What are your thoughts about young leaders these days?
I’ve been at countless breakfasts and meetings with people my age or older who, about a decade ago, started complaining about younger leaders.
The part that puzzles me is that I love working with young leaders. They have been the heart of my team for over a decade now and I’ve found them to be (honestly) pretty amazing.
And yet, Gallup says that 70% of all Americans (which includes a lot of Millennials and some Gen Z) are disengaged at work.
So what gives?
Today, I share the second part of my survey of over 900 leaders that tells a lot about what older leaders really think about young leaders.
Part 2 of My Survey of 900 Leaders
A few months ago, I surveyed over 900 CEOs, entrepreneurs, engineers, office managers, teachers, accountants, pastors, project managers, church staff, EAs and many other kinds of leaders as part of my research.
First, I asked younger leaders to share their biggest complaint about older workers, and I shared the results in a blog post called The Top 5 Things Younger Leaders Can’t Stand About Older Leaders. (#1 complaint? Older leaders aren’t open to change).
I didn’t stop there though.
I also asked (Gen X and Boomers) to tell me what frustrates them about younger leaders (Gen Z and Millennials) by completing this sentence:
My biggest complaint about younger leaders at work is…
They…uh, told me. I was honestly shocked by the 900+ answers I got.
Just like younger leaders gripe about older workers, older workers have plenty of thoughts about what’s wrong with young leaders.
I sifted through all the responses and summarized 5 common complaints older leaders have about younger leaders.
As you read through, remember, as a Gen X myself, I love young leaders and have built thriving teams with them. And most of the readers of this blog are Millennials.
I also think a lot of these complaints fall into two categories: misunderstandings and easily remedied. I’ve got some strategies and hope throughout this post and some more significant help available at the end of this post.
Brace yourself. Here we go…
The top 5 things older leaders believe about younger leaders are…
#1 They’re Lazy (Get Off Your Phone)
By far, the biggest complaint older leaders have about young leaders is that they see them as lazy. The idea that young leaders are lazy came up often throughout the survey.
Here are just a smattering of comments bosses made about their younger team members:
They want off work whenever they want
Very liberal with work and work hours
Lack of internal drive
Flakiness, inconsistent work ethic
Focus and drive, or lack thereof
And how about these two comments?
They are actually LAZY
Get off your phoneThe #1 complaint older leaders have about younger leaders: they're lazy. Click To Tweet
Well, that’s tough, isn’t it?
Like I said, I have had some incredible success with young leaders, and I don’t think it’s just that I found the few that don’t fit this category.
Here’s one of the biggest challenges in the workplace today.
Older leaders confuse how young leaders want to work with whether younger leaders want to work.Older leaders confuse HOW young leaders want to work with WHETHER younger leaders want to work. Click To Tweet
Things have changed, a lot. In an age of mobile devices and the ability to access information anywhere, anytime, 8-4 doesn’t make sense anymore. Younger leaders know this. Older leaders resist it.
The truth is the reasons that a lot of people had to be in the office between 8 and 4 have dissolved in the last decade. Older leaders have been slow to catch up on this.
A lot of young leaders really want to work, really want to hustle, and the fact that they’re not in the office or visible doesn’t detract from that.
Young leaders aren’t lazy. Lazy people are lazy.
There’s a difference. And there’s a good smattering of lazy in every generation. It’s not just a youth issue.
A final reminder: the phone is a work device these days.In an age of mobile devices and the ability to access information anywhere, anytime, 8-4 doesn't make sense anymore. Younger leaders know this. Older leaders resist it. Click To Tweet
#2 They Act So Entitled
Older leaders were often baffled at how entitled young leaders seemed.
Again, from the survey:
It all about them.
They seem very entitled. They want off work when they want and don’t want any of the responsibility of how to cover for their duties while they are out. They also act like the rules don’t apply to them and want our organization to change the policies and rules to fit their situation instead of the other way around.
They are entitled. They feel the world owes them for their service.
They want a spot at the table but don’t want to put in the time to get it.
They just want to start at the top without paying their dues.
Lack of work ethic, their desire to free flow and not want to be boxed in by office hours or even being in the office, especially when production is poor.
Not all, but some… want to work part time hours for a full time job. They leave even if there are still things to finish for the day.
Those comments are loaded.
And a quick word to younger leaders. Gratitude is the opposite of entitlement. Grateful leaders aren’t entitled leaders, and entitled leaders aren’t grateful leaders.
Make your gratitude your attitude and you’ll see the environment change. You will likely even get more of what you want.Gratitude is the opposite of entitlement. Grateful leaders aren't entitled leaders, and entitled leaders aren't grateful leaders. Click To Tweet
Often though, misunderstandings like the ones listed above happen because leaders misunderstand each other and because the old rules of 8-4 don’t work anymore.
You may have a lazy worker or two in the mix if this is a persistent issue, but in my experience, for the vast majority different coaching and leadership can turn this around quickly.
Why? Because flexibility is the future—the flexible workplace is the future workplace.Flexibility is the future. The flexible workplace is the future workplace. Click To Tweet
#3 They Listen To One Podcast And Think They’re An Expert
The sense that young leaders think they know everything also showed up a lot in the survey.
But, to be fair, so did the perception that older leaders were arrogant and know everything.
