Blimey our leaders are looking young these days! As the Baby Boomers enter the age of wisdom they are beginning to slowly recognise the future is now in the hands of Generation Y leaders and it is time to release their grip on the leadership keys they have worked so long and so hard to get. Let’s hope for all our sakes they do a great job and let go quickly and with good grace, as we need a new way of thinking more than ever. As Einstein famously said ‘the thinking that has created this mess will not be the thinking that gets us out of it!’
We are in with a chance. I recognise that Gen Y has a lot going for it. I have two of them as daughters so I recognise I am slightly biased. Both my daughters are entering the world of work with completely different mind sets to the one I had when I was their age. The youth of today they don’t know they are born, when we were young…. start Monty Python music….yes I know I sound like my Dad – it’s a generational thing!
The Baby Boomer generation attitudes to life were shaped by the Vietnam War, moon landings and the freedom and liberation of the sixties. Our parents worked hard, they knew what it took to struggle through and this echo made a large impression on our attitudes to work. Generation X who followed us, (typically referenced as those born between mid-60’s and 80’s) were influenced by the fall of the Berlin Wall, the release of Nelson Mandella, Live Aid and the Northern Ireland conflict. For Gen Y (those born since 1980 up to the millennium) and who are now taking leadership roles in our organisations, the Gulf Wars and 9/11 have been major events in their lives.
Here is the deal – as we move through life each generation becomes smarter, more
tech savvy, worldlier and more evolved. It’s just the way the world works. These
young leaders have never known a world without computers or mobile phones. I
happen to think the Generation Y leaders are in great shape to take over the
leadership roles they are beginning to fill. I recognise their attitude to work being
far healthier than mine was at their age and I admire them for this. As a Baby
Boomer myself I am a coach, trainer and a Dad to this generation of leaders and I have picked up a few insights that I would like to share to get the most from this new generation of leaders.
Do not make too many assumptions about them as a group. Gen Y are the most diverse generation in history and one size definitely does not fit all. They are in many ways a pampered generation and are well used to being made to feel special by guilty parents over compensating for their own out of kilter work life balance. They are used to living in a customised world where we have presented them with a myriad of choices. As a result they will not respond to overly bureaucratic processes and ‘administrivia’ (trivial administration) developed by Burons (bureaucratic morons).
They want to be developed so give them coaching and mentoring. Like all young leaders they lack confidence at times and they expect and want feedback and feed-forward advice and guidance. They prefer a mentoring, little and often approach not the annual review ‘charade’ we have had to put up with in our careers. They want opportunity and flexibility in their career paths they have no comprehension of staying in one job for the whole of their career and slowly working their way up a career ladder. Far too slow and dull, like the TV channels and social media they use they expect to interact, add value and move on.
Consequently Gen Y leaders can appear superficial with their casual dress and somewhat liberal attitude towards work but be careful, do not underestimate them, they want to be stretched and they expect to be asked to think. They are the product of a different education experience than the Baby Boomers. In the late 60’s and 70’ we were taught that thinking was really all about data and knowledge, so were taught to recall and comprehend. Gen Y have been asked to reflect, evaluate and predict throughout their education journey which means they are well equipped to think things through using intelligence, insight and wisdom. When training and developing them they have little time for knowledge transfer – ‘that’s what Google is for’ – they want to be stretched to think and learn new skills by being trusted to do rather than talk. They cannot understand why we insist on holding meetings that spend endless hours reviewing data and presenting current knowledge without spending much time reflecting on what this all means and what we are going to do differently as a result. Mind you neither can I! They have the ability to quickly collect information and respond in real time and this will trump experience every time. Add to these capabilities the general dissatisfaction with the status quo that comes with youth and the drivers for dramatic positive change are in place.
They have a much healthier attitude towards work life blend. For Gen Y the boundaries between work and play are blurred and Gen Y leaders expect a mix of both. They expect time off and want to be flexible in where and when they work. They are the most networked generation we have ever experienced, so for them, having an open door policy is simply archaic. Who needs a door? They connect with the world through hand held devices and they expect communication to be instant and disposable and they can see through ‘spin’ in an instant. They are used to being connected 24/7 and they manage tasks and projects in a synchronous, matrix-like way, which to the Baby Boomers may looks chaotic and disorganised. They want to be managed on outcomes not on process and this can be a real challenge for the current generation of managers handing over the keys who have spent much of their career’s developing, benchmarking and honing processes to make them ‘best in class’. To have new leaders taking over with a desire to do their own thing can be very disconcerting….
Purpose and engagement is important. Their parents have taught them that good people give time and money to philanthropic causes. They will expect any employer to support social causes and they will expect time off to involve themselves in the betterment of their communities. They will rally to the cause if they feel a sense of ownership to the purpose and ultimately they will become a loyal exponent of the organisation if it stands for something more than making money for shareholders or owners. Thanks to the ubiquitous modern media they have been exposed to many tales of high level lying, cheating, larceny, bad business and crime from the worst leaders in our generation. They have watched the Enron scandal unfold, Tiger Woods fall from grace, the BP Oil spill disaster and our politicians fiddle their expenses. They have a sense that it is time for a change and far from being cynical about leadership they want to make a difference. It is our job to step aside and get out of their way.
So as we pass on the keys of leadership what insights can we share that are of value to help them on their way? Anyone who applies good leadership principles will do a great job. Have empathy and understanding to their preferences and viewpoints. I have to say that women leaders are often ahead of the game here as many have valued the need for flexibility in time, location and work style for years. Many young leaders are leading teams that involve people older than themselves and they will require strong self-awareness and awareness of the diversity of preferences and style this challenge brings. It is equally important to help Gen Y leaders understand how their generational preferences vary to those of other generations and that the evolution of leaders is a force of nature that cannot be stopped. As well as managing us Baby Boomers who are cruising towards the twilight of our careers, they will have the digital mind-set to manage and that will be a whole new ball game….I wish them well as the security of my future depends a lot on their success…..