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Monday April 1, 2013
How can Gen Y be expected to lead?

How can Gen Y be expected to lead?

I was having lunch with a colleague last week when she told me that she had been searching for a marriage counselor for her and her husband to visit (for maintenance purposes only). She had called a family practice which had a number of counselors working together.  As a new client you call and leave your name and whomever had availability for new clients will call you back. She had noted on the website earlier that there was a very young woman who worked there, still in her 20s, and in the process of doing her doctorate. She was surprised to find herself, when getting the call back from the 20-some year old, to not being comfortable being counseled by a woman younger than herself, without the apparent life experience to support others through their problems (and successes).

So do you have to have lived it to teach it? To a certain extent yes. That conversation came on the heels of my being consulted on some HR advice about working with a young woman who had stellar references, a Master’s degree, but at 23 was having a difficult time keeping up with the real-life expectations of the workplace. She had good ideas but very little ability to execute them.

High school, and more problematically, post-secondary education, does very little to prepare students for what the work world really looks like. There are aspects of school that develop crucial skills – such as persuasive or narrative writing. But because writing courses are not mandatory, fewer and fewer students are coming out of school with high-level reading and writing skills. The ability to think critically – to take information in, assess it, analyse it, and reflect back on it with an enhanced perspective – is a skill needed in all aspects of work, but is rarely worked upon in our schooling.

But we also hire young people for a variety of reasons, some altruistic, many because of their impact on the bottom line. They are generally paid the lowest wage in the company. They can work longer hours, their entitlements to benefits are less.  But we are also interested in developing young talent, as acting as mentors to those who may become the future leaders of the organization. Their potential opens up opportunities for everyone.

We forget that we were all 21 at some point. And what seems glaringly obvious to us now, would have been less so at that stage, even if we remember our past selves as always hard-working, always diligent, always capable. Opportunity is often just well-trodden experience. So the more chances in our careers that we get, usually the better that we get at it.

“But they had a 6 month probation period” you may say, “and they didn’t improve  during that time!” Think about how long you have been doing your job – do you still mistakes at it? Are there things you could be doing better?

Significant learning doesn’t usually happen in days or months. It takes years. Author Malcom Gladwell in his New York Times best-selling novel The Outliers: The Story of Success talks about 10,000 hours of practice needed to become an expert in your chosen area. From the Beatles to Bill Gates, it was the thousand of hours spent honing their craft that made them the global phenoms that they went on to be.

And while we may not have 10,000 hours to wait for someone to become a master, the 40-hour work week is not going to cut it for someone who is doing something for the first time. We have to work closely with Gen Y if our goal is to develop them into the potential leaders of our organizations. Some ways of doing this include:

1)     Teach your staff how to set goals. This may seem like an obvious (or easy) task, but it is neither. This is a generation that has been raised on the most lofty of expectations – goals may have included to become a world-famous pop singer, or an elite athlete.

Work goals, such as “finish summary report, reach out to two new clients,” etc., are often a new concept for many staff, and not something that they have ever had to do before. Have them set weekly goals and do a check-in. Doesn’t need to take longer than 5 minutes, but do it consistently. When goals aren’t met, ask why and problem solve immediately.

2)     Make sure your measurements of success are clear. If you hired a staff person to develop a website, how do you know that they have done a good job? How do they know that they have done a good job? Is it aesthetics? Number of new hits? Followers on a Twitter account? Is there focus group testing, surveys, objective measurements of success? If not, how have the subjective ones been reached?

This is an ongoing subject. Managing Gen Y cannot be summed up in a Top 10 list – rather, it’s an ongoing complex discussion around how practical work skills are cultivated.

Posted by admin at 2:34 PM | 1 comment
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  1. Posted by: Tara
    Apr. 3, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    As a Gen-Y’er, I couldn’t agree more!


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Are you interested in engaging youth? Visit my website: www.michelledagnino.com for resources and seminar information on how to connect with youth.


As a social entrepreneur, author, speaker and consultant, Michelle works with individuals and organizations across the country and internationally to educate, inspire change and create educational and outreach programs that support the community.


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