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Insights on next generation managers

4 min read


The face of managers in U.S. companies is changing rapidly, according to a study by Ernst & Young.

Members of the Gen Y “millennial” generation (defined by the study as ages 18 to 32) are getting promoted into management roles more quickly than any other generation today. The survey noted that of new managers (those who took on a formal leadership role in the last five years), 87% were Gen Y’s with only 38% being Gen X’s and 19% of the baby boomer generation.

That makes sense, as about one-third of U.S. workers are Gen Y. In some industries, Gen Y workers make up an even greater portion of the workforce.

The study found that 68% of millennials are perceived as “entitled” (they believe their excellence is a given and are owed things from their organization). The same percentage of respondents see Gen Y players as primarily concerned about their own success and promotion in the organization.

These perceptions likely contribute to concerns that Gen Y players are difficult to work with (36% of respondents think that) and they lack relevant experience (noted by 59% of respondents).

Gen X players (ages 33 to 48) were perceived as the strongest managers by 70% of respondents. This generation was seen as demonstrating desired characteristics in seven out of 11 categories.

Gen Y managers are seen as the best inclusive leaders (effectively inspiring diverse groups of people), a skill that will see increasing relevance in the days to come.

How can organizations boost the effectiveness of the biggest portion of their leadership population, Gen Y managers?

First, organizations must accept the reality of this generational shift. Expectations of the past (of baby boomer managers or even Gen X managers) will not apply to millennial managers.

Second, organizations must accept their responsibility to create, coach, and support #GreatBosses, no matter what generation they represent.

An effective leadership-development strategy requires four integrated systems: defining, training, mentoring and feedback.

Defining what a good job looks like is the foundational first step. Organizations must be specific in describing not only what effective leaders accomplish (meeting production quotas, boosting quality of products and services, etc.) but how they accomplish those goals (through partnering, listening, coaching, learning, etc., with direct reports).

Training closes gaps between current behaviors and desired behaviors. Skill-building sessions might be needed for goal-setting, teaching, listening, holding effective accountability conversations, and more.

Mentoring is a powerful means of building desired skills and of building the commitment in managers to change their behavior. Mentors can coach, prod and challenge, creating a safe environment for the manager’s learning and refining of behaviors.

Feedback is, as Ken Blanchard says, the “breakfast of champions.” In the absence of reliable data on how others perceive a manager, that manager can be convinced they are a terrific leader. Regular, consistent feedback on what direct reports experience in their partnership with their boss can help that manager evolve to more effective influencing.

How is this generational change impacting your company? What characteristics of Gen Y workers and managers do you value? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

What is it like to work in your company culture? Contribute your experiences in my fast, free Performance-Values Assessment. Results and analysis are available on the research page of my blog site, Driving Results Through Culture.

How does your boss fare in my new Great Boss Assessment? This fast & free survey takes only minutes. Results and analysis will appear on the research page of my blog site, Driving Results Through Culture, once we reach 100 global respondents.

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