While conducting a workshop, a participant asked, “Do you think leadership style preferences will go full circle back to Boomer-preferred leadership styles with Gen Zs or now known as Plurals—those born 1997 and after?”
The discussion revolved around leadership style preferences and that the younger generations will not tolerate authoritative style leadership methods dominant and oft-preferred by Veterans and Boomers. These are leadership methods that evolved during the Industrial or Machine Age when people punched a clock and managers managed machines. Top down! Do as I say, when I say it, how I tell you to do it, and ask no questions. Steeped in power and control tactics—fear-based! People have no voice. Younger generations prefer a more collaborative, autonomous style of leadership.
The question was asked in regards to Gen Xers who were often neglected by their work-a-holic Boomer parents who “lived to work,” instead of “work to live” as the younger generations do. Gen Xers’ experienced considerable chaos and uncertainty in their lives due to the lack of maternal nurturing as divorce rates climbed; they were left alone as parents worked; and historical catastrophic events threatened everyone’s security. Will they want more structure and authority for their children—a different life? Will this drive a change to more accountability in leadership and, ultimately, to a leadership style preference shift back to the authoritative, top-down style of leadership?
In my observations, Gen Xers want more stability in their lives and for their families. But, digital impact will continue to drive change, including leadership style preferences. Beginning with Gen X and becoming dominant with Gen Y, digital communications has become the dominant and preferred style of communications. With Gen Ys and even more so with their younger colleagues, the Plurals, socialization occurs through digital devices and platforms, i.e. social media, texting, etc. Nearly since birth, they have had the freedom to socialize with the world with a few clicks from a wireless device. They do not like to “talk” on the telephone, even when in the same proximity as the people they are “talking” to. Plurals are said to be the most social group of people in history, yet they socialize almost entirely via digital devices.
Younger generations have had control of and access to the world nearly since birth through the Internet. They live in a very autonomous world—a world where they have had a “voice” to the world nearly since birth. As a result, they like freedom of expression and autonomy. Instant gratification is a must! They want everything “now” and to move fast.
Top down leadership methods steeped in legalism and excessive rules, slows everything down, whereas a highly collaborative, empowered, team-oriented work environment with the right kind of accountabilities and culture allows for things to get done more quickly. Everything is in constant motion! This style of leadership also creates a learning environment which spawns innovation and creativity, as well as individual and organizational growth. The people in such an environment, regardless of age or anything else, are happier, and more committed.
So, to all those who think this is a passing phase, it is not. Digital impact will continue to evolve at a very rapid pace, and it will continue to drive individual preferences and values, of which leadership style preferences is only one. If we bury our heads in the sand because we are in a state of denial, or we “just don’t want to deal with it right now,” which is often the case, we will be in for a rude awakening. By then, we may not be able to recover quickly enough for our organizations or communities to succeed. Digital impact!
The Plurals, it is believed, will rebel against society as the Boomers did. However, digital impact has and will continue to shape their preferences and values. They know no diversity as their friends are from all walks of life and from anywhere around the world—“friends” they often have never met face-to-face. Digital socialization!
Further, in the midst of a globalization and continued immigration, especially in the United States, the population and workplaces are becoming increasingly heterogeneous. The Plural generation is thought to be the last Caucasian majority group in the United States. Subsequently, workplace leaders are left dealing with all those issues that result from a more diverse work force—if not understood and managed accordingly. This will continue to evolve and change. A Fortune 500 CEO recently said “…this has occurred much faster than people ever thought it would. We are living in it.”
He is right. We are living in it. Yet, I am hearing repeatedly from business associates stories of organizational leadership team members resisting the move to digitalization, internally and in their personal lives. They resist change and, trying to hang onto a way of life that has long lost its ability to move the button on success in any organization or community, attempt to make their case for status quo.
We are living in a fast-moving digital revolution. Those who have not begun the process of changing the organizational systems and culture to fit the needs of the most diverse work force in history is already way behind. Can these organizations and communities catch up?
© Patricia Hatley. All rights reserved.