Much has been written about the increased mental health concerns facing Gen Z and Gen Alpha. In addition, as I talk to employers and educators, I often hear how many young people today lack the problem solving and critical thinking skills we saw in older generations at the same age. As we consider ways to support the health and growth of young people around us, we often overlook some of the best tools and opportunities at our disposal: fun and free play.
Neil Postman wrote, “It is not conceivable that our culture will forget that it needs children; but it is halfway toward forgetting that children need childhood. Tim Elmore, in his book Marching Off the Map wrote that childhood as we have known it historically is disappearing, and that a strange paradox is emerging in young people as a result. We are witnessing the extinction of childlikeness and the extension of childishness.
The reality is that free, unstructured play builds skills and maturity. When young people can play without an adult to dictate every action and guideline, and provide every resource, they have to start relying on their own abilities to problem solve, find solutions, resolve conflict, and exercise creativity. Furthermore, when they achieve something on their own, whether it is building a fort, designing a new game, writing a song for fun, or creating a small business idea, the resulting sense of fulfillment produces intrinsic motivation that helps them overcome apathy. When they encounter a complication and are able to overcome it, using their own skills and ideas, they gain confidence and resilience to face the next obstacle.
Fun activities that have no predetermined purpose allow young people to just explore, problem solve, and test their skills and ideas. Free play can also help decrease stress and anxiety by giving them time to just think and be. One of the best gifts we can give young people around us this summer is to model what it looks like to disconnect from our devices and step away from our structured task list and just have fun. Invite them to join you, or give them opportunities to do so themselves. If this is a skill they have never developed, they may need some help getting started, but it will be a skill they can benefit from the rest of their lives.
For more on free play, check out this article, or listen to the most recent episode of The Leading Tomorrow Podcast.
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!
Bradberry and Greaves, in their great little book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0 said the following:
Of all the people we’ve studied at work, we have
found that 90 percent of high performers are also
high in EQ [emotional intelligence]. On the flip
side, just 20 percent of low performers are high
in EQ. People who develop their EQ tend to be
successful on the job… [and] make more money--
an average of $29,000 more per year than people
with low EQs. The link between EQ and earnings is
so direct that every point increase in EQ adds
$1,300 to an annual salary.
While emotional intelligence--which includes skills like self-awareness, empathy, and relationship management--is emerging as critically important for leaders today, given the prevalence of technology, many young people are lacking in these skills. As we head into graduation season, many high school seniors and graduating college students are facing new challenges and opportunities which will require increased emotional intelligence. As leaders, teachers, parents, and mentors, we can encourage them to grow in these important skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. Here are a few ideas for helping the graduate in your life:
For more on students and emotional intelligence, check out this month’s episode of The Leading Tomorrow Podcast, where I chat with Gen Z high school graduate, Ariana Chaparro, about self-awareness and self-leadership.
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.
The following is a guest article, written by Ariana Chaparro. Ariana is a recent high school graduate and is now taking a gap year before college to explore different career paths and interests.
A few years ago, a friend of mine was going through a challenging situation. I knew about some of her struggles and wanted to share my thoughts and advice, but I was worried she wouldn't listen or would think I was judging her and turn me away. I truly cared about her and needed to find a way for her to see that. I knew she would only listen to me if she knew I was genuinely listening to her.
Sometimes we're too quick to give our opinion, share our advice, or shut others down because we think they're wrong. Yes, sometimes the other person is wrong, or they do need our guidance, but there's a time and place for that. There are situations where we need to say something immediately, but other times we just need to listen, empathize, and try to understand where the other person is coming from.
As time went on, my friend started to open up to me, and for a while I just listened. There were definitely moments I wanted to cut in and share my thoughts, but I waited. I learned that she did not need me to tell her the same advice that everyone was already giving her and opinions that others were already throwing at her. She needed someone to listen and honestly care about how she was feeling. She needed somebody to encourage her when no one else would. Eventually, she opened the door for my thoughts and advice, and she listened! She considered what I had to say because she knew I had the whole picture in mind, not just an outside view.
Maybe you know someone going through a tough situation. Perhaps you have a friend who is living a lifestyle you think is wrong. Maybe you have a child who doesn't listen to what you say or fights back when you try to help.
