Monday, January 24, 2011

Leaders Should Ignore the Generalizations of Generation-Y

Leaders need to ignore the articles that make generalizations about Generation-Y and the other generations within the current workforce. The articles I refer to use research and surveys in making generalizations about Gen-Y, and seem to focus the perceived shortcomings in the younger generations. The majority of the articles suggest that Gen-Y is prone to entitlement, outspoken, not able or willing to focus, and dislikes criticism. Leaders must look past these articles if they are to remain effective as leaders.

The irony is that I have met and worked with many Boomers and Gen-Xers who share the same qualities as Gen Y. I have observed plenty of entitlement in Boomers and Gen-Xers who are living in their own reality of status quo. Many of them are unwilling to listen to new ideas, much less challenge existing comfort zones. And they do not take criticism very well.

Let me offer a blunt and harsh reality that we should keep in mind. The vast majority of corporate leaders that brought us to the financial crisis a few years ago were Boomers. Bernie Madoff was a Boomer. Some of our country’s political leaders that have been recently found guilty of ethics violations and breaking laws were Boomers. Those CEOs of fallen organizations, the same CEOs who were earning huge salaries and benefited from golden parachutes as their organizations collapsed, were Boomers.

Another reality: the ADD dysfunction is not something that only affects Gen-Yers, as I have read often enough. I’ve worked with many Boomer executives who were not able to focus on any one thing for more than 2 minutes. Perhaps modern society is just more educated on recognizing the indicators of ADD. But there seems to be plenty of ADD to go around for all generations.

Here is a safe generalization:
No matter what generation we belong to, or how old we are, we are all very similar creatures. People are people, and no matter what year they were born, they will have simular behaviors and needs and wants. Yes, some of our lives have been influenced by very different events and realities in history. But we all suffer from many of the same inadequacies that are in our "wiring".

My own observation of the Gen-Yers that have crossed my path:
- Many crave positive feedback and respond incredibly well to coaching and mentoring. They are not just open to coaching, but thrive on it.

- They want the vision and values of their organization to be noble and responsible.
- Making a difference is important to many of them, and so they will respond when told how their work contributes to the vision.
- Being well-plugged into technology, they research everything, and they want to devour new knowledge at a blinding pace.
- Their upbringing with technology has made them adept at multi-tasking, and they can be immensely efficient and productive.
- Gen-Y seems to have more of an open mind and is far more likely to innovate and think outside the box than their older counterparts.
- Plenty of Gen-Yers demand work-life balance. (I could stand to have a little more balance myself.)
- Most importantly, Gen-Yers raise the bar on leaders. They expect a higher quality of leadership, and they want their leaders to be socially responsible.
Leaders will need to continue adapting their styles to fit what individuals respond to and what motivates them. Leaders do this already. They foster dialogue and build trust. They develop cultures and teams. They identify talent and potential. Leaders create connections to those individuals so that they can be developed. They inspire and motivate, and they are change agents. All of these qualities are necessary for leaders to get the best out of any generation. This same approach will be equally successful with members of Gen-Y, maybe even more successful.

The younger generations represent our up and coming leaders, and my first-hand observations have me believing that Gen-Y will make fine leaders. Gen-Y’s talent potential is as strong as any of the preceding generations, and they might be more responsible and open-minded as well. They just need to be developed, and developing the next crop of leaders is our responsibility. It is up to the leaders from the older generations to ignore the generalizations, focus on the strengths of Generation-Y, and develop a better generation of leaders.


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