The demographics of the workplace are changing. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that by 2031, Millennials and Gen Z will make up three fourths of the labor force in America, with Millennials currently the largest generational block in the workplace. As young employees begin their careers and new generations step into management and leadership roles, it is important to understand how to engage and motivate individuals across generations.
Today, younger employees are more likely to want to interact with colleagues and leaders, to engage in discussion around important topics, and have permission to ask questions. Employees want to know they have a voice, that they belong and are valued in their organization.
While fair compensation is important to all generations, younger employees are also motivated by their emotional needs being considered. Authentic relationships are important, as is understanding how different individual roles contribute to a greater purpose.
Consider the following as you look to motivate different generations on your team:
The oldest members of Gen Z (b. 1996-2010) are now young adults and many are looking for or starting new jobs. This is a generation that has carried smartphones in their back pocket since adolescence and they entered adulthood amid a pandemic. As a result, their expectations as they begin working with a team are often very different than previous generations. Organizations and leaders that want to equip and retain young team members benefit from understanding and responding to their expectations and supporting their needs. Dorsey and Villa's book, Zconomy: How Gen Z Will Change the Future of Business—and What to Do About It, offers some helpful insights on Gen Z in the workplace.
Here are a few quick ideas to consider as you onboard young team members:
Check on this month’s episode of The Leading Tomorrow podcast for more on effective ways to onboard new Gen Z team members.
More and more Millennials are stepping into leadership and management positions. In many cases, they are overseeing various generations. Their teams can include Generation Z, now entering the workforce as college graduates, to Boomers, who are sometimes the age of their parents or even grandparents. This age diversity produces challenges for even experienced managers. For Millennial managers, often navigating their first supervisory role, it can produce stress and uncertainty. Here are a few reminders for Millennial managers as you learn and grow as a leader:
Healthy leadership requires incredible self-awareness, courage, and sacrifice. As a new manager or leader, you need support. Find a mentor or friend who can encourage you, help you process the situations you are navigating, and provide honest feedback. You’ve got this!
In one of my favorite leadership books, Team of Teams, the author Stanley McChrystal explains, “The models of organizational success that dominated the twentieth century have their roots in the industrial revolution and, simply put, the world has changed…being effective in today’s world is less a question of optimizing for a known (and relatively stable) set of variables than responsiveness to a constantly shifting environment.”
Young people today intuitively understand that the world is constantly changing, and adaptability is often more important than efficiency. They want to work with leaders, teams, and organizations that are willing to respond and adapt. This is one of the reasons that innovation is essential to engage the next generation effectively.
This month, Dave Raley, founder of Imago Consulting joins me on the podcast to discuss how we need to rethink innovation. The first step is addressing myths about innovation. For example, one myth is that innovation is something you do after you have your act together, and everything is dialed in. The reality is that innovation is best applied when things aren’t going well. Crisis is often the opportunity that drives sticky innovation. Another myth is that innovation is all about the new, bright, shiny object. The truth is that innovation is a disciplined process.
Young leaders bring unique perspectives to teams and organizations looking to become more innovative. They are more likely to question assumptions and to challenge current ways of doing things. They also are motivated to understand the “why” behind what we do, and the innovation process requires us to have those conversations.
Philosopher Eric Hoffer once said, “In a world of change, the learners shall inherit the earth, while the learned shall find themselves perfectly suited for a world that no longer exists.” Innovation requires us to remain in a posture of learning. At times, this can result in fatigue, but the benefits are significant. Without learning, we are unlikely to thrive in a world that requires innovation. Futurist Alvin Toffler said, “The illiterate of the twenty-first century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
As you consider rethinking innovation, consider the following:
Engaging multiple generations in any context can be challenging, but within established teams and organizations there can be unique barriers to effectively adapting to new expectations and needs. In these contexts, leaders need to be aware of their own mindsets toward younger employees, team members, and clients. It is also important to consider what assumptions we might be making that could result in confusion for those we are hoping to engage and equip. Steve Moore, President of Growing Leaders once said, “When institutional activities last more than one generation of leadership, the assumptions behind those activities become invisible to the current membership.” What is considered “self-evident” to most senior leaders may not be apparent to many new employees or participants. In this month's episode of The Leading Tomorrow Podcast, I talked with Doug Harrison, Director of Strategy and Innovation at Mission Aviation Fellowship. We identified several key mindsets and action steps critical for leaders and organizations in effectively engaging the next generation. These include the following:
The following is a guest contribution written by leadership coach Dr. Bethany Peters:
Recent research shows us that coaching in the workplace has significant benefits: employees who are coached can experience increased productivity, enhanced clarity, a boost in confidence, and improved communication skills, among other benefits.
