Generation Y and Leadership


Hello fellow personal finance readers. I go by the pen name “Teacher Man” due to the fact that I recently graduated from university and am in my second year of teaching high school. About 9 months ago my partner and I started a website called My University Money. It is aimed at helping young people (with a specific focus on post-secondary students) and just talking about financial and student lifestyle issues in general. Young & Thrifty was one of the first bloggers to really reach out to us and give us a little recognition when we were just starting off. When I read that Y & T was hitting a busy patch in life I offered to do a little staff writing for her, and she graciously (editor’s note: more like desperately?) accepted.

Generation Y has a lot to be proud of. We are renowned for our multi-tasking abilities (although I think the next generation will blow us out of the water, but that’s beside the point), and we have revolutionized the way society looks at work-life balance. These are great contributions to the working tradition in the Western World; however, a few things we are rarely accused of being are workaholics, overly ambitious, or completely dedicated to a specific project or company. I think most people would agree that Generation Y will have more fun than any generation before it, but no one will call us “The Greatest Generation – Part 2.” As our era begins to dawn, and more and more of us are called upon to shoulder responsibility in various ways, the question looms, how will we handle the mantle of leadership, and in what ways will we change it to suit our collective personality?

Old With The Old… Or Maybe Not…

Leadership Pictures, Images and Photos

I have personally seen that in a variety of industries (both public and private) aging baby boomer managers are becoming worth their weight in gold. Companies are offering large incentives to entice experienced, hard-working 50-70 year olds to stay on in any capacity (often as consultants). Why is this? The answer is actually fairly straight forward.  The majority of people with any management experience, the work ethic to do the job properly, and the attitude needed to succeed as a leader, belong to the generations that came before us. Since our forefathers (and “foremothers?”) were not as good at handling their personal finances as they were their career aspirations, we are somewhat fortunate as a society that they still have strong incentives to keep one foot in the workplace (“working retirements” are becoming more and more common), but sooner or later, the push to fill the mega-sized management footprint left by the boomers is going to take precedence. The good news is that if you are ready for this demographic shift you can personally take advantage of these trends.

Types of Leadership

There are many different definitions and manifestations of leadership. It is difficult to compare someone who works 60 hour weeks and aggressively pursues promotions to someone who starts up a youth organization like a Scouts Canada troop, or to someone who volunteers to make the ice at the local arena every year. The opportunities for leadership are opening up all around us, and they are worth exploring! There is a sense of accomplishment that comes with directing the efforts and will of a group people in order to achieve a certain goal or task and then see the benefits of it.

There are several different types of leaders, and I find the media often just kind of throws them all under the “fearless historical leader model.” Like if you were asked to give the definition of a leader, who instantly comes to mind? George Washington, Julius Caesar, Geronimo, maybe Susan B. Anthony, or Martin Luther King? While we will obviously need these type of leaders going forward, I think examining their exploits and then subsequently being intimidated by them can often stop us from realizing the leadership qualities in each of us. You don’t have to lead a revolution to give people direction and motivation. When you combine all the different aspects of leadership together in a charismatic package, and throw in a healthy dose of opportunity (and probably luck), it is possible to produce one of the great leaders listed above; however, just concentrating on a style of leadership that works for you in a certain context is a very effective and rewarding goal.

The Classic “Lead By Example” Never Goes Out of Style

I don’t know why, but when I try to describe silent leaders I always end up with sports analogies. If you have ever played organized sports you know that there are guys and gals that are constantly yelling or trying to spit out clichés in order to get everyone pumped up. Then there is that person who just shows up early, stays later, run the extra wind sprints after practice, and would play through a broken ankle if they had to. I always gravitated towards the latter example of leadership. Clichés are a dime-a-dozen in this era of constant catch phrases and talk radio, but a true example is something no one can ignore. Raw effort and determination are often all that is required to gain the respect of those around you, and can carry you a long way in life. As someone that coaches a lot of sports teams, a player like this is immensely valuable because of their affect on the collective mindset of the team. Last year the greatest leader on a basketball team I coached was a silent exchange student who would lead wind sprints until he was about to collapse. It was very difficult for the other players on the team not to match his effort, or at least come close, while still having self-respect for their own efforts. Any coach worth their salt will tell you that if your best/most talented player is also your hardest worker, than you’re halfway to home. If they are also a gifted leader, then most of your job is already done for you!

