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.