Take a step back. Look at the bigger picture. If you can’t see the whole situation or understand their point of view, ask them to show you. We cannot expect to reach someone when we don't really know where they are. It may take a while. It might be hard for others to open up because of things we've said before or past experiences with broken trust. There's a time and place for everything. Sometimes it's not the time or the place for us to speak, but to just listen.
In a 2014 Ted Talk, David Brooks discussed two sets of values that we can pursue in our lives: resume virtues and eulogy virtues. Resume virtues are those accomplishments and capacities we can represent on a resume. Eulogy virtues are those characteristics and attitudes that are discussed in our eulogies. While most of us would agree that eulogy virtues are more important, we live in a culture that consistently affirms resume virtues. If we are not careful, as mentors, leaders, and parents, we too can affirm resume virtues over eulogy virtues in the lives of young people around us.
Brooks described how the two sets of values, or sides of our nature, work by different logics. The external logic that drives resume virtues is economic; the internal logic that drives eulogy virtues is moral. Tim Elmore and Andrew McPeak, in their book Generation Z Unfiltered, summarize the attitudes of these two sets of values or selves. The resume virtues tend to be worldly, ambitious, innovative, curious about how things work, and focused on accomplishment and success. The eulogy virtues tend to be humble, good, strong, curious about why we are here, and focused on honoring others, love and redemption.
In a world of standardized tests, social media posts, and a competitive global economy, it is easy to overemphasize those virtues that help get good grades, social media likes, and competitive job. As adults, we may unintentionally emphasize these virtues for Gen Z as we celebrate their resume virtues via our social media posts, and challenge or coach them regularly on school or work skills and accomplishments. Resume virtues are important, however, if they are overemphasized while eulogy virtues are underemphasized, we may find ourselves leading young people who lack internal motivation, a sense of moral direction, and empathy for others.
Gen Z needs encouragement to think beyond resume virtues and consider eulogy virtues. As an individualistic generation, they need to be reflective and determine their personal values, something that does not often happen in our busy, noisy world. Elmore and McPeak offer several suggestions to consider as we encourage young people. First, have them write their own eulogy, identifying key values. Consider also writing yours and sharing it with the young person you are mentoring. Second, ask the young person to identify actions that reflect those values they have identified. Third, ask them to put the actions that have been identified into practice. Last, provide support and encouragement.
What are ways that you currently encourage and affirm resume values in the lives of young people? Eulogy values? What are additional ways you could encourage the development of eulogy values?
James Emery White, in his book Meet Generation Z stated, “As the first truly post-Christian generation, and numerically the largest, Generation Z will be the most influential religious force in the West.” Author Jonathan Morrow explained that Gen Z is growing up in a world that rejects a Christian worldview, but desires the world that has the characteristics that biblical principles allow to exist. In addition, young believers often lack the education and discipleship that allow them to understand how faith applies in real life.
As America becomes increasingly post-Christian, church attendance and biblical literacy are on the decline. Data from the General Social Survey and the Pew Research Center corroborated a downward trend in church attendance in the U.S. “In the most recent GSS studies, 43% of respondents say they attend religious services at least monthly, down from 47% in the early 2000s and 50% in the early 1990s. Meanwhile, the share of U.S. adults who say they “never” attend religious services now stands at 27%, up from 18% in the early 2000s and roughly double the share who said this in the early 1990s (14%).” A LifeWay Research study found that only 45 percent of those who regularly attend church actually read the Bible more than once a week and almost one in five churchgoers say they never read the Bible. Barna reported, “Since 2009, Bible reading has become less widespread, especially among the youngest adults. Today, only one-third of all American adults report reading the Bible once a week or more. The percentage is highest among Elders (49%) and lowest among Millennials (24%).” As we seek to encourage young people in their faith, we must recognize that they may not possess a basic understanding of healthy spiritual growth. As a result, they need intentional training, encouragement, and mentoring.
