Monday, 18 June 2012

#ECTalent – Net Gen Leadership


   I’ve already posted on some of the morning session’s from last week’s Economist Talent Management Summit.

After lunch I was due to moderate a panel featuring Ryan Blair but he didn’t show up, so Lucian Tarnowski stepped into Ryan’s shoes, I stepped into Lucian’s, and Robert Guest, the Economist’s business editor stepped into mine.

The session was designed to consider how organisations can build, manage and retain leaders from gen y / the net generation who are more mobile and eager to self-develop than any previous group.

I’d have enjoyed moderating the discussion but didn’t feel so comfortable inputting - as you can probably tell from the photo, I’m largely unconvinced by a lot of what is talked about gen Y (or in Lucian’s terms, Gen Why?).

In my view, and experience, there definitely is something about gen Y which is different from other generations, and isn’t just about their stage of maturity.  But many of these characteristics are shared by others outside of this population (desire to make a difference, propensity to collaborate, use of social media etc – me, me me!) – it’s just that gen Y are showing these characteristics earlier on.

Eg when I was a junior consultant at Andersen Consulting (Accenture) I had one Partner who made me stay late in the office, sometimes standing up my friends to do so (this was in the days before mobiles)*.  I don’t think gen Y employees would put up with that today and nor should they have to.  However, I do sometimes think that they’re lucky to live in the times that they do.

I also think we have to be careful about talking about gen Y as a global category.  Due to social media etc, gen Y may be more similar around the world than previous generations, but they’re definitely not the same.

I also believe that a lot of gen Y’s more narcissistic tendencies have been reshaped by events over the last couple of years.  Eg, and I felt a bit exposed saying this sitting next to the man from the Economist, but I risked sharing statistics on Greek and Spanish youth unemployment (both over 50%) to suggest that in many ways this is the new lost generation and that they’re not that lucky at all (and we haven’t even begun to consider the state of the planet that Doug Baillie mentioned).

A generation’s characteristics may be mainly shaped by the experience during their teenage years, but you don’t live through the shocks of the last half decade without it leaving an impact on you, whatever age you are.

We also talked about social media and I referred participants back to Doug’s points on the crisis of leadership – if HR leaders want to understand more of the characteristics of the net gen / gen y then registering with Twitter would be a great place to start!**


Also see:


* Gary Kisler – I’m talking about you!!!

** OK, OK, I know this isn’t where gen y tend to hang – but it’s  better place than most to experience what social media is really all about.



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  1. John, I think there are two key things here. Firstly, internationally there’s an issue of quality senior management because of a largely autocratic style of leadership in many organizations. Secondly, it’s my view that it’s a mistake to assume that next generation leadership style belong to next generation….You don’t have to be of the next generation – but you do have to understand what makes them tick. Research suggests that this means being open to conversations with people at all levels, giving people rapid, honest feedback, and allowing people of lot of headway in their jobs. That sounds to me a recipe for good management anyway! You don’t have to be born after 1990 to do that.

  2. Hi Ara, I totally agree and these were two of the key points I made. Ie it doesn't really matter who owns these characteristics - they're spreading quickly - and also that they're characteristics businesses and particularly HR should be glad to support (ie businesses should give people more headway - if the new generation - and others - require this - that's a positive enabler to positive change!).


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