Teaching Gen Y How to Lead: Why We Can’t Afford Not To

2 Jul

I could probably spend a whole day annoying people about all the things that I’m passionate about. But since most people have an average attention span of about 2.7 seconds, I won’t do that.

Instead, here’s a list of my top three interests:

  • Leadership
  • Youth Development
  • Food

Yes, I freaking like food, okay?

But this isn’t a post about food.

It’s about the fact that employers are doing a terrible job a cultivating proper leadership within their organizations.

I have a problem with the fact that organizations don’t start leadership training sooner.

Don’t get me wrong, many companies have wonderful on boarding programs that aim to teach new leaders how to handle conflict and how to deal with difficult employees (like me, sometimes).

But here’s the problem…

Professionals are being taught how to be leaders at the time when they’re already expected to fill these roles.

What organizations should be doing is training individuals how to lead BEFORE they’re in leadership positions.

This will allow them to be more successful.

Come on, people. Let’s be proactive, not reactive. Would that be so bad?

As a young professional in the workforce, it’s frustrating to see that knowledge in general is usually reserved for the “elite”… for supervisors and above.

How annoying is that?


Look, as a member of GenY, I know that we have a tendency to annoy those older and more experienced than us because we’re seen as hungry and ambitious when we enter the workforce.

I get it.

But the beautiful thing about many of us young professionals is that we WANT TO LEARN.

So if you’re smart, you’ll teach us.

Leadership seminars are great. I find them quite interesting. But more often than not, this is the attitude held by most organizations. “Oh, there’s a leadership training? Sorry, you can’t go. You’re not a supervisor. You’re not a manager. Maybe next year.”

Okay. So we’re not yet in leadership positions. We’re not supervisors. We’re not managers. We’re not the CEO. We don’t own this place.

But that doesn’t mean that we’re not leaders.

And most importantly, it doesn’t mean that there’s no value in preparing us to lead, before we fill those positions.

Tell me, would you train a surgeon how to perform a procedure while his patient is bleeding out on the operating room table?

Not so much.

The same principle applies to leadership development.

Strong leadership is what sets great organizations apart from the rest. It’s the difference between engaged employees and employees that hate their lives and make everyone else miserable because of it.

For this reason, we can’t afford to wait until employees fill leadership positions to teach them how to be leaders.

There’s too much at stake.

Successful organizations understand this. They understand the value of leadership at all levels. And most importantly, they understand the importance of developing and investing in young workers.

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19 Responses to “Teaching Gen Y How to Lead: Why We Can’t Afford Not To”

  1. Ray Wheeler, DMin July 2, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

    The trials of being “young” – when I was an emerging leader I often heard the kinds of responses you describe…it was frustrating then and it is frustrating now because it contradicts the idea of being self-motivated. So, what solutions are available personally? I found mentors who would invest in me and broaden my perspective on the issues I saw from my role. These men and women became invaluable to me as I developed personally and found myself being recruited to larger spheres of responsibility. Smart companies start mentoring programs specifically to identify and develop potential leaders – and they specifically rotate mentees through mentors from different functions. This is a huge benefit for both the mentor and the mentee. The moral? Look for and develop relationships with mentors – expect that not everyone you approach will say yes to setting up a mentoring relationship. Be specific about what you expect to learn and the type of accountability you want. Don’t expect one mentor to meet every developmental need and don’t expect that every mentor will speed oodles of time with you. Recognize that effective mentoring happens on a continuum from frequent to a one time input. Finally – keep doing what you are doing i.e., setting your own developmental objective and not waiting around for organizations to get it. Those who waited around are still waiting in cubicles all across the corporate landscape.

    • mattissimo July 3, 2012 at 12:33 am #

      Ray, I appreciate you sharing the mentoring approach. As I read this post, all I kept thinking was… providing that type of training for all employees would, unfortunately, be a waste (even though I completely agree with the premise). For starters, not everyone is cut out to be a leader and the skills will not “stick”, and secondly, even those who might be cut out for it, may not WANT to do it, and again, your time is wasted. Finding your employees specific development paths can certainly help identify your up and coming leaders, and then the appropriate leadership training can be offered to PREPARE them for taking the next step.

    • Kayla Cruz July 8, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

      Ray, thanks so much for taking the time to read and respond. The advice you give here is great! I’m so glad that you understand the value in mentorship programs. Win-win situation, am I right?

      • Ray Wheeler, DMin July 8, 2012 at 11:06 pm #

        Kayla, yes you are correct. One of my personal goals in life is to help every employer I work with understand the power of developing their people. It never ceases to amaze me the number of employers who believe this is a waste of their effort – but then the world will always have short sighted mediocrity. Where employers catch this (or in some cases where their employees catch this and run it themselves) performance and job satisfactions soars.

  2. sportsattitudes July 2, 2012 at 5:43 pm #

    One of the strangest things I’ve started to see is exactly what you stated…companies rushing to implement “leadership training” for people already in leadership positions. On one hand, they probably should be commended for doing something which might just improve and move their organizations forward. On the other, the people in question are so very experienced – in some cases have already gone through similar training years before – and it smells more of a “CYA” situation where companies just want to be able to put in their files THEY “trained” these people…just in case a “case” comes up down the road.

    • Kayla Cruz July 8, 2012 at 8:43 pm #

      Absolutely…this whole “CYA” approach…I feel that companies should want to improve their leadership for reasons beyond this. Because they actually WANT to have better leaders. Thanks for reading!