But what is coaching, exactly? Sir John Whitmore, a leading contributor to the coaching profession, defined it as a process of “unlocking people’s potential to maximize their own performance.” Coaching is distinctly different from other professions such as mentoring, consulting, and therapy. Although all of these are valuable sources of support, coaching employs a more facilitative approach to:
What value does a coach approach have for supporting the next generation? More than ever, an engaging relationship with a manager is vitally important to retaining young adults. When a manager takes an intentional, personalized approach to promote growth and development in the workplace, that style of leadership is much more likely to generate loyalty and commitment from members of Generation Y and Z. The coach approach appeals to young adults with its focus on:
A coach approach is grounded in trust-filled relationships and characterized by a commitment to:
If you are interested in leveling up your coaching skills, and learning how to take a coach approach in your specific setting, consider doing it with a group of other leaders and influencers… Six Weeks to a Coach Approach is an interactive, group coaching program launching this September, facilitated by leadership coach Dr. Bethany Peters.
As we seek to engage Gen Z, the most diverse and global generation in history, we must continue to grow as multicultural leaders and organizations. I recently read a research study by international church planter, Mark McKinstry, that provided some powerful encouragement on multicultural leadership from the Bible. The following is an excerpt from Mark’s Thesis on how the leaders and church at Antioch modeled multicultural leadership:
Musvosvi (2010) wrote, “The church at Antioch was as close to being a model as one gets in its ability to understand and constructively deal with multi-ethnic situations” (p. 48). If this is the case, what did the leadership and membership look like?
Some of our best clues are found in the words of the Bible. Luke, the author of Acts, describes the leadership team of the Church of Antioch, “Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul” (Acts 13:1). Based on this, we know the Antioch Church leadership team was formed out of a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-class group of people.
Barclay (1957) explains the diverse team further,
Barnabas was a Jew from Cyprus; Lucius from Cyrene in North Africa; Simeon was also a Jew but his
other name Niger is given and, since this is a Roman name, it shows that he must have moved in Roman
circles; Manaen was a man with aristocratic connections, and Paul himself a Jew from Tarsus of Cilicia
and a trained rabbi. (p. 115)
Regarding the leadership team, Steel (2018) commented,
Paul and Barnabas were both Jewish but had been raised outside Palestine. Both were fluent in Jewish
language and customs, but they also spoke Aramaic and Greek. Then there’s Manaen, a man who grew
up with incredible opportunity and education within the household of Herod Antipas. Next there’s Lucius
of Cyrene, from North Africa, who may have been one of the initial evangelists who arrived amid
persecution and began \ reaching out to Greeks. And last but not least was Simon called Niger, who
was most likely a black African. (para. 12)
The unity of this diverse leadership team became a powerful symbol to the membership of the church and to the city where they lived (Steel, 2018). Additionally, the membership of the Church of Antioch was a reflection of the leadership team. The members were made up of multiple cultures, language groups, ethnicities, and social classes.
When I interviewed Mark on my podcast, I asked him what lessons leaders today can take from the life of Barnabas, one of the key leaders on the multicultural team in Antioch. He encouraged:
Good questions for each of us to ask ourselves include, “How am I actively engaging those who are different than me or who disagree with me?” “How can I embrace the discomfort and learning that can come with diversity?” “How am I developing and encouraging a multicultural team around me?”
Barclay, W. (1957). The letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians. Westminster John Knox Press.
Musvosvi, J. (2010). Race, ethnicity, and tribal conflicts. Journal of Adventist Mission Studies,6(1), Article 5.
Steel, D. (2018, July 25). What the diverse Church in Antioch can teach us today. Retrieved from
In the midst of what many are calling the "Great Resignation," record numbers of employees are leaving their jobs. In November 2021 alone, 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs. While there are a number of reasons for this trend, there are some steps leaders and managers can take to create a work environment that young adults find difficult to leave:
I am often asked how to remain motivated in leading young adults when they often leave an organization despite our best efforts. With this generation, we need to see every engagement as an investment into the future. Even if a young person moves on to another team or organization, they will take memories and lessons (good or bad) with them. May our legacy in the lives of the young people we work with be one of empowerment, wisdom, and encouragement.
