Leadership And Gen Y

Leadership styles and effectiveness of Leadership have been the subject of debate and research in Management circles. We have heard of transactional and transformational leadership and comparison of these styles. While these styles still have relevance in today’s context, I see that they would seem to be more static than dynamic to “young” professionals, unless adapted suitably to their needs and aspirations. By “young” I refer to “The Millennials” or “Gen Y,” terms that are used to those born between the early eighties and the mid-nineties. So, Gen Y, it is for this piece.

It is said that research on the preferences of Gen Y on leadership role models is very scanty and unsubstantiated. However, there is evidence to show that they value certain attributes. Since they are more independent and self-reliant, they enjoy their space and prefer their leaders to provide latitude in their work. They prefer to be allowed to complete their tasks in their own style and at their pace as long as they meet the agreed deadlines. They are impatient, which is easy to understand, and want their work divided into smaller segments or modules with short term deadlines. They welcome responsibility and are not averse to taking risks and like to be tested to prove their skills.

The Millennials expect their leaders to empathize with, and meet their expectations. This requires a quantum change in mindset. They need to be convinced that their leaders do not view their attitude and priorities with suspicion and distrust. To win the confidence of these young, qualified professionals leaders have to shake away their entrenched beliefs that enjoying life means shirking work. To meet their expectation of instant gratification, leaders have to be prepared for change in the classical styles of bestowing rewards. Gen Y wants to be told why and how their work is important and how it benefits the organization. Organization must accept that processes can be reengineered if this genuinely benefits them.

It is true that Gen Y is always looking for opportunities to advance in their career and earn more. The usual corollary deduced from this attitude that they are not loyal is not true. The fact is that these young people have grown up in a digital world with global connections and interaction and are always on the lookout for personal progress. The faster the leadership recognizes this the better it is for their companies’ growth. A congenial atmosphere will naturally help retain these vibrant professionals.

Leadership styles are under a process of transformation since the Millennials prefer characteristics in leaders that would sync with their nature. They are comfortable when leaders understand that there is life beyond work that is equally important. Leaders will do well for themselves if they infuse some amount of humor and camaraderie in the work atmosphere.

To retain this workforce, it is necessary to make a paradigm change. The faster leaders free themselves from the secure world of structure and hierarchy the more easily they will gain acceptance. Inclusion of Gen Y in decision making and freedom to operate will also be well appreciated.  

I read a research paper that isolates typical traits that Gen Y look for in their leaders. These are:

  • Transformational styles
  • Strong work ethic (in the leaders)
  • Honesty
  • Competence
  • Professionalism

It is only a matter of time that such attitudes become commonplace in organizations. Change is something that Baby Boomers and Gen X have to get used to. Hope we know what is in store for us when the Gen Z makes their presence felt.