Why Gen Z values ​​authentic leaders (and how to become one)

  • If leaders want Gen Zers to pay attention to them in the workplace, they need to understand what makes them care.
  • According to Dain Dunston, founding partner of Reservoir LLC., Gen Z people want to be seen, to feel like they belong and that their presence makes a difference.
  • Gen Z might like to work with older leaders who can help them improve their self-awareness and do something truly meaningful in their lives.

2022 will see more Gen Zers in the workplace than ever before, and authenticity is a key quality they look for in their leaders and businesses.

By 2025, Generation Z will compensate more than a quarter of the entire American workforce.

Generation Z (also called Zoomers) may be young, but they’re also the most diverse generation to date, and they’ve experienced the world in a very different way than previous generations.

“Baby boomers lived under the constant threat of a nuclear holocaust, then stayed home and watched civil rights marches, riots and the war in Vietnam on their televisions. Gen-Z lived in the shadow of the 9/11 and eternal war in the Middle East, and watched on his devices the seemingly uninterrupted school shootings.And now they have gone through two years of pandemic shutdowns and suddenly find themselves in the early days of what could be ‘turn out to be another world war,’ said Dain Dunstonfounding partner of LLC tank.

Essentially, if you want Gen Z to pay attention to you in the workplace, you need to understand what makes them care.

When business leaders watch Zoomers, they see a generation unafraid to publicly take on powerful people, boycott organizations, or tackle tough issues, especially when they arise on work place. This generation is adamant about what they want for the future of work.

In a Q&A with Dain Dunston, he explained exactly what Gen Z needs in their professional career.

Allwork.Space: What do Gen Zers value most in a corporate culture? What do they value most in their leaders?

Dain Dunston: They want to be seen. They want to feel like they belong, that their presence makes a difference. Particularly now.

This Gen Z employee has options. She has friends who are digital nomads, living off their laptops from a beach in Thailand. This Gen Z employee wants to make a difference in her life.

If your organization doesn’t make that difference, know that 60% of your Gen Z team members are already analyzing job opportunities on social media.

They want meaning, a sense that what they do matters and that you acknowledge their presence and value their contribution. Not to do so is, according to them, the opposite of meaning.

And what is the opposite meaning? “Desensitization”, literally sucking the meaning out of their lives. It’s not just the lack of meaning, it’s that they feel less made than if they themselves aren’t seen as “meaningful.”

Allwork.Space: How can leaders demonstrate authenticity through different forms of communication (speeches, meetings, emails, etc.)?

We cannot show authenticity unless we are actually authentic, and therefore the means of communication are less important than the “way” of communication.

I had a conversation a few years ago with David Abney when he was CEO of UPS and asked him this question. He said 110% of his job is to communicate authentically with the people around him. From the moment he got out of his car in the garage to the moment he entered the lobby and entered the elevator, he felt he had to be intensely aware of the people around them, letting them know that he was aware of them and appreciated who they were. If he stood in the elevator and watched the floor numbers go by, that would be a failure of leadership.

So how you communicate is less important than who you are. That said, keep it simple. Understand that your Gen Z team members have already seen it all, a million videos on YouTube and TikTok and can tell the difference between “production values” and “authentic values”.

Allwork.Space: Why do today’s leaders need a high level of self-awareness?

I train leaders to constantly ask themselves two questions: “Who am I? and “What do I want?”

If you don’t know who you are, there’s nothing you can do to change it. Who you are is not some hidden mystical state known only to your deepest self. The rest of the world can see it clearly on us.

Asking who you are changes who you are. And in that state of presence, asking for what you want changes what you want. From this state of radical self-awareness, you can have a profound impact on those around you – an impact that gives meaning to the tasks at hand.

Allwork.Space: Why is authenticity so important to Gen Z in the workplace? Do the values ​​of Gen Z differ at all from those of millennials or baby boomers?

Every generation is susceptible to adorable counterfeits and frauds. Go back 170 years to President Lincoln’s message that “you can’t fool everyone all the time.” And yet, we are constantly surrounded by people (and bots!) trying to do just that.

I think Gen Z understands better how surrounded they are by inauthentic people and their inauthentic attempts to communicate.

I think every generation can tell someone who is an authentic leader from someone who is not. The difference is that baby boomers can live with it (especially as they get older), but younger generations feel they don’t need it.

Generation Z has seen so much in its short life. They grew up trying to sell an image of their “perfect life” on tweets and posts, then realized everyone was doing the same thing.

They would really like to work with someone older than them who can help them improve their self-awareness and do something really meaningful in their lives.

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