Generation Y Not

In the course of working with hundreds of business leaders over the last decade, I’ve had and heard many conversations about “Millennials,” also known as “Gen Y.” Most of these conversations consist of laments and complaints;

– “They’re too entitled”

– “They want lattes and yoga classes”

– “They’re lazy”

And my favourite, from the president of a major technology company: “I need to put the fear of God in them to motivate them.”

First of all, I hesitate to put a label on an entire generation, convenient as that might be. Advertising gurus enjoy branding whole generations and broad segments, as it makes them look terribly clever and helps shiny up their own brand reputations. “Metrosexuals” and “Soccer Moms” belong to such a category. When it comes to the twenty-something professionals I’ve had the privilege of working with, here’s what I glean (yes, I generalize too, but with the qualifier that this is only my experience, and does not have any scientific basis):

– They’re fearless. They’ll try anything once, and are game to do it a second or third time if you coach them

– They have tremendous facility with technology, which should come as a surprise to no one

– They also have an unbelievable ability to go “trans-cultural” – switching lingos and styles in a nano-second

– They’re very horizontal – and have little patience for elaborate hierarchies. Advertising agencies and banks – take note

– No, they don’t expect to be billionaires by the age of 30, Mark Zuckerberg notwithstanding. They’re not on crack. However, they’re open to the possibility of extraordinary things happening to anyone at any age. And don’t we all need that sense of possibility to feel alive and well?

– They are tremendously passionate about what is meaningful to them. I’ve watched 15-year olds pitch to Unilever executives to help build schools for Craig Kielburger. And yes, Craig is of this generation.

Throughout history, wars have been fought and won by 18-year-olds. Alexander the Great would have been classified as Gen Y by his slower, more traditional peers. So, let’s be real leaders and call this generation what it actually is: Gen Y Not.

By the way, that tech executive who said his young employees needed “the fear of God,” was fired shortly thereafter. Enough said.