If You’re Going To Be a Vocal Leader, Be a vocal LEADER

The term “vocal leader” has been warped and used in so many contexts now that I find it has become its own industry and cliché. Sure MLK was a “vocal leader,” but would “I have a dream” have been what it is without all the sacrifices and actions that came before it? I highly doubt it. I have listened to many people who have read some motivational book, or listened to some well-recommend speaker, and came away thinking they now have the market cornered on how to become an effective leader. I’m sure there are lots of great strategies and tips you can pick up from books, but for us Gen Y’ers who are always looking for short cuts and more efficient ways of doing things, I feel pretty confident in saying that the best way to improve your leadership skills is to actually lead!

Go out and start small, volunteer at something your passionate about. Take a position on a local school board or committee, or maybe a temporary taskforce put together at work.  George Washington didn’t go from farmer to President overnight. In my experience, no two “vocal leaders” are the same. Each has their own style that they have refined over time, and have found works for them. They have an intrinsic instinct about how to motivate each type of person and knowing that one size will not usually fit-all.

An Education In Leadership 101 Is Free!

I believe that simply keeping your eyes and ears open is a far more effective way of learning how to become and effective leader than reading about, “The power of how I did this…” Quickly think about the various kinds of leaders you have had in your life. Did they all come from the same textbook? Probably not. By taking on smaller leadership opportunities you will begin to appreciate the challenges behind management and motivation, and your idea of effectiveness will grow a little clearer. You can watch others and pick and choose what may work for you (or take mental notes on things you will never do)!

“To You From Failing Hands We Pass The Torch” – Montreal Canadians

I’m not sure why Generation Y has seemingly backed away from leadership in a lot of ways. Maybe it’s because we had such a massive generation before us. Maybe it’s because we enjoy our leisure time a little too much, or maybe it even has something to do with the fact that we’ve had fewer real leaders in a national sense to look up to. I’m not sure what it is, but I do know that in the limited leadership tasks I have taken on, I’ve had some very positive experiences, and some pretty negative ones too; but, no matter what the eventual outcome I always learned something and grown my skill set. That’s a pretty marketable pitch to give to potential employers, and it has also given me confidence in many other parts of my life. I truly believe that everyone can be a leader in some regard.  You don’t have to be the next President to use leadership opportunities to make your life, and the lives around you, just a little bit better on a daily basis.

If you’d rather go the enhanced education route, the infusion of Gen Y workers has added complexity to leadership and management; Masters in Public Administration  and MBA degrees can offer insight into how to be an effective leader in this new workplace environment in both the public and corporate workplace.

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9 Responses to Generation Y and Leadership

  1. As a teacher, you are a leader and role model. I discuss various things with my students to influence them. I demonstrate a a role model a good work ethic (never absent), good character ( ethics) and many soft skills. Many of my students do not have this at home. Teachers are leaders and role models!

    • @krantcents- I agree!! A lot of the teachers I had in high school influenced me (and some negatively). I think it is important as a teacher to demonstrate tolerance and acceptance and patience. Thank you for being a teacher!

  2. Great post. You make some points that I definitely agree with and have seen myself being a fellow Gen Y. One thing I have noticed is a lack of opportunities and support for Gen Y thoughts and ideas. Where I work I have to fight to get my voice heard because they think I am young and don’t know anything. It is really frustrating.

    • @Miss T- That’s true. People always ask me questions like “how long have you worked at___” I suppose because they think I look young, I don’t have 6 years of experience in my field. That being said, 6 years isn’t much LOL.

  3. @Miss T – I definitely agree. Oddly enough we live in age of quick change and fast adaptations, yet we are often told to shut up by those that want it, “Done the way it always was.” Our ideas are definitely higher quality than our collective work ethic in my opinion.

    • @Invest it Wisely- Thanks Kevin for mentioning it! LOL At first I thought you meant you saw this post on the subway and I thought “what?! I’m famous in Toronto?” How egocentric of me ;)

  4. Great post! I think there are some great Gen Y leaders out there, taking opportunities by the horns and making their own future instead of waiting for it. However, I also think for every 1 of those leaders, we have 2 of the more laid back, waiting for things to come to them type of people. I’ve always been overly ambitious and a workaholic. It’s been rough trying to get my voice heard, just like Miss T said. I definitely want to be a teacher in some way to encourage people (whether kids, teens, or adults) to tap into their potential and utilize it as best as they can.

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