New Leadership Study:  Gen Y Demands Passion; Gen X Vision; Boomers Ethics

New Leadership Study:  Gen Y Demands Passion; Gen X Vision; Boomers Ethics 150 150 Adrian Ott

When business pundits speak about leadership it is as if it is one-size-fits-all. But given that U.S. workplaces today employ people of different generations, and different management responsibilities and experiences, would it follow that different definitions and expectations exist about what constitutes a leader?

Recently, Pierre Khawand and I conducted a survey with more than 800 professionals in North America to pose this and other vital questions related to leadership today. The resulting leadership survey was met with enthusiasm. The survey examined a broad range of topics related to leadership and workplace topics.

Here are a few key findings from the report:

Finding 1: Gen Y emphasizes Passion; Gen X emphasizes Vision; Baby Boomers emphasize Ethics. Different generations emphasize different aspects of leadership. Leaders need to be aware of generational differences to lead across generations. In addition, generational diversity in the workplace is essential to bring together Passion, Vision, and Ethics and therefore provide unprecedented leadership and engagement momentum.

Finding 2: Awareness of self and awareness of others are vital leadership skills in today’s work environment. The workforce today views awareness of self and awareness of others as vital leadership skills. This shows a fundamental shift in how people perceive leadership. It is no longer sufficient to be visionary, focused on results, and portray confidence and charisma. It is more important to demonstrate increased awareness throughout to earn the “leadership” badge today.

Finding 3: Leadership is not a fixed trait; it can be developed. More people are realizing that leadership is not a fixed trait that you either have or you don’t. Leadership can be learned. This attitude, however, varies by generation. The idea that you are born with leadership is greatest in young Gen Y and decreases in other generations.

Finding 4: Individuals are generally happy with work, but only 10% found their “sweet spot.” While it is important to have a happy workforce, it is also necessary to have passionate people whose strengths match the core strengths needed to bring about breakthrough accomplishments (hence, the “sweet spot”). Can more be done to have more people find their sweet spot at work? This result also varied by functional area. Product development people are the least satisfied at work.

Finding 5: The reach of leadership training and development needs to be broadened. More people are realizing that leadership training and development needs to be made accessible to more people within the organization. This is a key finding and a new development in leadership. About 63% of the survey respondents indicated that front line employees should receive leadership training, and 58% indicated that individual contributors should receive leadership training.

What This Means For Your Leadership Style

1) Tailor Your Leadership Approach. For example, consider generational expectations: If most of your team are millennials, they expect to see passion and teamwork to inspire them. Gen X wants Vision, so sharing with them what is ahead for the business is important.

2) Leadership is a craft. You do not have to be born with it. It is a skill that can be honed and continually improved over time.

3) Be aware that only about 10% of your team may not have found their “sweet spot” in terms of work they are passionate about. Help them discover areas of interest they can pursue in your group so more of your team gives their best.

4) Be Aware of Yourself and Aware of Others. Focusing on results is not enough. People expect you to be aware of group dynamics, to interact, and to lead by example.

About The Survey

More than 800 North American business professionals participated in survey and qualitative research from January 12, 2013 to late 2016. Six hundred eighty-seven (687) business professionals were culled and qualified from the survey responses and analyzed in the quantitative survey. The largest segment (61.7% of the respondents) is from organizations with 1000 or more employees, followed by respondents from organizations with less than 1000 employees (21% of the respondents), and then independent consultants and contractors (17.3% of the respondents). The respondents represented a broad range of industries. In terms of their functional areas within the organization, professional services, top management, and administrative were the largest segments, followed by product development, marketing, and sales. In terms of the generations, Gen X (those born between 1961 and 1980) and Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1960) were the largest segments

For More Information

Download the infographics and learn more about the complete survey report at which further details survey results by generation, by functional area, by level within the organization, and by company size.

Adrian C. Ott is an award-winning author and advisor to innovative tech start-ups and major corporations such as Microsoft, EMC/Dell, and Symantec. She is CEO and Founder of Exponential Edge, Inc. Learn more at

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