How to manage a new generation of leaders

Work environment and values are paramount for the new generation of leaders, Melissa Baxter says

The new generation of leaders often has a completely different way of working from their older counterparts.

For example, while boomers usually view long hours as evidence of loyalty and hard work, Generations X and Y try to have more work/life balance. They’ve seen their parents’ lack of quality of life, and the lack of loyalty companies showed to these hard-working parents in the 1990s, and they’re not impressed.

They want flexible hours, more vacation time, continuous training, and telecommuting options. They expect to leverage technology to work efficiently, instead of staying late in the office to get everything done.

Boomers have traditionally felt that they have to “pay their dues” to the company – and if someone hates their job, that’s just part of life. Generations X and Y typically don’t accept this; they want rewarding, intellectually stimulating work.

Many have questioned the loyalty of Gen X and Y and while it’s true that they usually won’t stay with a job if they’re unhappy – as boomers often did – this doesn’t mean they aren’t serious or loyal. It simply means that if an organisation wants to retain their best leaders, they need to offer them an environment that’s geared to their values.

Quite a few Fortune 500 companies have changed the way they work to meet the wants and values of these new generations. Here are some examples:

  • A major U.S. chemical company has eliminated its “corporate ladder” approach to management. There are no bosses, and there’s no top and bottom in the chain of command. Instead, authority is passed around through team leaders, so everyone in the company has a sense of equality and involvement.
  • A software company in Silicon Valley has no set office hours. Staff come in and work when they choose. Everyone gets paid time off every month to do volunteer work, and they get a six-week sabbatical every four years.

These are all profitable, highly productive companies with low staff turnover. They’ve made new rules, and they’re successful.

So, what does all this say about the new generation’s leadership style? Well, it’s easy to see that Gen X and Y are unlikely to lead in the same way the boomers did.

The new leaders value teamwork and open communication. They’ll encourage collaboration, and they won’t give direction and expect to be followed just because they’re in charge. They want to understand their peers and other people’s perspectives.

They’ll spend more time building relationships with their teams than their predecessors did. Because they value their family time, they’ll also give their staff enough time for personal lives. As a result, corporate culture might become less rigid, bringing more flexibility and a sense of fun.

This new generation values action, so they’ll work more efficiently and productively to earn time off. They’ll expect their team to work hard too, but they’ll also know when it’s time to leave the office. One of the ways in which they gain this efficiency is by using technology. Although they themselves will usually get to grips with this easily, new generation leaders may need to be reminded that other members of their team might need more training and support than they do themselves.

But they’ll also follow a leader who has heart, and once someone has proven their worth the new generation will support them, and follow them all the way.

To ensure new generation leaders want to stay, companies should:

  • Offer ongoing training, especially in skills like organisation, time management, leadership, and communication. People in Gen X and Y usually love to learn new things, so opportunities to grow are high on their list of priorities.
  • Increase non-monetary benefits. Gen X and Y tend to value time as much as, if not more than, money. Increase vacation benefits and offer flexible working hours. These people are often busy parents who appreciate when a company understands that the traditional 9-to-5 day isn’t always practical.
  • Give them freedom. Gen X and Y are often self-reliant and don’t always look to a leader for direction. Their goal is to complete tasks in the most efficient way possible, while still doing them well. So don’t force them to work under a management style that boomers often preferred, with the boss giving orders.
  • Earn their loyalty and respect. Gen X and Y may not automatically be loyal to leaders, just because those leaders are in charge. Younger staff want open communication and leaders who are supportive and worthy of being followed.
  • Treat women and men as equals. Gen X and Y are used to viewing women and men equally, so be sure to compensate both genders equally. If women feel they’re the target of discrimination, the company will quickly lose them.
  • Be “green.” The new generations have grown up with Earth Day and the threat of global warming. They want to make less of an impact on the environment. Studies have shown that people who work for companies with green initiatives have higher job satisfaction, and turnover is usually much lower.

There’s no doubt that the new generation of leaders has priorities that are often quite different from those of previous generations of leaders.

So if a company wants to hire and keep the best and brightest people, the ones who will lead the company into the future, then they must create a work environment that’s tailored to their values and priorities.


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