Help them grow

I speak regularly on the topic of Leading Generation Y. Commonly, the baby boomer “leaders” in the room are frustrated with their Gen Y employees. Commonly, the baby boomer “parents” in the room are concerned about their Gen Y offspring.

The frustrated “leader” and the concerned “parent” is the same person.

The baby boomer “parent” approaches me at the end of the event and relates, “Yes, I know what you are saying about Generation Y being disillusioned in their jobs. My daughter called me again last week in tears. She has been at her job for two months, and she still doesn’t clearly know what she is supposed to be doing. She gets no time with her boss. She is left to figure it out. She is definitely not happy.”

Another baby boomer parent shared the phone call she received. Her daughter said, “Mom, I don’t know what my boss even does all day. His door is closed most of the time. The departments we support are consistently frustrated about his lack of follow through and failure to meet deadlines. He is never prepared for our team meetings. He has no idea how to lead a conference call. I’m embarrassed. I pick up the ball to help everywhere I can so that we don’t look like a total disaster. I’m doing his work and mine.”

And, finally, one more baby boomer parent. He approached me after an event and told me the story of his son who was hired recently by a forward-thinking company in the area. During the interview process, he was proactively recruited and given the message that he would be a valued asset to the organization. This young man is an idea guy, and he was excited to join an organization where he would be able to contribute. He has been at his job for three months and has three pages of ideas he would like to share. But his boss has no interest in sitting down with him to talk about his thoughts. Day by day, this young man is asked to do work that is not meaningful to him, and he sees no signs that this will change under the direction of his current boss.

The “parent” leader is what Generation Y is accustomed to. It’s their representation of good leadership. The “parent” leader is a leader who cares about them, listens to them, helps them problem solve, values them, gives them direction, wants them to be the best they can be. Hands on.

The “workplace” leader is often busy with their own stuff, following suit with the way they were led when they started (“There’s your desk, your phone, your business cards. Good luck.”). Hands off.

Generation Y is reaching out to their parents for help with their workplace leaders. They want direction and support to learn how to respond to leadership situations they did not count on.

I received a phone call yesterday from a friend of mine, a business leader in the Milwaukee community. He said, “I need your help with a personal situation. My daughter is struggling with a not-so-great boss situation, and she is looking for guidance on how to influence this situation.” Okay, that’s impressive. The young professionals are trying to influence bad situations.

I talked to my friend’s daughter, and this is what she shared about her boss: “I’ve been in my job for several months. My boss had my job before she got promoted to a director position. She has never had anyone work for her before, and it is pretty evident. It is difficult for her to delegate meaningful work to me. She just doesn’t have the trust in me to allow me to take on more. For the projects that I do manage, when someone comes to my desk to ask me a question, she interrupts and answers it. During meetings, when we reach agenda items that I’m responsible for, she jumps in addresses them. I want to grow. I want a leader who trusts me to grow and will coach me to continue to do my job better. I don’t want a leader who does my job.”

Recently, this young, talented professional told her boss that she would like to have more ownership of her projects and more autonomy. That didn’t seem to do the trick. Her next strategy? She is going to ask if her boss would be willing to do two specific things as a next step: 1) “When someone comes to my desk to ask me a question, will you let me answer it?” 2) “During our meetings, when we reach the agenda items I’m responsible for, will you allow me to provide the updates? Then, for both of these, will you be willing to coach me behind the scenes? THIS is what will help me grow.”

An employee who says, “I want to grow.” Why are workplace leaders opposed to helping (intentionally) make this happen?

Aleta Norris is a co-founding partner of Brookfield-based Impact Consulting Group LLC and Living As A Leader (, a leadership training, coaching and consulting firm. She can be reached at

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