6 Things Every Manager Should Know About Gen Z

Generation Z

You’re a manager and you’ve finally got a handle on Millennials. Or maybe you’re one of the Millennials yourself. Look out. Here comes the next generation, Gen Z.
And they’re nothing like Millennials.
Here are six things every manager needs to know about Generation Z.

1. How they want their workplace structured is different.

Only 9% will want to work from home. Unlike Gen Xers and Millennials who have been adamant about working to live, Gen Zers will be more likely to want to come into the office, with a clearer separation of work and home. A mere 17% of them think an open office environment would support them in doing their best work. The overwhelming majority of them want their own private work space, be that an office or a cubicle. They are hard workers with a strong work ethic, and they want their own space in which to perform that work.

2. They are a resilient bunch.

Millennials were raised to think they are special. Meanwhile, Gen Z, raised during the Great Recession, were raised to be resilient. They watched their parents navigate banks failing, retirement accounts tanking and figuring out how to make ends meet. Learning through osmosis and sometimes direct mentoring from their parents, this generation has mastered resilience. That doesn’t mean they enjoy punishing assignments or long hours, but if they are on board with the big picture, they will figure out how to make it work.

3. Entrepreneurship is in their blood.

With IPO heroes like Mark Zuckerberg and Evan Spiegel, they’ve come of age in a time when tech start-ups, bloggers and YouTube sensations have become independently wealthy under their noses. That successful start-up mentality has influenced what they think is possible. Capitalize on their entrepreneurship, showing how they can be intrapreneurial if you are part of a large organization or where they can most effectively apply their entrepreneurial efforts in a smaller or mid-sized organization.

4. Optimism about the future.

Whereas their Millennial counterparts tend to be more pessimistic (and entitled, many have said), Gen Z sees the glass as half full, and even more than half full when they work hard and apply themselves. Don’t douse their optimism if you want to get their best work from them.

5. They are accustomed to freedom.

Raised like mini-adults by their Gen X parents coupled with being able to explore the world in a device in the palm of their hand, they are accustomed to freedom unknown to previous generations. While their parents might know where they are in the physical world at all times, they have no idea where in the digital world they are. This is the generation that outsmarted the parental controls on their devices, not because they wanted to visit nefarious websites, but just to see if they could, and to see what lies beyond the fire wall. Your coaching skills as a manager might be put to the limit as you navigate giving them their freedom while supervising their work.

6. Keep it real.

Generation Z is more influenced by real, non-airbrushed personalities on YouTube than they are by celebrity endorsements. From their casual unkempt (men) or simple (women) hair styles to their tastes in music and fashion, this generation more than the few generations that immediately preceded them are all about keeping things real. Let their individuality shine through. Reciprocate and show your authentic self and you will win their trust and respect.

Take these six dynamics into account as you onboard Generation Z into your organization and you will be rewarded with optimistic, resilient, entrepreneurial employees who will soon become the next generation of leaders in your organization.

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    “I do my best work when micromanaged,” said no employee ever.

    Managers typically do not set out to micromanage, but it is easy for those who supervise virtual employees and teams to micromanage on accident. Without observing the day-to-day work behavior of others, some managers and supervisors will resort to overmanaging the daily responsibilities of their direct reports.

    To manage more effectively in a virtual environment, follow these five steps.

    1. Provide more structure than you think they need.

    As a leader of a virtual team, you’ll need to take a more structured approach than if you were managing that same team in a collocated environment.  To provide that additional structure you can be proactive in explaining what success looks like at each step of the project team members are working toward.  Use technology tools to make sure team members know who is responsible for what and when it is expected to be done, as well as highlighting the interdependencies among team members. When this structure is communicated directly and upfront, it is far less likely to be perceived as micromanagement.

    2. Lead the person, supervise the work.

    As you set expectations and provide more structure than you think you need to, be cognizant of the possibly of micromanagement creeping in.