Here’s are some of the comments older leaders made about younger leaders:
They listen to 1 podcast and they’re an expert.
They are experts at nothing but have an opinion on everything.
There is often an idealism that feels like pressure, like I am not living up to all the podcasts they listen to.
They think they know everything
The idea that everything that the old hat has done is boring and not worth understanding or trying to see if there is something that can be understood about that disrespectful – expect to do their thing, their way – not receptive to their environment or others who may do things differently. Don’t look for help but “wade through” in size 9 boots! Tend to think they already know everything. Rude (according to my ‘old school’ ways)!
These comments encapsulate another shift that’s happened in the last decade.
Information has been democratized.
Companies used to control learning because information was scarce and expensive. You had to get permission to go to a conference or subscribe to a magazine or enroll in a graduate degree.
You used to have to go to information. Now it comes to you. Free.
And of course, young leaders being digital natives access that information more freely and naturally than some older leaders do.
A few cautions for all leaders (pride was a big issue for older leaders too).
First, a little bit of knowledge is dangerous. We live in an age of strongly held, weakly formed opinions. Too many people’s world views are three questions away from collapsing. So learn broadly and be slow to draw conclusions. Wisdom takes time and input.
Second, humility is one of the hallmarks that distinguishes great leadership.
People are more likely to want to know what a humble leader thinks than what an arrogant leader thinks.We live in an age of strongly held, weakly formed opinions. Too many people's world views are three questions away from collapsing. So learn broadly and be slow to draw conclusions. Wisdom takes time and input. Click To Tweet
#4 They’re Just Not Committed
Older leaders have noticed that young leaders don’t stick around as long as previous generations.
Some older leaders noted:
Their lack of commitment
They want too much flexibility in their schedule.
Complete lack of adherence to any policies. 🙂
Younger leaders are not committed to the company. They are there until times get tough or they don’t like a policy change and then they leave.
Actually, that is true. They’re not nearly as committed to the mission as previous generations.
But there’s a reason.
Young leaders want to work for a mission. They authentically crave meaning and purpose more deeply than Boomers and Xers do (not saying we don’t, just saying it’s different).
If you want to see why purpose matters so much to young leaders, listen to my interview with two of my team members who explain how the mission keeps them energized and on the team.
Young leaders are committed. They’re just more committed to the mission than they are to the bottom line or a leader’s ego.
Truly focus on a bigger purpose, and the best ones are far more likely to stick around. This is the age of mission-driven and socially responsible enterprise. And the age of entrepreneurship where you can more easily start your own organization than ever before. And many leaders do just that.
A final word, even if you lead a not-for-profit or church and therefore have a bigger mission, that doesn’t make you bulletproof.
Many self-focused or toxic leaders still behave like the mission was to serve them personally. That’s an exit cue for young leaders.Young leaders are committed. They're just more committed to the mission than they are to the bottom line or to a leader's ego. Click To Tweet
#5 They Don’t Value Experience
While all of these spring from a similar theme, older leaders also complained that young leaders don’t respect or appreciate them.
Again, just a smattering of the comments leaders submitted on this issue:
Don’t seem to have respect for the value of experience. Assume that older workers’ methods are not as good as today’s higher-tech methods.
They’re disrespectful and expect to do everything their way.
Don’t understand the importance of life experience as well as letting people with life experience speak into their lives.
They are often not respectful of older leaders expertise, experience and commitment.
So I get it. I’ve raised kids and had lots of young leaders around me for years now. Sometimes it can feel that way.
But overall, I’m actually astonished at how open young leaders are to spending time with me and learning from me. I’ve led small groups with young adults and found them exceptionally open and respectful. My staff is 15-30+ years younger. Same thing. And in the leaders I meet via this blog, my podcast and my books, I find the same thing.
There are three things I’ve found helpful in fostering a respectful dialogue.
First, I need to continually remind myself that respect has to be earned, not demanded.
Second, respect is mutual. If young leaders pick up that I don’t value them or understand them, why would I expect them to be open to me? (Side note: You may have noticed I’ve taken the side of young leaders in this post…not just because they’re the future but because they’re the present. And I’m 54. It’s my job to understand them.)
Third, I’ve found that asking questions opens up far more doors than giving answers. Obviously, writing a blog like this as a series of questions probably wouldn’t help many people, but in my in-person dealings I’ve found that asking questions and really listening opens up doors that otherwise would slam close. If you don’t understand someone, don’t write them off. Ask them (non-judgmentally), that’s really interesting. Can you help me understand more?
Being open to young leaders makes them open to you. They can smell contempt a mile away.Young leaders are committed. They're just more committed to the mission than they are to the bottom line or you. Click To Tweet
So… in light of all this? What do you do?
What Are You Seeing?
Well, as I said in my previous post outlining complaints about older leaders, I know this is a loaded post. And yes, I have sided a bit with younger leaders. I think that’s our responsibility as their bosses. And like I’ve said, I’ve seen amazing results from young leaders when I’ve done that.
The goal is to be helpful. If you don’t see the problem, you can’t fix the problem.
The goal is to get us all working together well to move the mission forward.
So with that in mind, anything else you see or want to add that can help us create workplaces that have a much higher impact?
Scroll down and leave a comment!