November 6, 2012 - Leadership is a critical management skill marked by social influence through support of others in getting things done. Leadership consultant Mick Ukleja understands well the power of this skill.
The author, consultant, philanthropist and leadership expert has been inspired by leaders his whole life. It led Ukleja to pursue a bachelor's degree in philosophy, a master's in Semitic languages and a doctorate in theology. He established a church in Orange County, where he served as a pastor for 20 years, before founding LeadershipTraq, a consulting firm based in Long Beach. He hosted a branch of the firm called LeadershipTraq Televised, a cable talk show structured in an interview format profiling outstanding leaders in Southern California.
Ukleja is the co-founder of the Ukleja Center for Ethical Leadership, housed in the college of business administration at California State University, Long Beach.
Established in 2005, the center offers training to students to integrate ethics in all fields of study, and research stipends to professors who come up with ways to add ethical teachings to curriculum. Ukleja was the first governing chair of the nonprofit and remains a member of the center's governing board.
He is also the chairman of the board of trustees for The Astronauts Memorial Foundation, an organization that sponsors the national Space Mirror Memorial and provides technology training to educators. The foundation is housed at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
In 2008, Ukleja published his first book, "Who Are You? What Do You Want? Four Questions That Will Change Your Life." Ukleja has since co-authored two other books, "The Ethics Challenge: Strengthening Your Integrity in a Greedy World," published in 2009, and "Managing the Millennials: Discover the Core Competencies for Managing Today's Workforce," published in 2010. He also served as a featured speaker at the 2012 TEDx SoCal event in Long Beach.
In the following interview with the Business Journal, Ukleja discusses his role as a leadership consultant, addresses the challenges of generational diversity in the workplace and offers advice to current and future leaders on how to unleash success and discover happiness.
LBBJ: When did you realize that you wanted to be a leadership consultant?
Ukleja: I've been involved in leadership my whole life. When I was a pastor of a church, I noticed that one of the great ways to build bridges into the community was in the area of leadership. Everybody needs leadership. They are interested in leadership. So we started LeadershipTraq. It actually turned into a cable TV show, which I did for a number of years. I interviewed top leaders in every industry. I interviewed people like Ken Blanchard, Patrick Lencioni and John Wooden. In fact, I interviewed John Wooden on his 96th birthday, which was quite a thrill. He still had his fastball, which was great. I've interviewed Jim Kiltz, who was the CEO of Gillette. Those are the kinds of people I interviewed, so I got leadership perspectives from all different sectors. Leadership is important. Basically, leadership is influencing other people. Everybody is a leader because everybody influences others in some way, shape or form. The thing that really pushes my button is self-leadership, because if you can't lead yourself, you can't lead other people. That's what excited me about getting involved in leadership. You become a better person.
LBBJ: In your role with LeadershipTraq, what generational group tends to hire you most often to speak on individual empowerment and leadership, and why?
Ukleja: The generation would be Baby Boomers, but they in the past few years have been struggling with this new generation coming into the workplace – the Millennials. Millennials are age 11 to 29, give-or-take, so we call them 20-somethings. For years we've talked about gender diversity in the workplace. We've talked about ethnic diversity in the workplace. Now the talk is all about generational diversity and how these generations can get along together. The reason why Boomers have us come speak is because they are the ones in management right now and, of course, the 80 million-strong Millennials are in the pipeline. You have Gen Xers involved in this, too, but Boomers weigh a lot in terms of clout and can create the social norms. They can create the things that aren't put down in policy manuals.
LBBJ: How do you think the local leaders of today can help pave the way for younger generations to get involved in their community?
Ukleja: The days of the old style manager, where the manager comes in, gives you a list of things you have to do and then checks in on you a week or so later, that kind of manager is now becoming a dinosaur. Today, managers are good coaches. They look at people on the front lines, this younger generation for example, and they're asking, "What can I do to make them successful? They are the ones with a lot of energy and a lot of ideas that I don't have." Millennials are the first generation that hasn't had to have an authority figure to access information, so it changes the way you teach them at the university level, and it changes the way you lead them in an organization, whether it is profit or nonprofit.