    Managing virtually is best done when leadership and management are clearly thought of as separate activities. Lead the employee. Supervise their work.

    That may sound simple, but it is not always easy to implement.

    What does it mean?

    Leading the employee is about imparting values, communicating vision and direction and telling the story of the team (discussed in Four Steps to Creating Community in Virtual Teams).  Supervising the work, on the other hand, is about setting clear expectations on process, outcomes and timelines. Each employee may have different needs in terms of how much supervision they need. Be aware of those needs. Ask about them if you need to so that you can avoid micromanagement.

    3. Create a supportive work environment.

    Create a supportive work environment for your virtual team members by being available, having an established rhythm and encouraging informal interactions.

    When your team members know they can reach you for a quick question, they will feel more supported and less “out of the loop,” a common complaint of virtual employees. And, when there is a rhythm to their week which includes regular one-one-one meetings with you, regular team meetings or status updates, they will be less likely feel “lost” in the organization. Further, find opportunities to engage in informal interactions with virtual employees to approximate the connection that develops with collocated employees when you visit informally in the hallways or when getting coffee. These interactions create social cohesion between you and your employees and also model that it is okay – beneficial even – for them to have social interactions with one another.

    4. Provide more feedback.

    Employees who work virtually need more feedback. They don’t get the quick look of approval from you that may transpire in a face-to-face meeting or the questioning non-verbal reaction of your knit brow when you don’t understand something.  When they do good work, especially that which is above and beyond your expectations, be generous in your praise. And, if they are new to their role, be clear and specific as they learn the ropes, again being generous when they fulfill on their expectations and being quick to provide constructive feedback if they are not fulfilling on the expectations of their tasks or their role.

    5. Clarify expectations; track commitments and progress.

    During regular one-on-one meetings and team status meetings, clarify expectations.  Do your virtual team employees know exactly what they need to do and by when?  Do they understand how their work is interrelated with that of other team members? Set those expectations clearly and explicitly.

    Use tools for team members to track their commitments and their progress on those commitments. With smart use of technology, you can take a backseat to always knowing where each virtual team member is in relation to their work responsibilities. Insist that the tools be used and explain if necessary, that this is a tool that helps you from micromanaging them.

    With these five steps in practice, you will keep yourself out of the micromanagement trap with your virtual employees.  They will respect you more for it and their true value to the organization will have the best chance to shine brightly.

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    When people talk to one another, three outcomes are possible:

    • they completely miss each other’s point (zero shared meaning),
    • they understand a portion of each other’s intended meaning (partial shared meaning) or
    • they completely understand each other (complete shared meaning).

    When you miss the other person entirely, you feel like a zero.

    When you completely understand the other person, you look like a hero.

    Let’s look at each of them and turn you into a hero more often.

    1. Zero shared meaning. “We need to be more transparent with our clients about our development schedule for new features,” Shelly says to her colleague Amanda.  The next day, Shelly comes to work to find that Amanda has shared an internal scheduling document that lists the roll-out dates for all new features with all the company’s clients.

    Shelly’s intention was to start the discussion or about being more transparent. Amanda understood this as an idea to act upon immediately.  As you might suppose, Shelly was upset that Amanda had shared an internal document with clients.

    2. Partial shared meaning. “We need to be more transparent with our clients about our development schedule for new features,” Shelly says to her colleague Amanda. “It’s not going to be a simple process and I’m not sure how much we can share,” Amanda replies. “Some of our customers will be upset to see how low on the priority list the features they are waiting for are.”

    Amanda and Shelly agree in general on the premise, although there is some negotiation and compromise on how much detail to share.

    3. Complete shared meaning. “We need to be more transparent with our clients about our development schedule for new features,” Shelly says to her colleague Amanda. “I couldn’t agree more,” Amanda replies. “I will set up a time on the calendar for us to draft a message to our clients and we can decide how much information to share and when.”  Shelly nods in agreement, “Perfect.”

