Graduation season is upon us and all eyes are turned to the newest generation preparing to enter the workforce, Gen-Z. Just like Millennials and Gen-Xers before them, this new group will bring change and new challenges — and opportunities — to leaders.

When a new generation enters the workforce, leaders go through a period of transition where they must determine what this group is all about and what makes them tick. It’s easy to typecast any younger generation as lazy or stubborn simply because they have a new way of doing things. But this can be a toxic trap to fall into. Rather, leaders should consider the integration of this generation into the workforce as a fresh perspective with new expectations that will generate a universal shift. The Boomers certainly did as they entered the workforce as did the Gen-Xers and the Millennials after them.

While you can’t possibly predict every aspect of their workplace performance just yet, you can certainly consider external factors that have likely shaped them. Then adapt your style accordingly to best lead them.

For example, it’s safe to assume that all generations are shaped by world events during their most formative years. As you prepare to integrate these new employees into your organization, ask yourself, what’s going on in the world that is shaping the Gen-Z generation? What advancements in education, technology and culture has Gen-Z grown up with? How might these events impact the way Gen-Z tackles problem solving and project management?

Perhaps the most obvious difference in Gen-Z as compared to other generations is the innate presence of technology in their daily lives – since birth!  From their education to their social lives, iPads, cellphones and laptops have been omnipresent. This has translated into their expert proficiency with all things digital. We can all recognize this, but as leaders we need to do more than just acknowledge this fact. We need to consider how these skills can be leveraged, prioritized and shared with others.  We should ask ourselves if their are other impacts beyond stellar digital skills.

When I reflect on Gen-Z, I see a sense of optimism, opportunity and confidence. They are much more diverse and less tethered to the social traditions that older generations grew up with. While predicting generational performance is not an exact science, there are a few broad concepts that leaders can adapt to establish efficient, fulfilled multigenerational teams:

Determine personal and organizational values

With every younger generation, there is an opportunity to help them connect with their personal core values. As leaders, how can we use Values Based Leadership to help connect people to what they’re passionate about, and then connect that to the larger organization? It doesn’t matter if you’re leading a for-profit company, a nonprofit, or a government agency, the same opportunity exists to make this new generation feel like they are part of something meaningful. Most people, across all generations, want to feel like they’re contributing to something bigger. They want to leave others better than they found them and stand for something more than just making money.

Lean in to flexible leadership

Gen-Z has been working in teams with a relative amount of empowerment for the majority of their educational careers.  To ensure a smooth transition into the workplace, organizational structures will have to move beyond matrix organizations and traditional hierarchies.  Prepare for more holacracies – which bring structure and discipline to a peer-to-peer workplace. Leaders are going to have to navigate increasingly complex organizational systems and increasingly empowered employees. In the future, instead of having traditional leadership roles, we’re going to see leadership more as a behavior and a choice, rather than a strict title. Embrace it.

Foster multigenerational leadership

Adaptability is really the key to multigenerational leadership. Take the time to ask yourself, “What does this new group value? What’s important to them?” At the end of the day, if you can adapt your approach to be effective in meeting those needs, and use that to motivate people, develop them and create followers, then you can lead multiple generations. Rather than thinking in the traditional way that the leader has to figure everything out, ask everyone to pitch in and help in developing this new generation. The load can’t be carried by just one person, and in the end, tapping into each generation’s unique skills will only carry us forward.

It’s no secret that Gen-Z is a generation unlike any we have seen before in the workplace. But to be fair the same could be said about any past generation and will likely be said of future generations. This constant stream of fresh perspectives, new talents and diverse skill sets is what keeps the business world innovative, diverse and efficient. Rather than feeling overwhelmed or pessimistic about the incoming generation, embrace the challenge and the opportunity.


Tom Epperson

Tom Epperson

Dr. Tom Epperson is the President of InnerWill, and an instructor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Executive MBA program. Tom is a certified business coach and has a Doctorate in Leadership from The George Washington University. Tom works with clients on cultural transformation, leadership development, executive coaching, and igniting individual and organizational potential. Previously, Tom served as the HR Director for Luck Companies, and played a significant role as one of the architects of Luck Companies’ cultural transformation.

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