LBBJ: Do you feel that there is a generation gap in leadership in Long Beach? If so, why do you think that?
Ukleja: It's not a gap so much as it is tensions to make sure that the generations understand each other and why they are the way they are. What are the social markers and those experiences and the political climate that really mark them during their formative years? That's different for Boomers. The Vietnam War is a lot different than 9/11. They are two different kinds of wars. If you take Gen Xers, for instance, the Vietnam War is a lot different than the Persian Gulf War, which was very patriotic. We were in and out of there. On 9/11, we were attacked on our own soil. If you take a Boomer, they remember the King and the Kennedy assassinations. You take the Millennial, they remember Columbine, which raises the King and Kennedy assassinations to a whole new level because now you have students assassinating students. There are differences, and our values are formed during those formative years. Even though our skill set improves over time, our values basically remain the same.
LBBJ: Let's move on to the Ukleja Center for Ethical Leadership at Cal State Long Beach, which you helped establish. Who does the center serve and how has it evolved?
Ukleja: The center serves the student body as well as the community. It is housed in the college of business administration, but it is interdisciplinary. Now they have the best governing chair they have ever had in Louise Ukleja. There are three pillars in the center. The first pillar is ethics across the curriculum. That is, we want every student to be exposed to the ethics in that particular discipline in which they are studying. The second pillar is research. Professors are developing three-hour modules for each 15-hour course, and they get stipends for this; they get rewarded for this. Then we give it away. Anyone can use it. And the third pillar is outreach. We believe strongly that theory should inform practice, and that we have this gem of a university right in our midst. We have this ethics center, so this center teams up with the local chamber of commerce to pull off an event every year called "Leading the Ethical Organization." They also give away the John Wooden Ethics and Leadership Award, which comes with a very nice stipend for someone who has really promoted ethics.
LBBJ: The mission of the Ukleja Center is "Equipping people with the transformational power of ethical leadership." In what ways have you seen leaders in Long Beach transform through ethics?
Ukleja: Let me first of all say that there is transformational leadership and there's transactional leadership. Transactional would be I am doing something for a reward or to stay out of trouble. It's an outside-in model, where with transformational I do something because it's the right thing to do and it's what I'm all about. Transformational starts from the inside out. I'm not saying transactional is bad. If you don't have transformational to go along with it, it's not very effective. So in organizations we too often have ethics being taught by attorneys in terms of what you can do and what you can't do, otherwise you get in trouble. There's a place for that, but if you don't teach the transformational aspects of that and create an ethical culture, those outward compliance rules aren't going to do much good, especially under pressure.
In Long Beach, we are very fortunate that so many of our leaders understand this transformational model, and they lead from the inside out. I would say that this city has a disproportionate overload of people who really understand transformational leadership.
LBBJ: Are there any particular leaders that you can think of, civic or otherwise, that you would want to point out?
Ukleja: If I named them, then I would leave somebody out.
LBBJ: How often do elected officials or civic leaders approach you for advice on ethics and leadership, and would you welcome more?
Ukleja: Sure. I would always welcome that. Anytime somebody wanted to get involved or have somebody come and talk about ethics in their organization, the [Ukleja] center is more than capable of sending the right person there to do that.
LBBJ: Do you feel that civic leaders in Long Beach know that your doors are open? Have they tapped you to assist with any sort of ethical issue that may have come up?
Ukleja: From time to time they do. I think they would approach the center more than just me as an individual. I'll be asked to come and speak places, and I do that quite a bit on ethics. I've done that for the police department, the school district and a couple of other organizations. I think to enlist the services of the center would be best because there you have an array of different individuals with different expertise that could come in and do the right job for that particular entity, and maybe understand the business better.
