Article week 17 – 2024

Adapting Leadership Styles to Meet the Needs of Generations Y and Z

The reality within leadership echelons often diverges from what management books might suggest. In my consulting work, I regularly encounter a recurring theme: employees left strategically in the dark because the company’s strategy remains a closely guarded secret; goals that change with a frequency that belies any sense of stability; and the absence of structured annual reviews and clearly defined goal-setting conversations. Concurrently, I hear from executives about their lack of time for leadership—feeling that weekly check-ins are too frequent—too much time spent on people, too little on figures and processes. This gap between the expectations of a leadership role and the reality of its practice opens up a discussion we must have: What does effective leadership look like in a world that turns faster than we can adjust our strategies?

Why Good Leadership is So Important

The figures speak volumes and reflect what my colleagues and I witness daily in our consulting practice: Only about a third of employees in Germany are satisfied with their job situation. This statistic is not just a number but a reality experienced. An increase in dissatisfaction and a decrease in motivation characterize the scene in many companies. Especially for Generations Y and Z, who seek meaningful work, the gap between their expectations and reality is tangible. The reasons are manifold, but a crucial factor is the way leadership is practiced. Today, more than ever, an effective leader must provide both direction and appreciation. The absence of clear goals and neglect of employee recognition often root the noticeable deficit in engagement and productivity. These qualitative and quantitative observations underscore the urgency to rethink and adapt leadership concepts to bridge the gap between employees‘ need for meaningful work and the demands of day-to-day business.

The Willingness of Young Talents to Change Jobs and its Consequences for Companies

The question of why and where workers are moving is more relevant than ever. An example that came to light during my consultations illustrates this dynamic: A talented employee expresses their dissatisfaction. When asked why they don’t leave the company, they reply, „I can afford liberties here because I know my role is indispensable.“ This attitude highlights how young professionals consciously leverage their position to create work conditions that suit them—even if it means only offering a portion of their potential to the company. They stay because they can, not because they want to. This underscores an urgent need for companies to establish a leadership culture that not only retains such talent but fully engages and motivates them. It’s about shaping work environments where the meaningfulness of tasks and recognition of performance are at the forefront, fostering full commitment and satisfaction among employees.

New Career Attitudes: Observations from Practice

One phenomenon is becoming increasingly apparent: Many young, well-educated employees seem to reinterpret the traditional concept of „career.“ When I ask them about their goals for the next five years, they often talk about travel plans rather than career advancement. This observation highlights that for a substantial portion of Generations Y and Z, the traditional definition of career has lost its significance. Career is no longer primarily seen as hierarchical advancement but as an individual path that enables personal growth and life experience.

At the same time, I notice a reluctance to take on leadership roles and associated responsibilities is no longer viewed as a natural career goal. Direct feedback from my consultancy discussions shows: Young professionals hesitate to aspire to positions where they must guide others and make decisions that might not meet universal approval. The idea of competing and standing out based on performance seems less desirable to many. This hesitation is often explained by a desire for a balanced work-life and the search for meaningful work.

Solutions: Focus on Mentoring

An effective method to develop prospective leaders is integrating mentoring into trainee programs. The basic idea is that trainees are accompanied by experienced supervisors in their day-to-day work, creating a space for questions and direct feedback. Complemented by specific programs that combine theoretical knowledge with practical examples, such as job rotations and peer group work, this approach allows comprehensive preparation for leadership tasks. My own experience in a management development program suggests that such a combination of theory, practice, and mentoring can lay a solid foundation for the development of leadership skills.

Practical Tips for Trainee and Mentoring Programs

To establish an effective trainee and mentoring program within a company, start by defining clear learning objectives and selecting suitable mentors. Ensure that the mentoring relationship is based on mutual respect and that regular meetings for exchange and feedback take place. Job rotations can help trainees get to know different areas of the company and sharpen their skills in varying contexts. It is also important to involve trainees in real projects to gain practical experience.

The future of leadership lies in the ability to adapt to the expectations of new generations. By incorporating elements such as trainee and mentoring programs into the corporate structure, companies can not only attract capable young leaders but also retain them in the long term and boost their motivation. Such programs are crucial in actively shaping the change in leadership culture. Companies that are willing to rethink their leadership approaches and adapt them to the needs of Generations Y and Z not only secure committed leaders but also enhance their innovation and competitiveness. It is time not only to rethink leadership but also to boldly reform the structures behind it.

Michael Jurisch – Manager


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