I was stuck right in the middle. I brought a group of GEN Y and GEN Z college students on a service trip involving our faith. The coordinator for our service project was a good man with great intentions for the team. However, he managed the group as an authoritarian leader with a militaristic top-down approach. Feedback and input were not necessarily desired. While I was accustomed to this style and could adjust, this leadership style did not resonate well with the young members of the group.
He conveyed to me that the students complained too much about the circumstances while the younger members complained about the leader not listening or caring about them. The relationship could have gone south. I provided each group a different perspective about each other. The leader attempted to make changes, including asking for my input from the group and the young members responded by acknowledging his attempt to build bridges. From that point, the group was able to achieve more and have a better relationship within the group. The situation reaffirmed to me the importance of understanding generational issues and how to inspire younger generations toward great performance.
In today’s organizations, they face an arsenal of disruptive change and chaos all around us.
Disruptive change speaks the changing nature of our society. In fact, our extensive experience about the past can haunt us in a world riddled with uncertainty. Having young employees who are technologically savvy and adaptable to these environmental climates could help an organization succeed. Yet, many executives do not know how to recruit, retain, or to inspire these young generations.
As a result, organizations that wish to compete today must understand how to inspire Generation Z employees for sustainable success. However, this task is not easy. When Generation Y (aka Millennials) entered the workplace for the first time, some managers were given bad advice. The advice included telling managers to praise Millennials regardless of their performance, reward them for just showing up to work, put hand-held devices in the hands (and get out their way), and allow them come to work whenever they want to (allow them to bring their puppies). In this scenario, the workplace becomes a magical place where every workday is filled with fun and excitement.
That advisement was misleading and created unrealistic expectations of the workplace and resentment from older generations. What organization can afford to get Generation Z wrong under this global landscape? Thus, understanding generational issues can assist managers with a multi-generation workforce and lead them toward greater performance as a team. In this discussion, I will examine how today’s organization can inspire Generation Z employees with transformational leadership.
Today’s businesses cannot afford to overlook Generation Z. For the first time in history, five generations are co-existing together in the workplace. Each generation has distinct attributes, such as belief systems, expectations, and behaviors. Managing Generation Z will not be easy. Generation Z is the most global, diverse, technological, and entrepreneurial generation ever. In fact, they have never known a digital world without smartphones and social media. In general, they were born in 1995 and after. This generation makes up about 26% of the U.S. population. Each generation is shaped by parenting and its social environment. Managers should not merely lump Generation Y and Generation Z in the same category. Some experts note that Generation Z is more focused than Generation Y or Millennials.
Forbes contributor Deep Patel in his article “8 Ways Generation Z Will Differ From Millennials In The Workplace” notes that Generation Z are more independent thinkers than Generation Y. He adds, “While millennials are often seen as more idealistic, and more motivated by purpose than a paycheck, Generation Z may lean more toward security and money. This is a pragmatic generation — they care about making a difference, but are ultimately motivated by ensuring they have a secure life outside of work. If you’re looking to recruit members of Generation Z, you may be able to tempt them with promises of job security and raises down the line.” Given the unique characteristics of Generation Z, employers cannot afford to use the same old recruitment and retention strategies on this younger generation.
In this unstable environment, organizations need the right type of leadership for Generation Z employees. These younger employees will tend to respond better with transformational leadership than a transactional leadership style. In a nutshell, all managers are not leaders. Some managers are great at defining tasks and having the employees work toward that goal. They rule by their position in the organization. Otherwise, no one would follow them. In fact, these same managers are lousy at inspiring their employees. In transactional leadership, individuals lead others in an ‘exchange’ of work for rewards/punishment. If employees completed the assigned work scope, they would be compensated with wages, full employment, or other benefits; likewise, if they do not perform, they could be punished or fired.
Whereas transactional leadership rarely produce zealots who are inspired in organizations, transformational leadership has the ability of getting the greater buy-in of followers. In the simplest sense, transformational leadership can be defined ‘as a leadership approach that causes a change in individuals and social systems…it creates valuable and positive change in the followers with the end goal of developing followers into leaders.” Generation Z employees need leaders who can connect with them and inspire them toward greater achievements. Generation Z are realistic and concerned about their safety and the world. Some would call them anxious. According to one study, 58% of Gen Z’s are either somewhat or very worried about the future. Below are some interesting statistics on Generation Z:
- 66% say that technology makes them feel that anything is possible.
- 76% feel that their online experiences will help them reach their goals.
- 79% display symptoms of emotional distress when kept away from their personal electronic devices.
- 72% of Gen Z want to start a business someday.
- 30% feel their college has failed at teaching them applicable real-life business skills.
Leadership guru Dr. Richard Daft argues that transactional leadership may not be enough in a disruptive, changing world: “Transactional skills are important for all leaders. However, in a world in which success often depends on continuous change, organizations also need transformational leadership…Transformational leadership is based on the personal values, beliefs, and qualities of the leader rather than on an exchange process between leaders and followers. Given the generational characteristics of Generation Z and the need for success in organizations, the following suggestions are offered to lead this generation:
- Create a shared vision within the organization.
- Get to know employees, especially newer ones in the organization.
- Define goals, objectives, and desired objectives, making boundaries clear.
- Ask for feedback when appropriate and follow-up on the endpoint.
- Show how each person is valued within the organization.
- Seek to inspire employees by tapping into their intrinsic rewards.
- Build teamwork in the organization with group incentives (i.e., bonuses).
With continual pressures to compete, today’s businesses need to have employees who are adaptable to disruptive changes. In our society, there are 5 generations that co-exist in the workplace. Perhaps, Generation Z with its diversity and ingenuity may be the best of all generations. Yet, managers who do not understand Generation Z employees may not be able to get the most out of them. In our discussion today, I outlined how today’s organization can inspire Generation Z employees with transformational leadership. Unlike transactional leaders, transformational leaders must tap into their followers to find what motives them. Working with Generation Z employees will pose the same type of challenges. With change continuing to be more rapid and unpredictable, today’s organizations cannot hope to succeed without getting the best out of each employee. We pray that it is not too late to inspire Generation Z in your own organizations.
Please share your insight on this topic.
© 2018 by D. D. Green
About Dr. Daryl Green:
Dr. Daryl Green provides consulting, guidance, and management training for today’s business leaders. He is the Dickinson Chair at Oklahoma Baptist University. In 2016, he retired as a senior engineer and program manager with the Department of Energy after a successful career. Dr. Green has over 25 years of management experience and has been noted and quoted by USA Today, Ebony Magazine, and Associated Press. For more information, please visit http://www.drdarylgreen.com.
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