The Modern Leader: Managing Based On Generational Preferences

How can leaders get ready to work with Generations Y and Z? What kind of robust new focus should they have? Which route do modern leaders need to be taking?

The answers to these questions have become increasingly relevant now that leadership is undergoing a major transformation after its evolution from “title and role” to a highly tuned skill set. A modern manager of human capital can no longer be effective just because he or she has the appropriate “title” and blithely acts out his or her “role” as a supervisor. He or she must either acquire and practice a new skill set or be left behind. As a human resources professional, I have witnessed the necessity of such a choice on almost a daily basis.

It’s no longer enough just to say, “Do it.” It’s about instilling in people a sense of wanting to achieve goals, not about telling them to achieve them. I emphasize the importance of moving from the old concept of fixing people to the modern paradigm of influencing them to develop themselves and be self-motivated.

If leadership is about flexibility and adaptation and not about just giving orders, we need to consider the differences that come about because of the way different generations present themselves in the workplace.

Understanding How To Best Work With Your Team 

As I have seen many times in my HR work, while previous generations of workers were likely to ask “why,” Generation Z is more likely to want to know “to what end” or “what for?” Studies at The University of Minnesota have shown that Generation Z employees do a much better job when they know “what for” and can align their values with the company’s mission. As leaders, we can accomplish this alignment by accommodating employees who exhibit this whole new paradigm of thinking.

For example, the Generation Y paradigm includes a great deal of variety and dynamism in the workplace. Thus, our communication with them should be tied to variety and action, rather than just to results. Involving employees in decision making and not just expecting that they perform can provide not only valued variety but can often result in better management decisions.

Also, today’s employees often bring to the workplace beliefs, values and expectations previously unseen there. Where the old-style manager would simply have told these employees to leave their personal matters at home or at least outside the office, almost overnight employees are asking that their views be afforded new recognition. Suddenly managers are being asked to relate to employees who have strongly-held opinions concerning global warming, the company’s societal impact and even political matters. More and more, we run across employees who have a burning desire to work only for companies that have a progressive culture in such things as leaving a smaller carbon footprint or which have some contribution to make concerning the elimination of poverty.

In response, leaders must move beyond their traditional role as directors and supervisors and show new flexibility in allowing expression of worker beliefs and values. Managers who successfully accommodate worker value expression might be surprised to learn that they are able to motivate and inspire by building relationships based on trust and mutual respect.

Giving Appropriate Feedback Based On Learning Style

Increasingly, Generation Y employees value frequent employer assessment of their performance and suggestions for improvement. Thus, the astute manager offers frequent feedback, not as a special event but as a part of the normal work routine. Properly utilized, there is no better relationship builder.

It also happens that feedback dovetails nicely with coaching, about which employees are also enthusiastic. I have repeatedly observed that most employees love to be coached and are anxious to take advantage of most forms of personal attention connected to their overall development and performance.

Generation X enjoys a balance between work and personal activities. This means that modern employees probably aren’t as willing to give their heart and soul to the company as were older ones. Good managers recognize this and take advantage of it, providing as many opportunities for employee discretion, choice and mobility as are commensurate with getting the job done.

Allowing more options and increased choice is a win-win for both sides. As Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee related in their recent book Primal Leadership, the brain “links” or “bridges” between its overall composition and the practice of leadership. As the bridge becomes stronger, there is an accompanying improvement in the performance of a leader. Increasingly, the leader comes to be defined in terms of abstract and complex qualities and not just his or her exercise of traditional management skills. Among those abstract and complex qualities are a fully developed and honed set of interpersonal skills, such as greater empathy, emotional awareness and ability to inspire.

Simply put, both employees and managers perform better when they have counterparts with whom they can relate and empathize. The ability to relate and be available allows the manager to motivate and inspire, while the same qualities in employees enhance their ability to enthusiastically support the company mission.

The real leadership payoff comes with the achievement of both Neuro Leadership (understanding self) and Emotional Intelligence (understanding others). The leader who is able to understand and employ both these concepts is the one who can shine as a source of vision and motivation.

This article originally was published in  Forbes.

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