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Leading the way for the Generations Ys

Alison Coleman

Graduate recruitment is set to rise this year, but are organisations with succession planning in mind, prepared for the Generation Y approach to leadership development? Alison Coleman investigates

According to research from London Business School, only 12% of emerging leaders aspire to emulate CEOs who focus on how the business is trading. Asked how they would lead when they eventually reached the C-suite, 34% of Gen Y respondents said they would make developing and promoting innovation a top priority, while 39% aspired to make the company and the world a better place. How can these future leaders be nurtured in a way that will ensures long term sustainability for organisations?

Retaining leaders of the future 

Successful leadership development should revolve around transparently demonstrating corporate objectives, the strategic vision and the role that the employee plays in the company’s success, regardless of whether the issue is Gen X, Y or any other age group, insists Julie Windsor, managing director at Talentia Software.

“All potential leaders need broad, lateral experience in order to fully understand the issues affecting the organisation and the responsibilities of different departments. The best approach that employers can take is to provide a wide spectrum of experience for recruits and employees to build upon,” she says.

There also has to be trust on both sides from the outset through open and honest conversations in order to understand the motivating factors and build development plans around them. 

“Future leaders need a voice to present ideas and help influence the future of the business,” adds Windsor.

But retaining future leaders who don’t conform to conventional views on leadership development strategies could present bigger challenges. 

Ashridge Business School’s report Culture Shock: Generation Y and their managers around the world, revealed that the average length of stay in a job for members of Gen Y is only two years, with unmet expectations of work being cited as the top cause of leaving.

This constant job-hopping not only costs organisations dearly, but is also giving rise to concerns about the judgement and decision-making capabilities of future leaders. People who never stay to see the end of a project have less chance to learn from their mistakes and are therefore less able to build on their successes.

Understanding what makes them tick

Linda Jackson, co-founder and managing director of talent and leadership specialist 10Eighty, says the only way employers can keep and engage these people is by first really understanding them.

She says: “They have grown up in an era of two-income families, rising divorce rates and a recession. They are resourceful and self-sufficient and glued to technology 24/7. Their schooling has taught them to consider everyone as equals and the importance of the green agenda. 

“They are also much more awareness of global issues. They adapt well to change, are tolerant of alternative lifestyles, ambitious and eager to learn, value freedom and responsibility, disdain structured work hours and will question authority, appreciate fun and humour and social interaction woven into work activities. They like being kept in the loop and like frequent praise and re-assurance.”

So, employers who want to keep their Gen Y future leadership talent need to treat them as individuals, and train their line managers to be good at career conversations, feedback and appreciation.

That includes providing them with tools to help them plan their careers, keep their technological interfaces bang up to date, introduce secondment programmes within and outside the company to stimulate learning, develop mentoring programmes, and make the CEO visible, through regular events where people can interact informally.

“If you do all this, they are unlikely to go easily, although some turnover is inevitable and anyway fresh incoming minds are no bad thing,” adds Jackson. It’s also vital that companies are transparent about future leadership potential with their workforces. Stephen Gilbert, practice lead at Rethink Talent Management, believes that many future leaders are simply not aware of their career progression opportunities. “By keeping potential leadership candidates informed, organisations can increase engagement and motivation which can only aid retention. A talented employee is unlikely to leave for a similar role if they know they’re in line for a valuable role at their current organisation in the future,” he says.

But not everyone shares the same view of Gen Y employees and what makes them tick as leaders of the future. 

John Hackston, head of research and development at business psychologist OPP says describing Gen Y as more impulsive, group-orientated, open to ideas and change, more focused on the big picture and the future, less willing to follow rules and regulations, less emotionally stable and relaxed, and less organised, doesn’t make them special.

He says: “It’s not really news that graduates now entering the workplace have different aspirations from their CEOs, but we ran the same analysis in 1995 and found the same differences between younger and older people. 

“People haven’t changed, but organisational culture has, so new graduates now have the opportunity to move from job to job much more freely, an opportunity that many Gen X graduates would have relished. Over time, today’s Gen Y will become more like today’s Gen X, and start wondering how to work with Generation Z.” 


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