The Role of Luck in a Leader's Success, Part 2
You can access part one of this two-part series here.
Luck doesn't just happen, but taking advantage of situations with a new or challenging perspective can lead to luck. Parents of the baby boomer generation came out of a major Depression and World War II. Those were difficult times, yet people, particularly in the Western world, emerged from the 1940s with incredible optimism and “hope” for a better life. They had to fight, plan and cooperate in new and different ways to meet the needs of a changed economic and social model. They experienced immense challenges. Yet going into the 1950s and early 1960s, they took advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves: expanded education and housing; proliferating communication vehicles (e.g., print and TV, news and financial magazines, and the rise of new film genres that questioned the past and the direction for the present); the rise of suburbia; and expanded methods of transportation.
These were also the years of huge population growth. Parents of baby boomers created an ethic in their children that supported the idea that hard work would lead to success and prosperity, that nothing was impossible. Baby boomers were offered unlimited educational opportunities through increased government financial assistance and the rise of community, city and state colleges. And they were expected to be independent, to pursue dreams and to take risks. In other words, they were incentivized to take risks and create their own luck. Both of the authors of this article come from families where no parent or grandparent attended college, yet there was never a question about each attending college and achieving advanced degrees. There may be many psychologically based theories about this, but the driving force here was that parents expected hard work, achievement of goals, and the chance to create their own luck and success.
Fast-forward to 2018. We believe that CEO success is tied as much to luck as it is to skill, experience and brains; however, we argue that “luck” isn't passive. Luck is not the result of behavior or situations. As Kaplan and Marsh posit, the “luckiest” leaders are those who take advantage of new or changing situations and opportunities, and are absolutely if not comfortable at least able to manage risk. The 2008 recession rattled many baby boomers (and just about everyone else); however, some took this difficult economic time as an opportunity. Scott Crane was the president of Smashburger in 2008, and viewed the recession as an opportunity to take advantage of cheaper real estate and the fact that more Americans were looking for less expensive dining experiences. They wanted to dine out, eat well and spend less. Crane was able to expand the company in ways he couldn't have done before 2008. Being in the right place at the right time helps, but taking advantage of that situation is what leads to success. It's the redefinition of LUCK.
Revisiting Baby Boomers and Millennials
Continuing with our “studies” around baby boomers and millennials, we're giving more thought as to how younger generations view concepts such as “Luck” or “Change” or even “Opportunity.” Our experiences, in general, lead us to think that many millennials expect luck to happen. Why? As a generation, baby boomers approached parenting differently than their parents. They were the beneficiaries of the prosperity of the 1950s and 1960s, and were exposed to the realities of the Vietnam War, the proliferation of recreational drugs, the explosion of sexual freedom. Some of this was good: women’s rights arose as an issue in tandem with the rise of the civil rights movement. However, the disenchantment of the late 1960s chipped away at that unbridled optimism and sense of contentment.
The world once again became somewhat more threatening and dangerous. In response, parents gave less freedom and independence to their children, or at least tried to do so. Terms like “Helicopter Moms” came into vogue. Millennials and others of younger generations were overscheduled and allowed minimal “down time.” Parents became more actively involved in every facet of their children’s lives, and often sought to more actively influence their career choices. Both of us remember experiences with overzealous parents inserting themselves in the job-seeking process, offering aid with interviewing and career choices from a much earlier age.
This shift in thinking by parents of this new generation and the sense of expectations that have developed for our children has helped shape many of the attitudes we find among millennials. Furthermore, with the explosion of technology and information available online, expectations among millennials (and their parents) have changed, and not always for the better. More than baby boomers, this group seems to expect things to happen before they should and don’t see luck as enough of a factor. We admit this is a generalization, but in our experiences as human resources professionals in retail and other marketing-driven organizations, we've found this to be more true than not. You have to make luck happen (or at least see where it is), but there's more to it. You have to have the skill, the talent, the maturity to know how to take advantage of situations and opportunities.
Research indicates that luck is, in fact, a critical component of success in the workplace for both staff and management; however, one cannot sit around and wait for luck to simply arrive. The “luckiest” are those who take advantage of opportunities others may not see. They share an incessant curiosity, are willing to take risks and see the need to be “at the right place at the right time.” This holds for those new to the workforce as well as those who continue to thrive and grow.
Luck may happen, but lucky people are those who see it and seize the opportunity.
Related story: The Role of Luck in a Leader's Success, Part 1