Leading Through the Generation Gap

It intrigues me that although the oldest of Generation Y are well into their thirties, many leaders are still a bit perplexed as to how they should lead and influence this group. About half of our employees within the four entities I lead at iPG probably fall within the Gen Y range, so today I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned about working alongside and leading this group.

First, they are hungry! The Generation Y teammates that I’ve been around want to be challenged. They like to run and to know that their ideas are being heard. They want to be given the freedom to think – not just be told what to do. This past year we hosted an emerging leader development program for our up-and-coming young leaders, and our participants loved learning and debating about leadership. This group is eager to learn, so be intentional about creating opportunities that feed them.

Here are some additional tips for leading Gen Y:

  • Cast your vision. Tell them where you are going, and take caution if you are not planning for growth. Maintaining will seem like a waste of time to them.
  • Share your goals. Answer four questions most Gen Yers have: Where we going? How are we measuring our progress? How will we know when we are successful? What is expected of me?
  • Give back. As a whole, Gen Y is very socially conscious. Our Gen Yers wanted us to get more involved in the community, so we let them decide what that involvement should look like. They started a community philanthropy program, a WOW program focused on fun and workplace morale, and a wellness program. All three programs are driven by Gen Y leaders, from ideas to budgeting to implementation. All I have to do is support and fund their ideas. Perfect!
  • Toss the good ol’ boy network. This inclusive generation doesn’t like being stifled or slowed down by politics or exclusive groups.
  • Let them learn other aspects of the business. Broaden their horizon. Ask them about skills and talents they possess that we are not currently using. They love to be challenged.
  • Give them your time. Make sure you are having one-on-ones with them because they will see that as a learning event (if you are bringing value in your one-on-ones, that is.) If they are results-focused and action-oriented, let them drive the meeting.
  • Empower instead of delegate. Don’t just “tell them.” Coach and mentor them.

Remember that every individual is different, so regardless of their generation, you cannot lead every person the same. On the other hand, there are some things that nearly every individual values, regardless of their generation, such as encouragement. Let your Traditionalists, Boomers, Gen Xers and Gen Yers know that you appreciate their work and commitment. I told a Baby Boomer/Traditionalist the other day that I appreciated all the hard work she put in over the weekend, and her response was, “Thank you for noticing and saying that.” No matter their age, people like to be appreciated!

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