Being Boss: Leading Generation Y

October 19th, 2010 | Workplace Resources | No Comments »

If your inbox has recently been flooded with resumes, don’t be surprised. The graduating class of 2010 has just tossed their caps, and they’re ready to take the workforce by storm, diploma in hand. But the question is, are you ready? As each graduating class brings us deeper into the Generation Y workforce, many organizations are being pushed to question how they will accommodate them.

Considering that almost a quarter of the workforce is now made up of Generation Y’ers, you may very well be one yourself. But no matter what generation you’re part of, it is important to understand what kind of leadership this generation thrives under. Figure that out, and your performance rates will skyrocket.

Defining Generation Y

Let’s first take a step back to define Generation Y, also known as the Millennials, Echo Boomers, Net Generation, and more. Typically, depending on your source, they were born in the 1980’s and early 90’s, and are the product of parents who took a rebellious style of parenting to heart. If you want to generalize, the generation is known for being highly team-oriented, technologically over-stimulated individuals who expect to be heard and want to live now without waiting for retirement.

Understanding Their Differences

That being said, it starts to become clear why a different style of leadership may be necessary. One of the biggest differences between Generation Y and older generations is that they are so much less responsive to hierarchical authority. They refuse to be considered “subordinates” and believe that respect and trust is to be earned, not merely automatically given to those who are older and more experienced. They want to work with their supervisors, not just for them. Also, they like to be an integral part of a collaborative team where their voices are heard and where they can make valued contributions.

Another major difference is that Generation Y’ers desire a lot of feedback. In older generations, continuous and immediate feedback is often found insulting, but this new generation wants guidance in their professional development, and this feedback is extremely useful to them. Consequently, they wish to be recognized, praised, and critiqued for their efforts and accomplishments. Leaders in the workplace must be aware of this difference in order to maintain productivity and excellence among their employees.

Generation Y’ers ultimately want meaning from their careers. Money is no longer the biggest motivator (although it’s still a high priority). They want fulfillment, job satisfaction, and a sense that they can make a difference in the world. Because they want more out of their careers than a paycheck, they aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo, and they want a leader who has to courage to do the same. Outside of their careers, work-life balance is highly important, and as they get older, family life will typically come first.

Painting the Picture

So let’s take a second to paint a picture of Generation Y’s ideal leader, who I’ll name Henry. Henry is as much a part of the team as he is the leader of it. He listens well, and respects and values what each employee has to offer. He frequently lets his team members know how they’re doing, and he has the vision to take both the company and his employees far. Henry gets to know his employees and extends trust and respect to each of them. He fulfills a coaching and motivational role, where his employees feel empowered and each works to their optimum potential.

You might be thinking that Henry sounds highly ideal and that Gen-Y is extremely demanding of him. And, in a nutshell, Generation Y has often been described as high maintenance. However, they are also a high performance generation in the right conditions. Since the goal in the workplace is to find a balance between all generations, I’m not suggesting you realign your entire company to serve them. However, what your Generation X and Baby Boomer employees respond to is very different, and it is important to understand Gen-Y’s differences in order to lead them well. Find a good balance in your leadership techniques, and you’ll soon boost your productivity, performance, and retention rates.

The Bottom Line

As a leader to the graduating class of 2010 and their older and younger counterparts, it seems that the most effective technique you can take is to provide clear direction and constructive feedback from inside the team rather than above and outside the team. Match their ambition and engage them in valuable conversations about their job and your company. They have a lot to offer, and if you have the vision to recognize their value, you will earn their utmost respect.

Clare Webster – Marketing Director at Ashley Ellis