

“In an era of machine intelligence, emotional intelligence and empathy – something older people have in spades – are more valuable than ever,” says Conley. “As we enter midlife, we embark upon a creative evolution that amplifies our specialness while editing out the extraneous. After a lifetime of accumulation, we can concentrate on what we do best, what gives us meaning and what we want to leave behind.”

Before signing on as an elder, you should know the job description’s changed. You’re no longer dispensing words of wisdom or being counted on to have all the clever answers. Instead, you’re now expected to be both a mentor and an intern. The transfer of knowledge needs to flow both ways.

So take a hard pass if you believe there’s nothing left for you to learn or if you think your primary responsibility is to provide adult supervision and be the only grown-up in the room.

“If you’re only making wise pronouncements from the pulpit, you’re unlikely to grow much of a congregation,” says Conley. “It’s time to stop with the generational name-calling and recognize we all have something to learn from each other.

“With five generations in today’s workplace, we can either operate as separate, isolationist countries with generation-specific dialects and talents co-existing on one continent, or we can find ways to bridge these generational borders and delight in learning from people both older and younger than us.”

To succeed as an elder, Conley says we must be willing and able to evolve, learn, collaborate and provide counsel.  “Being a Modern Elder is all about reciprocity. Giving and receiving. Teaching and learning. Speaking and listening. Everyone gets older, but not everyone gets elder. The first just happens (if you’re lucky and healthy). The other you have to earn.”

Conley’s written a playbook for those of us who want to be a teacher, mentor, student and intern. Why be a carton of milk with an expiration date when you can be a bottle of wine that gets better, and more valuable, with age.

The last word goes to Airbnb cofounder and CEO Brian Chesky, who wisely hired Conley and leaned on him as an elder. “When you open your eyes, ears and heart, you’ll find that everybody has a story worth hearing. And if you’re paying close enough attention, someday your story could help others write their own.”

@jayrobb serves as director of communications at Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

The 8 expectations you must meet when a crisis hits your organization (REVIEW)

This review first ran in the Sept. 15 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Crisis Ready

By Melissa Agnes

Mascot Books


The answer to the question “can people really be that stupid?” is always yes.

I keep this reminder in a frame beside my phone at work.

You may want to get one too for your office.


Even if your organization is blessed and loaded with really smart people, it takes just one employee to ignite a crisis by saying or doing something illegal, unethical, immoral or wildly inappropriate.

You should also assume it’s been captured on video. It’s one of the rules in a new book by crisis management expert Melissa Agnus.

The world watched a dazed and bloodied Dr. David Dao get dragged off an overbooked flight so a United Airlines crew member could take his seat. We saw an Uber driver get berated by former CEO Travis Kalanick. And we lost our appetite over a video of two Domino’s Pizza workers who grossly violated every imaginable health code standard.

“We got blindsided by two idiots with a video camera and an awful idea,” a Domino’s spokesman told the New York Times. “Even people who’ve been with us as loyal customers for 10, 15, 20 years, people are second-guessing their relationship with Domino’s, and that’s not fair.”

It may not be fair but it’s the reality for every organization.

When a video goes viral and spawns a crisis, there are eight expectations you must immediately meet if your organization has any shot at minimizing the financial and reputational hit. It took United Airlines two days to issue a public apology. In those two days, the airline’s market capitalization fell by $1.4 billion in pre-market trading.

  1. Notify your key stakeholders immediately and directly. If they matter to your organization, they need to hear the bad news from you first and not through the media or social media.
  2. Be transparent. Your attempted cover-up will be worse than the crime. “A mistake can be forgiven. The appearance of a cover-up will not be,” says Agnus.
  3. Deliver timely, consistent communication. “The longer you wait to communicate in a crisis, the more risk there is of the crisis spiralling out of control, and the more you risk losing trust and credibility.”
  4. Listen and validate feelings and emotions. In a crisis, emotion will always overpower reason. “If you want your message to be heard by emotional people, they need to feel as though you truly care about them, the situation, and its consequences.”
  5. Engage in two-way communication. “Gone are the days when you could deliver your statement, turn around, walk away, and go back to managing the incident behind the scenes.” In a crisis, we’ll be on social media, expecting real-time, back-and-forth dialogue.
  6. Communicate as a human and not as a lawyer or a logo. Yes, you’ll need a legal strategy to deal with a crisis but Agnus says it can’t be the public face of your response. Never leave stakeholders with the impression that covering your legal liability is your number one priority.
  7. Answer the most pertinent and pressing questions. “The longer you take to give people the answers to their primary concerns, the more frustration and loss of trust you will experience against your organization.”
  8. Hold yourself accountable and responsible. Prove that you’re serious about righting wrongs and committed to change. “People aren’t fooled by meaningless words, no matter how good they may sound.”

It’s no longer good enough to just have a crisis management plan, says Agnus. “It used to be that organizations – the smart ones, anyway – would create a crisis management plan, store it on a shelf or in a file, and rest assured that if a crisis were to strike they would be ready, as they had a plan just waiting to be activated. Today, choosing to rely on a crisis management plan is no longer sufficient. In fact, it puts you at a disadvantage.”

Instead what you need is an organization-wide and deep-rooted culture where your people are taught and empowered to mitigate risks, meet expectations and make smart decisions in real time.

“Crisis management isn’t a linear strategy,” says Agnus. “Unforeseeable, unexpected developments will occur, sometimes amplifying the challenges and other times lightening the load. You want to get your team to a level of preparedness that is instinctive, rather than solely being dependent on a linear plan that cannot possibly account for all the variations, bumps and turns that may present themselves.”

Agnus shows how to get a crisis ready program in place before you get the call about someone behaving badly and putting your organization’s reputation at risk.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications at Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.