Leading mY Generation

Talkin’ ‘Bout mY Generation

A topic currently getting a lot of attention lately is that of Gen Y entering the workforce. This is my generation. As with all the different generations, there are some commonalities that are used to describe us. Some are good like tech savvy, multi-taskers, and socially conscious. There are others such as spoiled, selfish, and entitled.

Unfortunately, more often than not when I hear professionals speaking of my generation, it is with contempt.

Two years ago I was at a professional conference where the topic of the day was how to manage a multi-generational workplace. Unfortunately, the meeting was mostly comprised of baby boomers. I was one of two Gen-Y members of the community and it felt as if we were under fire.

People shouted things like:

  • “They got trophies for just participating in sports!”
  • “They expect to be CEO on day-one!”
  • “They need to be praised for everything!”

I was shocked to see that a group of professionals took a topic for learning and turned it into a gripe-fest.

I felt alienated and all I kept thinking was “they just don’t get it”.

Trophy Kids

For starters, I recall being in little league. My team wasn’t the worst, but we were nowhere near the best. At the end of the year, we did get a trophy. I had a shelf of tiny trophies to my name. What the angry professionals did not realize is that even at a young age we were not proud of these small trophies. They made us feel just as bad, if not worse, than no trophy at all.

How would you feel if you were given a penny bonus and your coworker were given $5,000? It is almost insulting, isn’t it? Those small trophies weren’t for us anyhow. The  trophies were for our parents. These were parents who expected getting something out of the money they were shelling out for our league participation. In addition, those of us who got the small trophies were usually pushed into doing a sport that we did not have any interest in or one that we performed well in.

See where I am going with this?

Corner Office

Expecting to be CEO, I would say, reflects more on our valuation of education. Whereas most people see experience as the indicator of value, we tend to see education as most important. I remember the one thing my parents told me from a very young age would be, “the only way to get ahead in this world is with an education” or “don’t make the same mistakes we did, go to school“. Coupled with spending thousands upon thousands of dollars to get a degree may make one feel as though there must be a good job waiting at the end of their 4+ year journey. I know I expected my ROI would be higher upon finishing my master’s.

Don’t worry, this economy has certainly given my generation a new perspective on reality.

Raise Me, Praise Me

As for our need for praise, it seems, this is the most misunderstood thing about us. For instance, I would suggest that it isn’t praise we are looking for, but rather feedback. We are hardwired to receive constant feedback. Our parents were more involved in our lives than the generations before us. My parents were sure to tell me that getting a “B” in math was not acceptable. I had to keep my parents pleased. And if I didn’t, I would hear it. I cannot speak for everyone in my generation, but the standards were very high in my house. It wasn’t the four or five “A’s” that got noticed the most, it was the single “B” on my report card. As is such, I was more than happy to bring home all “A’s”.

We have a need to please. And while we do not necessarily need praise in our work, we do need to know where we stand. We take success very personally so if you are displeased with our work, we are deeply affected. I would much rather know that something is going poorly at the beginning so that I can learn from my mistakes and can change my behavior to provide a better product. This does not mean to micromanage us; merely manage our expectations. If I hear nothing about a project, I am assuming it is going well because I was brought up knowing when things weren’t going well.

In terms of feedback, we really aren’t that much different than other employees. We merely need a bit more.

I hope you now have some context into how my generation thinks and was raised. Unfortunately, you only have a glimpse about how I was raised. So perhaps this may just be an entry about how I need to be managed. This brings up a more important point: If I cannot speak for my generation, how can anyone else? It is up to the leader to understand his/her employees and determine what makes them tick. I cannot guarantee that leading members of my generation will be easy. Unfortunately, members of Gen Y happen to be people and people have always been difficult to lead.

How do you involves members of Gen Y in the conversation? Do you treat members of Gen Y (or any other generation) differently? Do you put yourself in the shoes of your employees? Do you set expectations and provide feedback regularly?

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John Lovig is an HRIS Analyst at Yale University.
He can be reached at johnlovig@gmail.com

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One Wedding…Four Funerals!

When I was 16 I had the opportunity to work for a florist, one of the oldest businesses in town. Three of the twenty-something employees were family members, with the rest being hired help. It did not take me very long to discover that family businesses were more complex than one would care to think.

My manager (also part owner) was a generous person and cared deeply for his customers, however, he had a propensity for yelling. He would yell at his sister and uncle, who both worked there. He would yell at them in front of other employees, he would yell at them in front of customers. He was good at yelling.

He would yell at employees and, believe it or not, sometimes even customers! Yep, his temper would make Steve Jobs look like a cuddly kitten. One would think this behavior is enough to derail most employees. But why would he do this? What was his deal?

But Why?

As a young person entering the workforce, I was puzzled about why yelling was part of a business structure. To me it seemed odd that something so destructive would be part of operating a business. It wasn’t until I began my studies in psychology that I could actually label this phenomena. My manager probably had a low emotional intelligence quotient. There were a number of issues that arose from his actions:

  • He evoked negative emotional responses from his family, his employees and his customers
  • There was a high rate of turnover
  • He had a fairly negative reputation around town

and worst of all…

  • No one cared about his success or that of his business

Some may say, “Well John, he happens to be in business for himself, its not like he was selected by someone to do the job“. I would agree with almost anyone on that topic, but there is a mirror in business. And this is important to understand if you are leading people in any type of environment.

Many times organizations promote employees who are subject matter experts or who have strong technical skills. These employees may or may not be fit to lead others. They may lack much in the way of conveying vision, implementing strategy, or being able to work with or even motivate others. Being the one to promote another into a leadership role, one must be careful to assess these leadership abilities in the candidates they are looking to fill an important role. From my experience at the floral shop, I would  certainly vote for assessing candidates for their emotional intelligence.

There are many ways to assess an employee’s emotional intelligence. It may not be the only consideration when choosing to fill a leadership role, but it certainly is very important if the organization values efficiency and productivity.

Managed to Fail. Failed to Lead.

My boss failed to lead his employees. Many times he managed to alienate them and certainly kept people edgy in an already stressful business. Employees had to already worry about making floral arrangements for the important life events of their customers, or having to take orders from a grieving family. The last thing they needed was an angry tyrant ready to yell and belittle them at the drop of a hat.

My time working for the florist was one of mixed feelings for me. I found personal satisfaction in providing a high level of customer service, but was always fearful to displease my employer. Ultimately, I stay grateful for my time and experiences there. I learned much and it helped fashion me into who I am today. If it weren’t for my boss, I doubt I would be so attuned to the implications that emotional intelligence may have for leadership effectiveness.

Do you or someone else around you tend to lose their temper with your employees? What does that do to the working environment? How important is it to focus on the human side of management? How emotionally intelligent are your leaders? Does your organizational assess leaders for emotional intelligence? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

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John Lovig is an HRIS Analyst at Yale University.
He can be reached at johnlovig@gmail.com

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