Leadership, in the key of Gen-Y

“Generation Y is the most exciting group in the world.  They want to do their own thing, they want to change the world.  Technology’s changed so fast.  The Internet’s come, they can do it.” – Jack Welch

Via LinkedIn, I came upon a post by Olaf Swantee, CEO of EE (a UK-based communications service provider), The 3 Characteristics of Tomorrow’s Leaders.  In this post, Swantee cites a Deloitte study, Upwardly Mobile, that investigates the impact of an increasingly mobile workforce in Britain (c’mon, go to the link…it’s fun!).  In the study, Deloitte presents three characteristics of leaders who are part of Generation Y:

  1. Generation Y leaders are inclusive and collaborative decision-makers who prefer to enable others to be leaders rather than dictate.
  2. Generation Y leaders are deeply cognisant of the strengths, values and needs of individuals.  They work to shape the business to suit its talent as much as they shape talent to the business.
  3. Generation Y leaders are passionate about fast progress, innovation and entrepreneurship.  They persistently challenge the status quo.

The study also examines the business implications of this new generation of leader, but I’ll let you actually open up the document to see those.  They’re short, but thoughtful, and organizations that want to effectively and efficiently manage the workforce transitions of the future should give these issues and their implications some serious consideration.

Swantee’s post and the study got me thinking about my own leadership style (I’m a Gen-Yer) and the styles I’ve observed throughout my career.  Plus, it’s nice to see a post that paints a positive picture of the millenials, in contrast to the many about how the generation is spoiled by unrealistic expectations and a collective sense of entitlement.

I believe that the three characteristics presented by Deloitte actually describe my style quite accurately.  Relating to the points above…

  1. I strive to be collaborative in my decision-making, and I bristle when decisions are forced down a hierarchy without consultation or consideration.  Now, this doesn’t suggest that the majority always rules; rather, it is more reflective of my belief that a leader rarely has complete information and can usually gain valuable new data and insightful perspectives by consulting with other people, including those in the reporting structure.  An additional benefit of collaborating is that decisions reached in this manner automatically have a higher collective buy-in and an increased likelihood of leading to a successful outcome/implementation.
  2. I believe in leading people and managing projects.  I have a dedicated one-on-one meeting with each member of my team once a week, and I strive to make sure that, to the maximum extent possible, people are working on projects they enjoy and that align with their desired professional development.  We as a team have responsibility for a wide range of items, and we have some flexibility in how those items are divided between team members.  The wider organization, the team as a whole, and the individuals all benefit when projects align with personal goals.
  3. Perhaps nothing frustrates me more, professionally, than being artificially limited.  Sometimes the cause is overhead (necessary, but often overdone and burdensome), sometimes it’s fear of change expressed as “we can’t do it that way because we haven’t done that before” (so maybe it’s time to try something new), sometimes the issue is something else entirely; regardless, when I’m chomping at the bit to be productive, and something’s preventing that…goodness that’s frustrating. I believe in doing the right thing, and not necessarily doing the thing that’s prescribed by the process (process is often ignorant of specific context…and this is coming from a guy who loves process and rules).

I strive to be collaborative in my decision-making.  I believe in leading people and managing projects. I believe in doing the right thing.  Nothing frustrates me more, professionally, than being artificially limited.

Of course, one thing I’ve noticed over the years is that my perspective shifts.  I strive to do things right, and believe I’m doing a pretty good job; however, I expect I’ll look back in five years and perhaps see things a little bit differently.  There are a lot of Gen Yers out there who look at the decision-makers in organizations around the world and critique and openly wonder what the heck these folks are thinking.  But ignorance is bliss.  Will we feel the same when we’re running companies and are exposed to more of the tough inner workings or business, when we’re forced to make decisions that keep the company alive even if it means laying off people we’ve come to hold dear?  I’m sure we’re not the first generation to think, “Things will be different when I’m in charge!”.  Lots of kids have said that over the years, and ended up just like their parents.

I’ve been the youngest guy in the room countless times, and on many occasions I felt like I was speaking a different language.

Plus, getting to that point will take some time.  There are a couple of decades ahead of us in which the Gen Xers will make way for the Gen Yers, and in that transition period boardrooms and meeting rooms will see a gradual demographic shift: from a majority of Gen Xers, to an even mix, to a majority of Gen Yers (and maybe a few Gen Zers thrown in to keep things interesting).  I notice that my own leadership style and general professional characteristics differ considerably from many of the folks above me.  I’ve been the youngest guy in the room countless times, and on many occasions I felt like I was speaking a different language, wondering why people weren’t getting the point I was trying to make (or why they didn’t seem to value it as much as I did).

As I said above, in hindsight I often come to understand: sometimes the point wasn’t as important as I thought, sometimes the manner of communication wasn’t as good as it could have been, and sometimes the point was spot-on but people just couldn’t see it because it was so different from what they were accustomed to.  I expect I’m not the only Gen Yer who’s gone through these experiences, and I consider myself the better for it for the lessons they’ve taught me.

Through the coming transition, I only hope to listen and learn from the folks who’ve come before me, so that I can adopt best practices and incorporate them into my own portfolio of skills.

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Posted in Careers, Leadership, Management

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