Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

Gen Y Leaders – The “Me” Generation or the “We” Generation?

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.

  1. Traditionalists or silent Born between 1925 to 1945
  2. Baby boomers Born from 1946 to 1954
  3. Gen X Born from 1955 to 1976
  4. 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.

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3 Comments » | Tags: , , , , , , | October 11, 2011 by |

  1. On October 13th, 2011 at 9:28 PM Narelle said:

    Firstly , according to the Australian Gov website ,the dates of your Baby Boomer generation are out. More than four million Australians were born between 1946-1961.People born during this period became known as baby boomers. .

    Secondly, not everyone can be a" leader". Every person has a unique role to play in any given sphere, be it business, relationships, work, home ,etc.the essence is being the best that one can possibly be in that role.

  2. On October 14th, 2011 at 3:43 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hi Narelle,

    While I can't comment on the methodology used on their study, namely the manner in which they categorized the various generations, I will take exception to your point that not everyone can be a leader. Sure, few of us will ever hold titulary titles or positions that allow us to wield some form of authority over others. However, there will nonetheless be times where anyone of us can be in an informal position to lead others through helping to clarify what direction we want to take, encouraging the active participation of all members toward a collective effort, or helping to develop the talents and abilities others demonstrate so that they can contribute more to our shared efforts.

    Granted, most of us would rather not bear the weight of responsiblity that comes with leading others. But we should never discount the fact that all of have at one point or another served in some form of a leadership role. Just because it didn't come with a formal title or perks doesn't make it any less valuable to those who benefited from our direction and efforts.

    Thanks again, Narelle, for sharing your thoughts on this piece.

  3. On October 18th, 2011 at 4:12 PM Ana @ Dias Fertiles said:

    I think that the Y generation is a bit self centered and that there is some truth in the prejudice that we are the "me" generation. However, the "me" generation grew to be the generation of parents, workers and employersm now.
    Therefore, if a skilled "me" person still wants to be happy, they adapt to the current situation and make the most of it.

    In other words – if my company is doing well, I will be doing well also, therefore, let's do the best job we can!

    I know this is not entirely true, but it's one way of interpreting these facts.

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