Gen Y and Leadership – Young Professionals Speak Up

by Jennifer Miller on March 28, 2013

in Communication, Leadership

Are young professionals unwilling to step up to leadership in the same way as their older counterparts have? That’s the issue on the table in Filling the Leadership Pipeline – Developing the Reluctant Emerging Leader, an article I wrote for Huffington Post.

The article’s premise is that there are plenty of talented, willing younger workers out there who are available to fill the leadership pipeline but many Millennials are reluctant to step up to larger leadership opportunities because so far, the role models they see in senior leadership at their companies often don’t resonate with the Gen Y’s primary drivers for career satisfaction.

I interviewed three young professionals for this article and their comments were telling.  There wasn’t space in the HuffPost article to include everything, so here are their additional comments about how the Gen Y views leadership opportunities.

Barriers to Leadership Development

Michelle, an investment advisor who is a few years into her career, offers this easy-to-implement suggestion for developing an aspiring leader’s skills:

“Being given the opportunity to take the lead in an important meeting  is an amazing opportunity that every future leader needs.  What adds to the experience is to have the support of one’s superior  – to know he or she will not let you “stumble around”.  This creates a productive learning environment that fosters leadership and is a more hands-on approach.”

Jon, a Millennial worker in the environmental health and safety field, says he likes hands-on leadership development opportunities.

“I learn by doing and executing.  The best [development] opportunity [for me] is to take a well-defined objective and then work with a team to determine the best way to get there.  Dictated strategies can deter some great ideas, and companies need to rely on their subject matter experts to deliver these ideas.”

Differences in Generational Communications

Michelle also weighed in on communication.  She says that, sure, there are differences in the way the generations communicate, but the differences aren’t insurmountable.  While she does acknowledge that colleagues in her generation might gravitate towards on overuse of technology when a “phone call or in-person meeting might be better suited” she still sees plenty of opportunity to close the communication gap.

“I think that both generations have a lot they can learn from each other. The old saying that, ‘two heads are better than one’ is something to put into practice when bridging the generational gaps.”

Perceptions about Generational Differences

Sara,  a Gen Y professional for a multinational financial services firm says that she thinks misconceptions tend to be rooted in false assumptions on either end of the continuum; i.e.:  “We’re just like them” or “We’re nothing like them.” The truth, she says, lies somewhere in the middle and it’s different for each person.  For example, Sara’s Baby Boomer mother has always been an early adopter of technology when compared to other Baby Boomers.  And Sara characterizes herself as a “late adopter” when compared with other Millennials.  Sara sums it up:

“While there are probably some common trends that help describe the Millennial generation, it’s important to not make assumptions in any relationship.  People will surprise you, and I think we’re probably more alike than what we realize.”

Jon says that a stereotype he sees in play is that Gen Y has a lack of a work ethic. He says,

“I was strongly influenced the Great Recession – anyone who held a job through 2008-2009 definitely worked for it, and I think this is reflected in my performance today.”

The individuals I talked with impressed me with their professionalism, drive and interest in contributing more fully via leadership in their organization. Those of us who are further along in our career can certainly benefit from their energy and enthusiasm. The question is, will we? Or will we let the stereotypes get in the way?

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