Over the last ten days, I have been interviewed by about a dozen or so talk show hosts…talking about the topic of Gen Y in the workplace, and I have had a lot to talk about and think about.
As I am going around the country, speaking about Gen Y, people are now calling me a Gen Y Evangelist…spreading the good word about this great generation. And, as I lay out the details about Gen Y and their amazing skills and contributions, I seem to be met by Boomers and Gen Xers who appear to have not just a chip but a 200 pound boulder on their shoulders about Gen Y.
Here’s the deal. As we move through life, each generation becomes smarter, more tech savvy, more worldly and more evolved. It’s just the way life works. But for some reason, we sit and make up names, stories and stereotypes for each generation, because that’s what we do…we analyze and dissect every situation, person and opportunity to the point of being ridiculous.
I am a coach, and as a coach, I give a LOT of bad news…negative feedback to leaders about what they are doing that’s creating a hiccup in their leadership. It’s usually something like "Your communication style is coming across as abrupt" or "You are not keeping up with the times" or "You are judging people for negative behaviors you also portray each time we talk" or "You are playing favorites."
I also give a LOT of positive feedback. I want my clients to know what I see in them and how they inspire ME. So, today’s post is dedicated to the Gen Y’s I have met, how they have inspired me and the leadership lessons I have learned by being in relationship with them.
1) Life is not all about work. Life is about being happy, giving back to others and having fun. The Gen Yers I have met are doing this! Many boomers say that this is ass backwards…that Gen Y needs to work harder, be more serious and stop asking for so much time off. Why? Are we really here to be work horses? Are we really here to give 60, 70 or 80 hours a week to the job that is stressing us out to the max? I don’t think so, and Gen Y knows this and gets it. If you are a leader, and you are focusing on life being all about work, then something isn’t right in your life. Something is terribly wrong if you are working 60 or 70 hours a week. Either your company is not working, or your home life is not working. Gen Yers have watched their parents work their fingers to the bone, and they don’t want any part of this. They know how to use their networks and technology to get a 60 hour a week job done in 30 (and I’m not exaggerating!) So, maybe it’s time to honestly look at why in the world it’s taking you so long to get the job done and your beliefs about what constitutes a good day’s work.
2) Keeping up with current trends and technology is a must for success. I bet I have said this 5,000 times, but so many senior leaders just don’t get it. I had a conversation last week with a leader who asked me why he and his company should be on Facebook? I then said "Why do you go to conferences, board meetings and networking events?" His response: "Well, to build relationships!" Relationship building is HUGE, and Gen Y knows this. Networking on Facebook, blogging, podcasting or sending tweets is just a smart move. If you want to be a leader, you have to be willing to use the most current tools and know how to use them to your advantage. If you are not keeping up with the current trends in technology, young leaders will see you as outdated and old school. If you don’t know how to use the technology, step up and be a leader and say "You know what…I don’t know a thing about this, and I want to know what to do!" Then ask a Gen Y to coach you and train you on how to use the technology they know so well to help you be a better leader. They will get you up to speed in about 30 minutes.
3) Diversity is King. I’m going to be honest, I despise the word diversity. I believe that diversity is a word that is reserved for people who are living a homogenous, white bread life. I am using it in this post, because it is still a buzzword for most Boomers. Listen, Gen Y’s network IS diverse, but they don’t see it as a diversity issue. They see their networks as unique, open and accepting of divergent thinking. My daughter, Katie, just transferred to UNC, and she has two roommates from different cultures and backgrounds, and she feels so at ease. If you are a Baby Boomer, get over the whole "diversity" issue (if you can…many more senior leaders just don’t seem to be able to get over the whole diversity issue…too bad in my opinion). Just start accepting people for who they are. Get beyond race, ethnicity, color and creed. When the day is over, we are all the same with the same human desires and emotions.
4) Getting and giving feedback are critical for development. I talk to top decision makers every day who are complaining about Gen Y’s constant need for feedback. I honestly don’t know what’s so wrong with this. Millennials have been given very high doses of feedback since age 4, and they need that feedback to know if they’re on the right or wrong track (I know I need this as well…I have to have feedback to know if I’m developing or stuck). If you have a problem with Gen Yers asking you for feedback, it’s probably because you have a hard time hearing feedback about your performance. Leaders don’t want to hear that they are a jerk or they don’t communicate effectively or that they are disorganized. On the other hand, Gen Yers want to know they are on the right path. They want to know how they can do their job better. They want to know they are moving in the right direction. One of my daughters was whining a few weeks ago about something, and I said "What do you most need from me right now?" She said "I just need to hear from you that I am on the right path." I then said "You are on the right path. Every decision you make is moving you to your next opportunity, and you are on the right path, and I love you!" She was fine after that. This feedback took 30 seconds, so if you are a manager who is complaining about Gen Y’s needing feedback, get over it, and then look at this and just take the darn minute to give feedback. What is this going to do other then help you and the Gen Ys you manage? Maybe it’s time for your entire organization to move to a coaching culture so that feedback is given every day. Feedback feeds growth, so stop complaining about it and get with the program!
5) Building relationships is key to a leader’s success. One thing I have observed is that Gen Yers congregate in groups. They love their friends, and they do what they can to develop out those relationships. I see so many older leaders who are isolated…living time in an office behind closed doors and hiding information from their employees and executive team members. Gen Y can teach us a great deal here. Leadership is developed by being out and in the middle of people. Developing relationships with people takes time (getting to know people, asking about their lives, lending a supportive ear when needed), but the reward is so worth that effort. People follow leaders based on whether or not they like you. So, the question is "Do people like you?" If not, then maybe it’s time to consult with a Gen Y on how to build relationships and build them for a lifetime.