Leadership and Gen Z

There has been a lot written and spoken about Millennials – from what they like, what drives them and what makes a leader build a team of top performing Millennials. Over the years, leaders have changed their ways of working so as to adjust to the Millennial workforce, post the Gen X and baby boomers.

That was then … Today, the corporate world is welcoming the new generation- Gen Z. The new age leaders are now expected to gear up to deal with the newest lot- the Gen Z. They are the freshest entrant to the workforce today and are forcing organisations to redefine their work cultures. Gen Z are the digital-first generation and are expected to drive the adoption of technology and lead disruption in the workplace as well as the economy. They have a zeal to do something different and this is the one of the reasons why many of them are joining startups and new-age companies.

Gen Z- The truly digital generation

Generation Z are the ones who were born between 1996 and 2010. They are a truly digital generation- born at the time when computers (and laptops in some cases) being a usual part of one’s daily lives. Technology and social media are an intrinsic part of their lives as they have seen these from day one.

They are more aware and well in sync with the times. They also have a better access to knowledge and opportunity as compared to the earlier generations, because of the internet and the social media. They are the ones who are willing to take risks.

Having worked with many, I must add that Gen Z are quick to take initiative. They are keen to learn and make a difference, However, the biggest challenge for them is their low level of patience. Also, a lot of them do not value experience which may not go well for them in the corporate world.

Leading a team of Gen Z

Leading a team of Gen Z employees is very different from that in the case of baby boomers, Gen X and Millennials. They are a digital generation and are clear about what they expect from their workplace and leaders they work for.

Paternal leadership is not the style that works with Gen Z. This is because paternal leadership is more to do with fatherly managerial style where leaders use their organisational power to control their subordinates. It is the leader who takes all the decisions in this kind of leadership. It leads to over-dependence on leader and hence, hampers productivity and creativity. It can cause disengaged workforce and also lead to employee burnout. This leadership could do well with the earlier generations but does not find any success with Gen Z who love their space and do not work well with ‘micro managers’.

So, if you are working with Gen Z, here are a few tips that can be handy:

Be logical and rational

Gen Z is high on logic and appreciates rational view to things. Hence, leaders who are logical when sharing feedback or trying to solve a problem will work well with them. A new job or early years at work can be a big challenge for Gen Z as they are driven by a clear purpose and may not be expecting the overall culture at the workplace to be the way they may find it. Leaders need to set their expectations right and help them craft their career path.

Feedback is the key

Gen Z is an impatient lot. They respect leaders who are engaged and are willing to give them feedback all the time. They need to be constantly heard, mentored and shown the bigger picture. They value face-to-face feedback more than emails/ telephonic ones. Hence, leaders need to be a little more patient with the Gen Z workforce and empower them with the right tools so they can deliver their best. They should also schedule weekly/fortnightly check-ins so the Gen Z gets constant feedback on how they are faring at work.

Team bonding with a personal space

Gen Z is both, vocal & collaborative which makes them great team players. However, leaders working with Gen Z need to be let go off the archaic parental leadership style and build a non-hierarchical team culture where members could connect, talk, collaborative and play by their strengths.

However, Gen Z prefer their personal space as they consider themselves as highly individualised workers. They deliver better results when they get their own space, away from the hustling office premises.

Align to organization vision

Gen Z tend to feel out of place quickly if the nature of their job does not align to their overall purpose. It is important for leaders to understand what drives Gen Z and in turn, ensure that they understand how their tasks/role is aligned to the overall organisational vision and purpose. Also, the Gen Z are more keen to know about the immediate plans and not too interested in a 5-year horizon. Hence, leaders should focus on showing the short term goals to their team, along with the long-term goals.

Demonstrate values and authenticity

Gen Z does not understand hierarchy and value managers who have fantastic credentials, are achievers and can mentor them to grow in their careers. It is the leaders who can mentor Gen Z, can motivate each of them — and then connect that motivation to their and the company’s values — who will be able to get the best results from Gen Z.

Ownership and accountability

Gen Z value ownership and accountability and hence, work well with leaders who assign projects to them and give them the independence to execute/ lead them. Also, Gen Z value opportunities that help them bring about a larger change in the society or the world and leaders should try to get such opportunities to them.

Interestingly, Gen Z perform well when given an innovative project that allows them to explore their entrepreneurial side. Hence, new age leaders should identify interesting projects that channelise their energies to creative projects.

Walk the talk

Gen Z are great listeners and hear their leaders, even when the leaders don’t realise that they are being heard. They look up to their leaders and believe they can learn a lot from them. Leaders need to be responsible and walk the talk at all times.

To conclude, Gen Z are true digital natives and are way ahead and way more comfortable with technology than their earlier generations. Leaders can use this generation’s digital skillset to their advantage if they ensure that their Gen Z employees are well surrounded by high-tech environments. Gen Z workforce is good at multi-tasking and hence, can be assigned multiple tasks at one go. Also, they are very adaptive to change and can handle huge amounts of information at one go. However, the biggest challenge with Gen Z is that they are struggling with information overload all the time. Leaders need to be patient and continue to show them the big picture, to ensure best results.

The next generation of workers, the Gen Z, is here to stay and it is about time that the leaders adapt their leadership styles so as to get the best output from them and leverage their skills well.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Akanksha Jain
Akanksha heads PR and Communication at BharatPe. She has over 15 years of experience in working across global/digital public relations, corporate and brand communications, crisis communications, brand and market communications domains.

In the past, Akanksha has successfully planned and executed public relations/brands campaigns across India and over 30 other countries. She is a start-up specialist and has extensive experience of working with emerging brands. She has been associated with brands like Pine Labs, MobiKwik, VLCC and Power2SME and spearheaded their PR/brand/communication campaigns.

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