LBBJ: Oftentimes those in management or leadership positions in small organizations have difficulties putting together a sustainable strategic plan for success, falling into the perpetual motion of what has been called "business as usual." What advice do you give the habitual leader, employer or manager to create and establish a path to achievement?
Ukleja: Small businesses have to learn to transition from being a supervisor-manager to at least being a managerial leader. Managers and supervisors get up every morning and think, "What problems do I have to solve?," whereas a leader gets up every morning and say, "Who today can I impact? What can I teach?" As you go up the food chain as your business grows, you need to become less of a manager-supervisor and more of a teacher. For instance, I was working with an organization that had 1,500 employees. We were working with the executive team and the CEO. If I can have the CEO, every day, teach one percent improvement in the skills of his people, rather than him going and solving problems, he's going to impact 1,500 employees, probably another 1,000 spouses, probably another 2,000 children and customers, as well. That leader is now leveraging his ability. Rather than solving a problem, he is creating a force that can solve multiple problems, and he's now a teacher. You build an organization by building the people who are going to build your organization, and you build the people by building yourself. It starts with you. We teach what we know; we reproduce what we are.
LBBJ: While the economy is slowly crawling out of what has been called the Great Recession, there still aren't enough jobs coming back to address unemployment. Unemployment in Los Angeles County is 10.6 percent. What ideas do you have to activate these unemployed folks to contribute to the local community and economy again?
Ukleja: I would say get some training. We talk about people finding their passion, but that's on the supply side only. What's the demand? Figure out what the demand is, what people need, and then go get some training in those areas. Make yourself in demand. You say you want to find your passion? I say make yourself useful. If you make yourself useful, it's going to pop up. You're going to find that passion. And you have to talk to people about what's coming. Even if you're working in a job and you're not unemployed. Always read. Always talk. Always show up and ask questions. The successful person gets on the good side of how success works and then makes it happen.
LBBJ: At a time when we as a species are more connected to each other than ever before, through our global economy and through the Internet, people arguably have more power to influence change. And yet, in your October 16 blog post, you acknowledge that, "we live in a pessimistic fog." What steps do you think an individual can take to raise collective consciousness out of that fog while remaining pragmatic?
Ukleja: It's during great times of downturn that the most creativity starts. We did such a great job in World War II not because of World War II, but because of the Great Depression. There were so many people who had to learn new trades and had to figure out new ways to make it. More innovation happens during downturns than in any other time because people are forced to do it. Today, with all the social media that we have, it's amazing how if you interview students up to 12th grade, 45 percent of them say they want to start their own business. There are a legitimate 23 million Millennials who have that entrepreneurial ability today.
What can we do to unleash them when they come to our organizations? They have this ready, built-in need to make a difference, and what we should do is cultivate that. They understand technology better than we ever have. They are digital natives. They are the first global generation. They understand the whole workplace shift. Right now in the United States we have six desks for every 10 people because we are moving toward that kind of a workplace. It's saving money on commuting. Some companies are saving money not having to give this person a technical device. We're reducing our carbon footprint. We're becoming more productive. That's what happens with these kinds of things. There's pain, and there's hurt and heartbreak, and in the same token, we should take care of people who can't take care of themselves. And this is the time when the creative class rises.
LBBJ: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Ukleja: I think that people need to understand where happiness comes from. It's not from somebody doing something for another. It really comes from being grateful. I always suggest to people to develop a gratitude grid. We used to call it counting your blessings, but I call it a gratitude grid because it sounds more 21st Century. The whole concept is the more grateful you are, the more content you are and the happier you are. We live in this 72-degree world and we get used to all of this. We assume this is the normal. It's not. We live in the top one-tenth of a percent in the world, and every day I try to bookend the day with gratitude; from when I get up to when I go to bed. At the end of the day, I make a list. On one side I'll ask, "What did I do well?" On the other side I'll ask, "What could I have done better?" I don't get real negative with myself. On this list of "What could I have done better?" if something keeps showing up, then I get some help. That's where good feedback comes in.