Someone asked me, “Isn’t leading Generation Y just the same as leading anyone?” The answer is “Yes, and….”
It may help to step back and define leadership. Leadership is about effectively balancing the accountability for results with the inspiration of the workforce. It’s both this simple and this complex. Organizations create positions of leadership so there is someone with the distinct responsibility of getting work done through others.
What organizations want and what employees want are different. Now, before I go on, please understand that when I make a statement like this, I realize someone will always argue the point or find exception to it. If we could just be a bit general here, this is the difference: Organizations want results. This is measured by things like sales revenue, profit, market share, on-time delivery, client satisfaction, just to name a few measurables.
Employees want fulfillment. They want to wake up every morning, get in their car and drive to work….to a place where they know someone cares about them and what matters to them. The good news for organizations is that some of the fulfillment an employee feels will come from their contribution to results. If leaders think this is where it stops, then this is also where leaders are failing.
About half of the leaders, if they had their druthers, would have organizations filled with employees who simply wanted to work. We’ve heard leaders say to employees, “Listen, we’re here to work. We’re not here to be friends and to have a social club day.” One leader, an executive vice president, even added, “I don’t care about happy.” Well now we’re in trouble, because for almost all employees, there is not a clear line drawn between their personal life as a human being looking for fulfillment (even happiness) and their work life. At work, every person is still a living, breathing, thinking, feeling human being. And, work is a part of an otherwise full, sometimes complex, life. The leaders we’re talking about here clearly struggle to foster the fulfillment employees seek.
So what about the other half of the leaders? Good news. These are the leaders who come to work with a natural care for people: “We’re here to work, and while we’re working we need to care about the people. We need to care about what their needs and preferences, along with what their quality of life looks like, and what they’re trying to balance or work through … while also trying to be productive.” The leaders we’re talking about in this group are more effective in fostering fulfillment … though may also find it a challenge.
So, back to our question: “Isn’t leading Generation Y just the same as leading anyone?” If we’re considering each employee in our organization as similar, we know that employees typically respond favorably to a leader who makes sure of the following: They know what is expected of them – the goals they’re being asked to support, the various roles and responsibilities that encompass their job description, the specific tasks they’ve been assigned. They receive positive feedback when they’re doing well and redirecting feedback when they’re off course. They receive respect and appreciation for the role they serve. With this in mind, we can indeed buy into the argument that leadership is leadership.
But everyone is not completely the same. So, in addition to providing the above-described leadership, leaders need to understand the “uniquenesses” of their employees and know how to respond accordingly. Uniquenesses to consider include (and may not be limited to): natural behavioral tendencies, natural talents and strengths, ethnic backgrounds and influences, value systems, current life situations, and generational influences.
Along with all of these uniquenesses, generational influences matter. And the emerging professional workforce will continue to push us to evolve the way in which work gets done and, in particular, how leaders lead Generation Y.