Despite many schools and work activities being back in person, virtual classes, training, and work meetings continue to be a significant part of our daily interactions, and will likely continue indefinitely. As a result, we must constantly hone our virtual interaction skills. Her are four of my favorite tips for communicating and building relationships in virtual contexts.
-Tip 1: “Push” Important Info to Students/Team Members
We live in a world where notifications and reminders help us focus on what is important amid the onslaught of information we encounter. As a result, we need to “push” important information to students and colleagues. Extra reminders to team members on upcoming meetings or tasks can be helpful. Students may need support as they navigate online learning. I do this by posting and emailing weekly updates, highlighting what is important in each module. During the first couple of weeks of class, or when there is a new type of assignment or activity, I post/send a special reminder or explanation, even though all this info is also clearly posted online. Students benefit from knowing what to focus on, understanding how to manage their time, and getting information that minimizes mistakes or confusion.
-Tip 2: Be Present/Engaged
In the online context, students and employees cannot “see” us the way they do in a classroom or office, so we need to be intentional to show we are present and engaged. We can do this by contributing to discussion on forums, liking or responding to comments, and making specific comments unique to each student or participant when responding. I also try to reference student comments or insights when giving video lectures or facilitating discussions to show I am paying attention to what they are saying and doing.
-Tip 3: Be Personable/Authentic
Being personable online requires us to really express our personality. Including some videos and facilitating live discussions helps convey our teaching style. I always host a virtual orientation the first week of class so we can see facial expressions and hear voices. We can let our personality shine through in videos, posts, and comments by sharing personal fun facts and stories or using emojis. Also, responding to employee or student needs and requests for help with empathy goes a long way toward building rapport.
-Tip 4: Connect Individually
Learn specifics about each student or team member, reference these, share resources they might find interesting given their interests, etc. I create an introduction forum and ask everyone to post a short bio during the first week of my courses. This helps me learn and remember names and backgrounds. Responding promptly to questions and creating times or opportunities for appointments if students or staff need to connect via phone or video chat communicates you are available to help them.
Almost two decades ago, futurist and inventor, Ray Kurzwelli stated, "We're entering an age of acceleration. Because of the explosive power of exponential growth, the 21st century will be equivalent to 20,000 years of progress at today's rate of progress; organizations have to be able to redefine themselves at a faster and faster pace."
As we look at the world around us today, we can see evidence of rapid change. Change in technology, society, and generations requires leaders and organizations to adapt and innovate. This month, I had the honor of sitting down and chatting about innovation with Jacob Hancock, Executive Director at Seeds Global Innovation Lab. To hear our full discussion, check out this month's episode of The Leading Tomorrow Podcast. Jacob gave the following definition of innovation: "proactively generating and executing new ideas that create value." He went on to explain, "If we solve for challenges in the future, we are so much more prepared than if we remain in a reactive posture."
One of the challenges of innovation is the fact that it requires some tolerance of failure as we seek to learn what will work in a new context. William Pollard indicated why being willing to learn is so critical: "Learning and innovation go hand-in-hand. The arrogance of success is believing what you did yesterday will be sufficient tomorrow."
As we consider engaging, equipping, and encouraging a new generation of young leaders, we must be willing to innovate and model what courageous learning and growth look like in a complex and rapidly changing world. Below I have listed some great resources on innovation, growth and design thinking! I encourage you to add one or two to your reading list for 2022!
Resources on Creativity, Innovation & Growth:
Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by Kelley & Kelley
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Catmull & Wallace
Innovation by Design: How Any Organization Can Leverage Design Thinking to Produce Change, Drive New Ideas, and Deliver Meaningful Solutions by Lockwood & Papke
Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Kit for Managers by Liedtka & Ogilvie
101 Design Methods: A Structured Approach for Driving Innovation in Your Organization by Vijay Kumar
Dr. Jolene Erlacher is a wife, mommy, author, speaker, college instructor and coffee drinker who is passionate about empowering the next generation of leaders for effective service!