  3. Aja July 2, 2012 at 5:45 pm #

    Your posts are all my frustrations about the working world today that I am too frustrated about to articulate.

    • Kayla Cruz July 8, 2012 at 8:45 pm #

      I’m so glad that you can relate! It’s tough. It’s annoying. But I have to believe that it can be better. We have to start speaking up and doing stuff to change it. There’s a lot of BS out there and I’m definitely not going to put up with it forever.

      Hope you’re having a great day!

  4. Diane Neff, Ed.D. July 2, 2012 at 7:35 pm #

    One of the biggest issues I see (I’m a trainer) is that most organizations like really “clean” definitions of training: go to this class, then come back and get to work. Period.

    Leadership training needs an ongoing commitment by the organization to promote pre-work (observations, case study consideration, etc.), the class or training itself, and finally the opportunity to closely observe, ask questions, and reflect on what is learned in training as well as what is learned about the specifics of their organizational leadership. A mentor/mentee relationship before, during, and after training to reinforce the theoretical concepts of the class in the real-life setting is ideal.

    It’s possible that one reason that those who get leadership training are already leaders is because they can self-reinforce the theoretical with their own experiences. More likely is that the budget is rewarding loyalty and public relations, and like @sportsattitudes said above, a CYA for potential lawsuits.

    What can you do about it? Put it in writing. Find the path for decision making, and use the entire chain of command to ask for training (To: CEO, via President, VP, Director, Manager, etc.). Compose your request to include the concepts of loyalty, both short and long-term return on investment, and if possible, a specific or hypothetical incident at your current level that could have been handled at that level with proper training. Give them every reason to say yes.

  5. Tina Del Buono, PMAC July 3, 2012 at 1:31 am #

    Kayla, I can hear where you are coming from loud and clear. Leaders will be leading even if they are never officially called a “leader or supervisor, manager”. Just do what you are called to do and learn as much as you can (books, videos, etc.) don’t count on others to put you in a position to be a leader if you are one it will naturally be known. They can tell you are a leader because of those that are following you, as John Maxwell would say. I can speak on this because I have experienced it. Great post and hang in there.

  6. hughcurtler July 3, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    Another great blog! Keep up the good work. People may eventually listen to you.

  7. thinkingldr July 3, 2012 at 8:39 pm #

    Great post Kayla. I certainly agree with the mentoring approach many have eluded to above, but I’d say that often a Gen Y (or anyone else for that matter) will find themselves in an organization that doesn’t have the kind of people you want to be mentored by.

    Change most quickly happens from the top down but it can happen from the bottom up IF we push to develop our own leadership from the bottom.

    One of the gripes I hear about Gen Y is that we expect to have everything handed to us and promotions/leadership is no different. They remind us that we have to spend years getting “experience” to be worthy of a leadership position and it’s really frustrating.

    Lastly, I’d challenge anyone on the bottom who sees themselves as a leader to branch out beyond the “formal training programs” their employer offers. There are tons of great resources that will allow you to run circles around current managers and get noticed if you handle your career properly. But always remember, there is a political element involved…

  8. The Young Professional July 3, 2012 at 10:45 pm #

    I enjoyed the post Kayla, as usual, and agree that we in Gen Y need to be trained for leadership. After all, we will be asked to lead soon.

    I just have one question: how often do you see people in GenY asking for leadership training in the first place? I think it’s a wonderful question, I just wonder if people might need to be encouraged to ask for it (if so, they should read your post).

    Do you think we’re aggressive enough in pursuing the knowledge we need to succeed?

  9. Michelle July 4, 2012 at 5:23 am #

    This is one reason that I like workplace appraisals. Employers can get a feel for what aspirations any employee has, they can find out who would be interested in leadership….and believe me not everyone is! Those that have the ambition, the drive and the potential should be encouraged every step of the way. Make your voice known and I know that you will go far!

  10. MarlaGottschalk July 6, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    Not everyone wants to manage people or lead a group (and not everyone is suited to this) – but access to training is key, if this is a serious goal. To be identified as a high potential leader, I recommend speaking up and being sure you are on the radar! Often that is the step that is missed. I have made this mistake – and I only realized the problem after I had moved on to another organization.

    Thanks for sharing -

  11. rdopping July 7, 2012 at 11:26 pm #

    Hey Kayla, generally agree with what you are saying here but surgeons, before they become surgeons, spend a lot of their own money training to become doctors first. They learn specifically through their education programs and the specifics are gleaned through years of internship.

    I guess the point I am making is that there are plenty of ways to gain leadership training outside of your employer’s programs that may offer you professional advancement far more efficiently that trying to get it through the traditional mentorship in a corporation. It would be a commitment that you could make to your own advancement. Sure it costs but then you would really need to make the choice as to what direction your career is taking.

    Great viewpoint though. When are you going to guest post on our blog? http://theviewfromhere.ca Would love to have you write something for us.

  12. theresultsmayvary July 11, 2012 at 11:18 pm #

    Once I learned that my managers were held to account for what was listed inside my performance reviews, I quickly learned to stuff the section that listed what I wanted to do for professional development with everything I could think of. Often I had to go out and find cost effective ways to get the training and experiences I needed, but that just made it easier for my manager to justify sending me to learn what I wanted. The other often overlooked area of learning is job shadowing. Just spending a week or so with a senior mentor is a great experience and is great exposure for you. Sometimes you need to approach a goal obliquely.


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