Request a Catalog.

What Do Leaders Need to Know About Generation Y to Lead Successfully?

They’re talented, educated, tolerant, sociable, collaborative, and oriented toward achievement, but they haven’t been tested yet. What happens when they are faced with a world in economic crisis that won’t support the life style they’ve grown accustomed to? Will they pout and think, “Somebody’s got to fix this,” or will they take on the responsibility as their own?"

Granted, this generation has better skills than earlier generations, but it remains to be seen if they’ve lost something even more important. Have adults taken away their opportunities for leadership, creativity, and responsibility? Have we sheltered them and deprived them of the chance to experience and deal with life? Or have we armed them for battle by setting the example?

Generation Y
Generation Yers have grown up in a culture of praise, raised by active, involved parents who often interceded on their behalf, protecting them and ensuring that they were treated well and grew up safely. They have been brought up in the most child¬-centered generation ever, even though over half of all families in the United States have divorced parents, one in four chil¬dren lives in a single-¬parent household, and three in four children have work¬ing mothers. The parents of Generation Yers view the child as the center of the family and spend more time with their children than did those of the pre¬vious generation, despite doing so in dual¬ income and single¬-parent families. These children are not left to make key decisions on their own like the latchkey kids of the previous generation; the parents of Generation Y are very hands-¬on. They are involved in the daily lives and decisions of Generation Yers by helping them plan their achievements, taking part in their activities, and demonstrating behaviors that indicate a strong belief in their child’s worth.

Generation Yers have been programmed and nurtured to expect to be told how they’re doing and to think anything is possible.

The secure feeling attained by strong parental involvement makes the mem¬bers of the Generation Yers believe they can accomplish most anything. Here’s the thing, though. If they don’t accomplish what they want in the time frame they have in mind, they can always go back home and get help and support. They have a safety net. Parental coddling has often deprived them of learning the face-to-face social skills necessary for dealing with difficult people or situations.

What Does This Mean for You?
This may be the most high-¬maintenance workforce in history, but it also has the potential to be the most high ¬performing if leaders take the time to give them what they need. It comes down to how ready they are to perform the tasks you give them. Consider it a blessing that Generation Yers want to do everything better and faster and they are confident in their ability to do so. You can’t teach that kind of willingness, and it can be difficult to inspire. What they need is knowledge, experience, and the chance to practice their skills. These are things that can be taught.

As a leader, you need to:

Encourage their values. Find ways to show appreciation for their individuality and let them be expressive, even if it seems a little silly. It will keep them around. Allow them to have input into the decision-¬making process when you can. They want to be heard and respected. They want to work with friends and have a little fun.
Be flexible. The busiest generation ever isn’t going to give up its activities just because of a job. Many feel that as long as they get the work done, when they come in and when they leave should be up to them. It takes time to come to find that middle ground where both parties feel fairly treated. Give what you can when you can as long as performance doesn’t suffer and they do get the job done. More important, have valid reasons when you can’t be flexible. “Because I say so” won’t cut it with Generation Y.
Praise them when they earn it, when they meet expectations, and not before. If you offer too much praise too soon, it loses its motivational effect and makes Generation Yers feel like they are performing to an acceptable standard when they aren’t.

Train them. This is the most education-¬oriented generation in history. If you want a job well done, tell them how to do it, give them the tools and resources to do it, but don’t forget to also share why. They need that.
Mentor them. They want to add to your company, not own it. Do not be afraid to give feedback, positive or negative. Keep it about performance. Be honest and timely. Earn their respect.

Make their work valid. Don’t just give orders; give the reasoning behind your requests. If you want them to do something, tell them why in a way that lets them know the importance of the task to the company. If they ask why, try not to get frustrated or take it as a challenge to your authority. If you start believing that they don’t know when to shut up, you may resort to a “Do it and do it now” leadership style. This won’t work, because Generation Yers reside in the no¬fear zone—most aren’t motivated by threats and punishment or firing because they have parental safety nets.

Provide full disclosure. Generation Y values fairness and ethical behavior, while also being skeptical. If they feel that you are not being truthful, they will not be satisfied. That is no way to earn loyalty.

Provide access to technology. It’s not about having the newest and best technology but about having the right technology. Capitalize on their expertise and involve them in the process of choosing and implementing technology. This creates a sense of ownership in them that can foster not only their respect, but also their loyalty.

Generation Yers feel empowered as a result of overindulgent parents. They have a sense of security and are optimistic about the future in a very practi¬cal way. They expect a workplace that is challenging, collaborative, creative, fun, and financially rewarding, and they expect pay commensurate with what they are doing, not promises that may or may not come true.

On the other hand, there is a whole group of Generation Yers coming of age separate from the experience so far discussed. Sixteen percent grew up or are currently being raised in poverty. The schism, termed the “digital divide,” is about technology, which has had a profound impact on the personality of Generation Yers. Never has the gap between the haves and have¬nots been so great. It is entirely possible that this will result in a generational subculture that has yet to be defined and certainly has the potential to have an impact on leadership.

Excerpted, with permission of the publisher, from The AMA Handbook of Leadership, edited by Marshall Goldsmith, John Baldoni, and Sarah McArthur. Copyright 2010, Marshall Goldsmith, John Baldoni, Sarah McArthur. Published by AMACOM. For more information, visit:  www.amacombooks.org


About the Author(s)

Paul Hersey is founder and chairman of the board of the Center for Leadership Studies and is an internationally renowned behavioral scientist, recognized by business leaders around the world as one of the outstanding authorities on training and human resource development. His research at the Center for Leadership Studies led to the development of the Situational Leadership Model, which has been used to train more than 14 million managers, including those in some of the most well-known Fortune 500 companies.