The following is a guest post by Jack Zenger.
In case youʹre worried about whatʹs going to become of the younger generation, itʹs going to grow up and start worrying about the younger generation.” – Roger Allen
A favorite pastime of those in the older generations is to lament the decline among the younger generations. It becomes amusing when you read comments made by people in ancient Rome and Greece who made virtually the same comments about the younger generation in their day as we do today.
Our firm, Zenger Folkman, has been collecting data about leaders for over three decades. But it wasn’t until recently that we began to collect demographic data about the participants. With this new data available, it opened the door for us to look at some differences between the generations and how they scored on various leadership competencies that we measure. Frankly, the results were quite surprising.
First, let’s define our terms. We’re going to look at data from four generations.
- Traditionalists or silent Born between 1925 to 1945
- Baby boomers Born from 1946 to 1954
- Gen X Born from 1955 to 1976
- Gen Y Born from 1977 to 1998
One of the stereotypes we have about the youngest generation is that they are more focused on themselves and less focused on company objectives. To our surprise, we found that the percentile rankings of participants from each of the four generations showed that the Gen Y group had the highest scores when it came to driving for results, followed by the traditionalists, and that the Boomers received the lowest scores. In the eyes of their managers, peers, and direct reports, the Gen Y group is highly focused on obtaining results for the organization. Surprise!
Gen Y is also stereotyped as being self-centered. They are pegged as the “me generation.” To our surprise we found that on the leadership competence of Collaboration and Teamwork, they were at the 60th percentile, and that this behavior declined in each older generation. The traditionalists were at the 46th percentile. Probably to no-one’s surprise, the Gen Y group also got the highest scores on innovation.
The final surprise was the extremely high scores of the Gen Y group on the dimension of practicing self-development. Here they were at the 64th percentile while the Boomers were at the 52nd percentile. This hardly confirms the image of complacent know-it-alls.
Not everything was surprising, however. Traditionalists scored the highest on technical and professional expertise. They were 13% higher than their Gen Y colleagues. The oldest group also scored the highest on displaying high integrity and honesty in their behavior. They were also more inclined to set stretch goals. All of those differences noted above were statistically significant.
The impact of the leadership displayed, as seen through the eyes of their subordinates was also quite surprising. While 44% of the subordinates of the Traditionalist group believed the organization would achieve its strategic goals, 60% of the subordinates of the Gen Y believed that would happen. A similar pattern existed on the question of whether the subordinates would recommend the organization to a friend as being a good place to work. Again, a significantly larger group of those reporting to Gen Y managers would encourage a friend to come to work in the organization, in comparison to those working for their Traditionalist colleagues.
Maybe it’s always tough when facts meet beliefs.
Jack Zenger is the co-founder and CEO of Zenger Folkman, a leadership development firm focused on building strengths of individuals, teams, and organizations. Jack is a co-author of the recent Harvard Business Review article “Making Yourself Indispensable“. To learn more leadership tips from Jack, subscribe to his leadership blog or follow him on Twitter: @zengerfolkman.