Leading the Next Generation
"More and more teens are leaving high school never having had a paying job, driven a car by themselves, gone out on a date, had sex, or tried alcohol...Young people are entering college and the working world without as much experience with adult independence" (pg. 302). Neither I nor Jean Twenge, author of iGen, are saying that not experiencing all of those before heading off to college or getting their first real job is entirely a bad thing. We are saying that a lot the young people joining those arenas today will be lacking experience in more areas than classroom knowledge and job skills. They will be lacking critical life experiences that form confidence, self-awareness, and independence.
They aren't unaware of their unpreparedness. "iGen'ers are scared, maybe even terrified. Growing up slowly, raised to value safety, and frightened by the implications of income inequality, they have come to adolescence in a time when their primary social activity is staring at a small rectangular screen that can like them or reject them" (pg. 312). They want to work hard, have a stable income, feel safe in their environment, and prove themselves successful but they will need leaders and managers who understand not only the characteristics of their generation (which I posted about on Aug 12) but also how to lead them to success.
Twenge outlines three ways anyone leading, managing, teaching, raising, or otherwise in an authority position to iGen'ers will need to go about guiding them towards success. First, you'll need to get specific with everything from how to communicate to how to conduct themselves in a professional setting and everything in between. Secondly, you'll need to be encouraging in all feedback and discussion forums. Finally, and this one will most likely be the most difficult, you'll need to make them feel safe in their environment. I can see your eye roll and hear your dismissive "pfft" from here. Stay with me, I'm not suggesting what you think I am. Let's go deeper into these one at a time so by the time we get to safety you'll be ready for it.
They don't know how to talk to you...literally. They have spent so much of their lives cultivating methods for brief, digital social interaction that they will have limited communication skills that will translate well into the professional, or academic, world. In fact, "many iGen employees will need instruction about how to best communicate with older coworkers and clients" (pg. 312). Templates, scripted examples, and your detailed expectations will keep the emojis, abbreviations, run on sentences, and memes out of their official communications. You'll also probably have to tell them exactly what medium of communication is considered acceptable for work since they are so used to using social media platforms for everything. Email is not their go to platform neither is voice calling.
They "are [also] less independent. Give them careful instructions for tasks, and expect that they will need more guidance. Managers who learned to be cheerleaders for Millennials will find they are like therapists, life coaches, or parents for iGen'ers" (pg. 310). Asking them to do something like "please compile the notes from yesterday's meeting" may get you a document populated with copied and pasted email fragments interspersed with comments they remember people making from the meeting with zero formatting or indications of who said what and what follow up actions are being taken. Again with the templates and examples. They do not want to make mistakes but they also don't want to turn in nothing so be specific in your request: " please compile the notes from yesterday's meeting using the format so-and-so did for the previous meeting." That tells them what you expect and who they can get the format from. Everyone wins when you are specific in your requests.
These "young employees [or students] are anxious and uncertain; they are eager to do a good job but are scared of making mistakes" (pg. 310). They will come off as hesitant, quiet, distant, or stand-offish. "iGen'ers are more hesitant to talk in class [or in professional settings] and to ask questions - they are scared of saying the wrong thing and not as sure of their opinions" (pg. 307). You will need to directly ask for their input but not until you've asked for opinions from others and demonstrated a positive, encouraging response. They are highly attuned to words and their context. That is how they will determine if they can trust you, if their opinion/input is welcomed, and if they can let their guard down.
They absolutely want feedback. They want to know how they are progressing towards their long term goals. The time frame and structure of that feedback may need to change in your setting. Their world races along at the speed of fiber optics and satellites. Waiting a year for their annual performance review sounds archaic to them. "Give feedback much more frequently than the annual review...Always emphasize that you want to help them, that you're on their side and the feedback you're offering is to help them succeed...Frame criticism as the best path toward better performance" (pgs. 310 - 311). Try shifting to quarterly or selective reviews after major projects are completed.
Make Them Feel Safe
Okay other generations out there, we are going to have to strike "a balance between solutions and acceptance" (pg. 290). I'm not saying go designate a room at your school or office, pad it with pillows, furnish it with coloring books and call it a "safe space" so iGen'ers in your sphere can retreat at the slightest dissatisfied look or comment. We are going to have to accept that we did this. We created this world for them where "the focus on safety has stifled children's natural need to explore and learn by making their own decisions" (pg. 165) and now they are under-prepared for the adult world's harsh realities.
You've already taken a huge step in the right direction to helping this generation succeed by taking the time to read iGen and get to know them. You see that "they want security in an insecure world [and mangers] who can give them some security, along with some nurturance, may well find themselves with the hardest-working group of young people to come along in a decade or even two" (pg. 195). By simply adjusting some of your practices, to make them more specific and encouraging, you are demonstrating your acceptance of their difference and are thus beginning to make them feel safe in the environment you're creating for them. (See? I told you it wasn't what you were thinking.)
Being specific and encouraging go a long way to creating the stable, trusting relationships iGen'ers are looking for in their places of study and employment. The next way you can make them feel safe is being consistent in your follow through and policies. "iGen'ers want to see someone who is seen as consistent in his or her views and does not change them for others" (pg. 268) and they expect this in everyone from who they vote for as President to who signs their report cards. If you do have to change a decision or policy, they'll want to know why in order to maintain their trusting relationship with you.
Over to You!
You're now informed about their differences and have some methods for leading them towards the success they want. I tried to keep it short but really I could have done several more posts on this one book. It is truly an eye opening, must read for anyone working with this upcoming generation. Please tell your friends/coworkers about it and tell me what you think! I love hearing from you. Leave a comment below, email me, or reach out on any of my socials to give me your thoughts.
The next book we'll be diving into is Talking to Strangers: What we should know about the people we don't know by Malcolm Gladwell. I thought it would be a fitting follow on to iGen - a book about a generation of people who choose to talk to people less and less. The first post for it will be coming out on September 9th so order your copy today and join in the discussion next month!