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Are You Managing or LEADING Generation Y?

January 16, 2011

Updated December 1, 2011

I recently did a Google search on “Generation Y.” The outcome?

4,050,000 results.

I then searched “Millennials” and got 483,000 results.

I almost didn’t write this post.

Why bother, everyone but the mailman (sorry, letter carrier) is writing on the subject of Generation Y or what some call Millennials, the Echo Generation or the Net Generation.

Are you confused? Don’t be.

The age span of Gen Y is still being debated. From what I’ve read, relying primarily on demographers (who should have the best perspective), Gen Y began about 1980. The youngest Gen Yers were born in the mid 1990s. Some demographers argue that Gen Y commenced around 1977.

Let’s not split hairs folks.

I possess no special powers, secret herbs or a magic crystal ball that can peer into the future to predict what will happen to Gen Y when it comes to their careers, their leadership capabilities within organizations or their parenting skills.

But one thing is for certain: they face a really crappy labor market, especially in America. Across the Atlantic Ocean, just look at the riots in Great Britain over tuition increases. Look at Ireland or Greece for depressing situations for youth.

I’m no expert on Gen Y, with the exception that my four adult “kids” are all Gen Y. Given their 10-year age span, I find it fascinating to observe their – and their friends’ – value systems and how they function in society and in the workplace.

Our oldest is 32 (on the edge of Gen X) with two daughters. She’s a teacher and a super mom. Our “baby” is 22 and a fourth third year college student. I find it a riot to watch how she and her peers interact socially and with their employers (yep, they all work part-time). Here’s a tip to the bosses of young Gen Yers: they think you’re an idiot. Live with it!

In the middle are our son (manager with a huge bank) and daughter, a paramedic and third-year nursing student. She makes actress Sandra Bullock seem like a grouch.

During the last three years of my three decades long career with the Government of Canada, I saw thousands of Gen Y recruits enter the public service. It was about time that the federal government engaged in a serious recruitment effort. Those efforts have recently significantly dampened for a variety of reasons, primarily budgets and fiscal deficits. However, I can honestly say that I was very impressed with the quality of the young people who were hired. A typical profile was someone with a masters degree, proficiency in English and French, good people skills, some work experience and strong writing and technology abilities. Some were right out of university, while others had gained valuable real-world work experience.

I really enjoyed working with these young folks.

But there’s a problem.

Gen Y does not want to be managed; they want to be lead and to SHARE in the leadership.

When I was in my twenties, working in the private sector before returning to do a Masters in Economics, which led me into government, I was Mr. Compliance, as most of we Baby Boomers were. We refrained from asking “Why,” or “How about doing it this way?” That would have been heresy.

Gen Y asks “WHY?” for a reason. We live in a highly volatile, uncertain world, where one day the news is about North Korea’s latest juvenile attention-getting antics to a European country facing bankruptcy to an environmental catastrophe somewhere on the globe. It’s time to stop treating people as dunces, especially young people who must learn how to lead organizations as we old farts exit the labor market.

Gen Y wants to be involved. Forget the notions that they’ve been pampered and told how great they were when young kids. It doesn’t matter. What matters is NOW. Canada and America are under the gun, whether Canadians want to admit it or not. Americans, unfortunately, have had their reality check over the past two years; Canadians are still living in lulla land.

Am I cranky? No.

Am I senile? Not yet.

Am I concerned with North America’s future? You bet!

To help you get a better understanding of the issues facing Gen Y and Gen X, I invite you to check out my past posts on the subject.

As always, your comments are very welcome!

Gen Y, Are You Ready to Reinvent Yourself? Necessary Sacrifices by Baby Boomers

Coping with a Ballooning Older Population: The Looming Inter-Generational War

Inter-generational Leadership: What’s Myth and What’s Reality–and Does it Matter?”

The Youth Conservation Corps: Has Its Time Arrived? SPECIAL FEATURE

It’s Time to Let Go! Boomers as Helicopter Parents

What Can Gen Y Teach Baby Boomers?

Hey Gen Y! Can You Become Untouchable?”

Generation Y’s Job Plight: Top 12 Tips for Gen Y

Back to the Future: Are You a Theory Xer or Yer?

The 4 Generational Divide – It’s Time for a Love-In!


Raising children is an incredibly hard and risky business in which no cumulative wisdom is gained: each generation repeats the mistakes the previous one made.

-Bill Cosby


Click here to download my complimentary e-book Creating Order and Meaning during Organizational Chaos: The Fall & Rise of the Learning Organization.


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4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 25, 2017 1:33 am

    Reblogged this on Praying for the millennials.

  2. January 16, 2011 9:27 pm

    It’s good to read some positive observations about the Gen Y group. I agree with your insights, based on interactions with my own children and their friends. Here are my perceptions:

    They question the status quo. They show no hesitation to try something new (unless it’s a vegetable). And the way they assimilate information from numerous sources simultaneously is mind boggling.

    I have a good feeling inside when I think of Gen Y “kids” making their contribution to our world.

    • January 16, 2011 9:45 pm

      Yes, it will be interesting to see how Gen Y assumes more managerial responsibilities in the workforce, and how they parent their children.

      I won’t hold it against them if they’re partial to certain vegetables. I still dislike sweet potato, and believe it should be a criminal offense to sell eggplant (nasty stuff!)

      Thanks Susan.

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