Leading the age of disruption.

During the last two weeks, I had the opportunity to speak at Purdue University and my alma mater, Iowa State University.

I shared a new talk, Leadership in the Era of Disruption, to more than 250 talented students and faculty members. One of the five leadership principles I share revolves around the idea of intellectual humility — the ability to recognize and truly believe that you don’t have all the answers, no matter what stage in life and business you find yourself. And how critical it is to be curious by asking intelligent questions. And what I found particularly gratifying and fascinating were the quality of questions I was asked during and after the talk. These audiences were already putting one of my principles to work. So here is a sample of those questions, with abbreviated answers that I provided. Along with some interesting give-and-take.

How does one protect their reputation in the age of social media where news, or rumors, spread like wildfire?

Always do what’s right, not expedient. Over time, that will build a less-penetrable wall around your organization and your personal reputation.

What skill set should we focus on as we prepare for the post-college working world? 

Work on the soft skills. In the era of mobile phones and amazing technological advances, we are losing the art of interacting with human beings. Practice the art of asking great questions, listening intently to what you hear and then doing something with what you learn. Make whomever you are interacting with feel like they are the only person in the room.

Is Gen Z more risk-averse than preceding generations? 

Hmm. This one created some very interesting discussion. One point of view: yes. An example is that this group is much more unlikely to buy stocks. They saw their parents’ net worth implode during the meltdown in equities a decade ago. Another point of view: No, this group has the ability to research decisions much farther down the risk spectrum, due to the internet and other technologies. So, they roll the dice later in the thought process.

Are leaders made or born? 

Ah, love this one. My response is some of each. But I firmly believe that with proper mentoring, coaching and motivation, the DNA you’re born with can be molded and formed into becoming a stronger leader.

What do you think about my answers to these questions?

I find these visits invigorating. We have talented, thoughtful young people ready to enter the workforce. And thanks to the leaders at Purdue and ISU for inviting me to their campus.

About the Author

As chairman, Greg Nickerson splits his time between business development, financial oversight and serving on several non-profit boards representing Bader Rutter.  During his three decades at the agency, he has seen it more than triple in size and diversity its client base into many different industries. Greg counts among his accomplishments orchestrating an employee buy-out of the company from its founder in 2008 as well as leading the effort to locate and build a new headquarters in downtown Milwaukee.

Greg has long taken an active role in the Milwaukee community, from industry and trade groups to philanthropic community service. A long-time board member of the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, he was recently elected President of their Board of Directors. Much to his chagrin, he has not been called down to the floor to help his beloved Milwaukee Bucks.