Even young believers with a strong faith, who desire to grow spiritually, often confront opposition to their faith that did not exist in our culture a couple of decades ago. David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock, in their book Faith for Exiles, contended that “today’s society is especially and insidiously faith repellent.” They reported that it is hard to grow resilient faith in this generation of young people growing up in a post-Christian culture. It is possible, however. Here are a few of the strategies we can employ as we seek to encourage spiritual growth in the lives of young people around us:
There is an African Proverb that states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Healthy, productive teams, however, require time, energy, and intentional leadership. This is especially true of multigenerational teams. I appreciate the perspective of former basketball coach, Pat Summitt who once said, “To me, teamwork is a lot like being part of a family. It comes with obligations, entanglements, headaches, and quarrels. But the rewards are worth the cost.”
The level of complexity and change in our world is increasing the need for self-directed and empowered teams. In his book, Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, General Stanley McChrystal, explains, “Much of what a leader must be, and do, has fundamentally changed. The heroic “hands-on” leader whose personal competence and force of will dominated battlefields and boardrooms for generations has been overwhelmed by accelerating speed, swelling complexity, and interdependence.” McChrystal and his co-authors describe the need for team leaders to begin viewing themselves more as gardeners, and less as chess masters. The new environment in which leaders today must operate requires less of the “move-by-move control” of a chess master, the approach more common in traditional team leadership. Instead, team leaders today can be more effective when they operate as gardeners, “nurturing the organization—its structure, processes, and culture” to allow team members to function with confidence, resources, understanding, and support that enable maximum motivation, collaboration, and innovation.
Tony Dungy, in his book, The Mentor Leader: Secrets to Building People & Teams that Win Consistently, echoes the importance of the leader’s role in creating an environment where teams can thrive. He explains that leaders must “engage, educate, equip, encourage, empower, energize, and elevate. Those are the methods for maximizing the potential of any individual, team, organization, or institution for ultimate success and significance. Those are the methods of a mentor leader.” Tony Dungy encourages leaders to walk alongside their teams. He explains, “If you want to make a difference in the lives of the people you lead, you must be willing to walk alongside them, to lift and encourage them, to share moments of understanding with them, and to spend time with them, not just shout down at them from on high.”
A lack of support from the leader is a key reason young people struggle on teams. Multigenerational teams thrive most when they have a leader who nurtures like a gardener, caring for the individuals on the team as a gardener cares and provides for the plants in a garden.
Reflect on teams where you lead or have influence. What about the culture or environment is healthy and empowering? What is unhealthy? Do you lead and influence like a gardener, who nurtures and supports the individuals and team? How could you do this more intentionally?
I was recently presenting on Gen Z, discussing the impact of cancel culture on young people today. Someone in the audience asked what cancel culture is so thought I would talk about it briefly here. The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as: "a way of behaving in a society or group, especially on social media, in which it is common to completely reject and stop supporting someone because they have said or done something that offends you."
While cancel culture is currently playing out in significant ways in our society as anyone from celebrities to CEOs can get "cancelled" for saying or doing something that is offensive to someone or a group of people, it is also a very real part of young people's personal lives. A 2019 New York Time's article, Tale's From the Teenage Cancel Culture, offered some powerful quotes from teenagers on the effects of cancel culture. Neelam, a 17-year-old explained, cancel culture is "a way to take away someone’s power and call out the individual for being problematic in a situation,” Neelam said. "I don’t think it’s being sensitive. I think it’s just having a sense of being observant and aware of what’s going on around you."
The article quotes another 17-year-old, Ben, who highlights one of the difficulties of cancel culture. He said, "people should be held accountable for their actions, whether they’re famous or not, but that canceling someone 'takes away the option for them to learn from their mistakes and kind of alienates them.'” The Cambridge Dictionary agreed that "the main argument against cancel culture is that it doesn't enable people who have wronged society the opportunity to apologize and learn from their mistakes."
Young people today are often living in fear of saying or doing something, or associating with someone or something, that could get them cancelled. They can also struggle with understanding the power of unconditional love, repentance, forgiveness, restoration and redemption in a culture that simple cancels those who make mistakes or do something that is deemed inappropriate or offensive.
As parents, leaders, and mentors, we need to model the reality that love, forgiveness, and restoration can exist in relationships. By providing relationships that are strong, safe, and supportive, we can help young people gain perspective and hope to live humbly, honestly, and confidently.
For more on this topic, check out this month's episode of The Leading Tomorrow podcast.
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!