How To Work With Gen Y

Leadership, Legacy


When I started writing Igniting the Invisible Tribe, I began my research by studying generations in the workplace. I wanted to see if age-related conflicts could be the cause of the epic friction we feel in business today. While I eventually dismissed generational contrast as a root cause, I continue to hear about the difficulties that arise from how different these groups are.

Primarily, I hear about the “entitlement” nature of Gen Y — so this is what I want to address head-on today.

Does Gen Y want to be integrated into the decision-making of their company? Yes. Does Gen Y want more mentorship opportunities? Yes. Does Gen Y want more opportunities to be developed and learn new things? Yes. Does this sometimes come across as entitlement? Yes, I think so.

But to treat this behavior as simple “entitlement” that needs to somehow be beaten out — I mean, “kindly diminished” and/or “controlled” — is the first mistake today’s leaders and organizations make. If we extrapolate a bit from the Gen Y traits described above, I think we see that what emerging generations of workers actually have is a built-in desire for meaning. They want their work to be a deliberate and purposeful part of their lives, not just a place they go to make money. They want to be involved; they want to be engaged. And this is why there’s a great danger in trying to quash the (admittedly audacious) Gen Y traits as “behavioral issues.” Leaders are taking an opportunity to engage a person who desperately wants to be engaged and instead are saying “No, you need to work like I do… even if my way really kinda sucks.”

Here’s the other way to look at this…

Gen Y is approaching today’s leaders and organizations saying, “Can you give me a place to work where I’ll be proud to spend my time? Can you offer me a spot in a company that’s making a positive impact on society?”

The real issue isn’t in the questions Gen Y is asking. The real problem is in the answers that Gen X and Baby Boomers don’t have.

Gen Y says, “Can you provide me a job that actually means something? Will I be glad I spent the majority of my waking life inside your organization? Can you help me grow and develop and learn — and also appreciate that I might have something insightful to contribute along the way?”

And the vast majority of our Gen X and Baby Boomer leaders can’t answer YES to these questions, because their organizations really aren’t very meaningful.

They don’t make people proud to work there.

They don’t help people evolve in positive ways.

They certainly don’t listen to good ideas that come from anywhere.

This is what most people miss when they talk about how to work with Gen Y. The problem isn’t really with Gen Y at all; the problem is that the leaders and organizations of today have failed — rather spectacularly, I might add — in raising their pride/meaning/impact bar high enough.

Most companies that exist now don’t make their current employees proud to work there — how in the world would they be able to attract and retain a new generation that is asking even deeper questions?


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Advice For My Daughter: How To See People

Legacy, Life


There’s a tendency among us humans to look at large groups of people — cultural groups, religious groups, gender groups, whatever — and point out how different “we” are from “them.”

“Oh, my group would never do anything like ‘they’ do…!”

We also like to make dangerous generalizations when it comes to individuals. We lump them — even though they are one, individual person — into a group we think they are a part of and assume that they are exactly the same as everyone else in that group.

“Oh, they are a [whatever], and ‘those people’ always [whatever]!”

This is completely backwards.

It’s much more healthy, productive, and helpful to flip these around:

When we look at people in groups, it’s better to see how we’re more alike than we are different.

For example: if I associate with a Christian worldview, it’s much more helpful for me to look at folks with an Islamic worldview and see how much we have in common, versus how much we don’t.

When we look at individuals, it’s better to see how everyone is different, and appreciate each person’s uniqueness.

For example: I should never assume that the coworker on my team sees the world exactly like I do, because they definitely don’t (here’s why).

When we look at the people around us in this way, the world instantly becomes a much more welcoming, colorful, and interesting place.


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How To Be A Better Person



I used to think that the key to becoming a better person was, essentially, to know more things about how to be a better person.

For example:

Maybe I needed to learn new skills or tools to help me be better.

Maybe I needed to get some new research about why I should be better.

Maybe I needed to acquire new “tricks.”

Maybe I needed to gather some new ways to see reality.

While none of those things are bad, I’m starting to think a little differently about this.

Now I’m noticing that whenever I behaved badly, done something untoward, or somehow engaged with life in a way I’m not necessarily proud of it’s usually not because I didn’t know how to be a better version of me. No, I knew what I should have done, I just didn’t choose to do that.

Why didn’t I make a better choice, then?

Well, I’ve come to believe it’s because in that moment I didn’t have the personal resources to have been the better person I could have been. For whatever reason (usually a variety of reasons), I didn’t have the energy — the capacity, the bandwidth, the stamina, or whatever you want to call it — to behave in the way I would have preferred to behave.

Put another way, in that “bad” moment I was tired and worn down or just altogether “tapped out” to the point where I didn’t care enough to override my default setting… which is, many times, to be kind of an asshole.

When I get my energy reserves UP, though — when I have the presence and mindfulness and awareness that I need — I’m usually able to override the “asshole” setting and be the kind of person that I would like to be. But when I am tired and rundown it’s like I simply can’t do it. It’s basically like I can’t stop myself from being this worst version of me.

So these days I’m wondering if being a better person isn’t so much about knowing more or learning new tricks or having a better understanding of all the ways to be better, but if it’s more about ensuring that I am always cultivating my energy reserves — constantly refilling them — so I have the wherewithal to fight against the “evil Josh” that lurks somewhere in the background, forever tempting me to be an idiot.

That’s an entirely different approach to this problem.


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