Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Implications of Generation Y on Leadership

In the recent years many people have written articles and even books on the new generation of employees entering the workplace, Generation Y. This new generation of employees has very different values and expectations than previous generations we have seen. The young business professionals of this generation are characterized as being very technology savvy, wanting information and results immediately, are money driven, have a sense of entitlement and are very diverse. They value rapid career growth, learning, work/life balance and corporate social responsibility. They are entering a workplace that is multi-generational, sharing their workspaces and competing for jobs with veterans, boomers and X generations that have traditionally valued and expected very different things in the workplace. The difference between generations got me thinking and proposed many questions. Are companies changing their leadership models to adapt to this new generation of employees, or do company’s models always stay the same? Do the same theories that we have been discussing in our class hold true today for leaders dealing with followers in Generation Y? How do leaders remain effective in this new rapidly changing and diverse workplace?

After reading through some articles (sited below) and a few websites (shrm.org & businessweek.com) a few common recommendations came up for leaders of Generation Y employees. Some of the recommendations included, being flexible and adaptable in ones leadership style and being aware of what factors motivate each generation, using these to be able to motivate followers to produce desired results. They also recommend that leadership should promote a heavy concentration on building communication skills and be able to demonstrate authenticity in their leadership.

These recommendations for a model of leadership in this new generation of employees started to look very similar to the models we having been discussing throughout the semester. Reflecting on these recommendations, they touch on understanding leadership from a communication standpoint (Burns, Hackman & Johnson, Bernard, Gardner). They touch on theorist points of leadership as being able to motivate followers to achieve goals and being able to focus on individual development (McGregor, Stogdill, Gardner, Burns, Zaleznik). They also reflect on authenticity in theories that we have discussed such as in servant leadership (Greenleaf) and transformational leadership (Burns). Lastly, they are touching on the flexibility in leadership by leadership depending on the situation and/or context (Heifitz, Cronin, Goleman).

Therefore, do you think that ones model of leadership should or needs to change when dealing with different generations of people? How are companies training Generation Y to be the next generation of leaders? Will this look different then what they have done for previous leaders due to the Generation Y’s values and expectations? And lastly, what are the implications for Generation Z and future generations to come? What can leaders take away from Generation Y to help prepare themselves for future generations?


Smith, S. (2005/2006). Employers and the New Generation of Employees. Community College Journal, 76(3), 9-13.

Wagner, D. (2007). Managing an Age-Diverse Workplace. MIT Sloan Management Review, 48(4), 8-10.

Weinstein, M. (2009). Next-Generation Leaders. Training, 46(4), 17-19.


  1. Erica, this was an interesting leadership topic. I learned from a group's class project in another class about Gen Y's (also Millennial's) need for collaborative and cooperative leadership styles. This connotes a relationship orientation, as McGregor (1966) cited. Gen Y seems to call for leaders that Heifitz (1994) described as understanding that different values shed light on different opportunities. Certainly, the Generation Y folks bring a whole host of opportunities for organizational growth. Let's hope leaders can build the special values and competencies of the Y Generation into organizations as Selznick (1957) promoted.

  2. Thanks for your comment Sarah! I wonder if the more collaborative and cooperative leadership model for Gen Y employees that you had mentioned is producing more effective followers (as Kelley discusses) in organizations. By being more inclusive of their followers and learning from them, maybe it is strengthening the leadership relationship where "followers believe they offer as much value to the organization as leaders do" (Kelly, pg196). For Gen Y employees who value having more impact on organizations from day one and want rapid career growth, maybe this would be a very effective way for leaders to develop and retain these employees.

  3. Erica, I really enjoyed this post. I recently read a book by Ron Alsop titled "The Trophy Kids Grow Up" which discusses the same issues you brought up. It seems that organizations are going to have to make a concerted effort to adapt to this new generation and their mindset. According to Alsop, Gen Y's are highly determined and motivated individuals yet they lack loyalty to institutions. They are persistent job hoppers in pursuit of the perfect job. As you suggest, it seems that organizations will have to engage in an extensive followership/leadership mindset in order to train this new generation to value their work (and therefore choose to remain in one place). The paradigm of Rost suggests leaders and followers should be engaged in followership (192).

  4. Thanks Ashley! I know one of the articles discussed two of the biggest points that Gen Y value are feedback and learning (or development of skills). They were saying that leadership needed to incorporate these more into their models to help deal with this new generation. Maybe incorporating these will help with the loyalty issue you brought up.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.