Generation Y, the next generation of leaders

Prague Leaders Magazine, November 2007

“Your competition can copy every advantage you’ve got- except one. That’s why the world’s best companies are realizing that no matter what business they’re in, their real business is building leaders”- Geoff Colvin.

In his Leaders Machines article, Geoff Colvin asked top companies to share their best practices for developing leaders in a global economy. Interestingly enough, only one out of these ten companies, Infosys Technology, mentioned the need to empower young employees.

Most people in business agree that a company’s success depends on its biggest asset –people. Nevertheless, based on my 15 years of managerial experience and nine years as a business coach, I believe that the real differentiator is identifying and grooming the next generation of leaders. Rather than focus on leaders belonging to the Baby Boom generation (born between 1946 and 1964) or leaders belonging to Generation X (born between 1965 and 1979), companies should now be turning their attention to those born between 1980 and 2000, people belonging to the cohort generally known as Generation Y.

To prepare this up-and-coming generation for the challenges of leadership, it is important to know who they are as well as understand their view of the world. Not only does this new workforce see things differently, but it also works in a different way and has much different expectations about work than the generations that preceded it.

Who makes up Generation Y and what do they want?

Young and talented, members of Generation Y operate with a completely different perspective than that of the Baby Boom generation. Having been their parents’ center of attention, they display a great deal of self-confidence and can sometimes be perceived as cocky. Growing up with the Internet, they are highly technically literate and expect technology to play a part in all aspects of their life, whether it’s computers and the Internet or cell phones and MP3 players. The time they have spent with digital technology has programmed their brains to react to speed, interactivity and a variety of stimuli.

They also look to technology to overcome their lack of skills and experience when working with people of older generations.

Members of Generation Y want a chance to express their individuality and will go to great lengths to balance their professional responsibilities with their personal lives. Typically team-oriented, they work well in groups and generally prefer the team atmosphere to individual activities. They are comfortable multitasking, having learned early on to juggle school and social activities. In contrast to the typically Generation-X need for independence and a hands-off management style, members of Generation Y acknowledge and respect positions and titles. Moreover, they are looking for a boss they can respect and learn from.

How to attract and retain Generation Y employees?

Generation Y works best in a horizontal organizational structure and in a supportive environment surrounded by positive people. They welcome challenging options for growth and opportunities to work on tasks and projects they can learn from. They look for positions where they can make a valuable contribution, especially by experimenting with new applications and tools and by suggesting ways that can contribute to an organization.

Members of this generation expect flexibility in their schedules to have the opportunity to enjoy life to the fullest. They are not prepared to give up their hobbies and personal activities because of a job.

They are also partial to trying a variety of jobs and experimenting in their careers and, as a result, are keen to learn about other roles in the company. Overall they want well-defined goals that lead to clear outcomes and rewards, such a promotion or a good remuneration package.

And of course, like many members of the generations before them, they are looking for a sense of purpose and meaning in the work that they do.

How to manage Generation Y employees?

Earning loyalty: Loyalty to the individual is the number one reason these young employees stay at a job. Moreover, dissatisfaction with a manager is the number one reason why they leave. For this younger generation, it is no longer enough to hire the right person and to show them the way; managers must be the right boss to win the respect and loyalty of their Gen Y employees.

Their loyalty and respect must be earned in the same way, and should never be taken for granted solely on the basis of age and experience. Nevertheless, they can be very committed to their work, the team they work with, and their boss.

Listening: These young adults are used to receiving a lot of attention from their parents for all their lives. As a result, they expect their ideas and opinions to be taken into consideration regardless of their lack of experience.

Don’t expect them to pay their dues: When a Baby Boomer or Gen Xer complains about being unsatisfied with management or position, he or she also believes, to a certain extent, that dissatisfaction is a part of any job. But someone belonging to Generation Y doesn’t waste time complaining. Instead, he or she dusts off the old resume and starts looking for what another company may have to offer.

Giving feedback: This generation expects immediate and ongoing feedback and is equally comfortable giving feedback to others.

Offering challenges and structure: When creating an environment for members of this generation, it is wise to provide a lot of challenges, but also the structure to facilitate their achievement. This means breaking goals down into steps, as well as offering all the resources and information needed to meet the challenge.

Mentoring: Members of Generation Y have one thing in common: They are new to professional life. As a result, they are definitely in need of some mentoring, no matter how smart and confident they are. And they’ll respond well to the personal attention. Because they appreciate structure and stability, mentoring these employees should be a more formal process, with set meetings and a more authoritative attitude on the part of the mentor. A mentoring program can also earn managers some points in building loyalty.

Of course, these suggestions to be more accommodating to the new generation may seem a bit strange to someone who, like myself, grew up with the belief that it is the younger generation’s responsibility to adapt and accommodate to the ways of the older generation, not the other way around.

Nevertheless, I am convinced that we can all be inspired by what the new generation has to offer, in terms of its energy, ideas and its unconventional way of thinking.

Those of us who are beginning to work with members of Generation Y, are often impressed with their positive attitude and confidence, their ease in interacting with a diverse and multi-cultural group of colleagues and their desire to enjoy what they do.

And to develop and build the foundation for the next generation of leaders I strongly believe that, we, the Baby Boomers and even some members of the Generation X, need to embrace and rise to the challenge that Generation Y is now offering us.

Are we ready for the Generation Y, the next generation of leaders?

We better be prepared for them, as they are determined to take on the world to reach their goals, with or without our help.

Originally published in Prague Leaders Magazine.