    Amanda and Shelly are in lock step on both the need to share more information and on the route they will take to begin the new process.  Although they are entering the conversation with their own experiences, they agree on the premise and the next steps.

    This happens at work in conversation: we nail shared meaning, miss each other completely, or find some middle ground.

    When you get partial or no shared meaning, ask yourself “Why?”  What makes the difference for you in creating more shared meaning? A history of working well together? Similar demographics?  Length of time in the organization?

    Once you understand the “Why,” the “How” (as in, how you communicate with the person) will get easier to figure out. Next time you have a miscommunication (full or partial) ask yourself “Why?” and adjust how you communicate with them accordingly.

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    Author’s note: This is the eleventh in a series of articles about the leadership lessons learned while hiking Usery Mountain with my 17-year-old son.  Read them all here.

    The desert ground crumbled beneath my feet with each step along this stretch of the rocky trail. Despite my sturdy hiking shoes, I still slipped and tripped with unexpected frequency as the pebbles and rocks skittered under my feet. I outright stumbled when larger rocks protruded from the trail.
    I looked down along this stretch of the trail.
    A lot.
    But looking down came at a cost.
    The view of the next mountain range was spectacular and every moment my eyes were not on it seemed wasted. The artistically drawn reds, browns and oranges layered upon the mountain range was breathtaking. It’s majestic beauty beaconed. It was hard to take my eyes off of her.
    Except for when I slipped.
    Or tripped.
    With each mini-landslide that crumbled beneath me or rock that unexpectedly jutted up from the trail, my attention was immediately diverted back to my feet.
    And then I would miss the view, which seemed to change second by second as the late morning sun danced across the neighboring mountains.
    The juxtaposition between needing to look down and the need (and desire) to look up is not different from that of leadership. Great leaders need to look down and look up.
    First, leaders need to look up and out at the landscape, which includes paying attention to the industry, the marketplace, the competition and any other environmental factors that might make a difference. It also includes opening themselves to a diverse set of ideas and experiences that might prompt creative and innovative ideas. Not unlike actually hiking a mountain.
    A critical part of the leader’s role is to keep a solid eye on the road ahead, including being open to new ideas and thoughts that will help keep a competitive edge, whether that be company-wide or in the leader-from-the-side’s specific domain.
    Second, leaders need to look down. Leaders need to look down (and not in the pejorative sense) so they know what’s going on under their feet (in the metaphorical sense).
    Leaders need to know the current challenges of the people in their organizations. They need to keep a look out for what is working well and what needs improvement. Where people and process are concerned, leaders need to be in the know.
    People are counting on them to know what’s going on, at least provisionally, and when they aren’t in the know, their reputation and leadership capital are at risk.
    The recipe: .
    : One part looking up to see the road ahead.
    : One part looking down to see the impact of your decisions.
    : Blend together and serve.

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    Author’s note: This is the tenth in a series of articles about the leadership lessons learned while hiking Usery Mountain with my 17-year-old son.  Read them all here.

    Sometimes on the hike, I could see people far, far ahead of me. With occasional switchbacks and vegetation growing low to the ground, it was easy to spot other hikers, including some that were way ahead of me on the trail, like my son in his neon yellow tank top.

    It was easy to wish that I was where they were. Easy to wish I had covered more ground and faster – remember, my son had a plane to catch – and that I was closer to the summit, just like they were.

    It was easy to wish I was as fit as some of those who were ahead of me.

    It was easy to wish I could hike faster, like my son, whose spirit animal is a mountain goat.

    It was easy to wish I had the hiking boots/clothes/gear of those who were ahead of me the trail.

    But . . .

    Envy has no place on the mountain.

    And it has no place in leadership.

    We are where we are, and that’s all.

    When we drop the need to compare and the feeling that we need to measure up, we step more fully into our own authentic leadership.

    From that authentic and grounded place, it doesn’t matter if

    :  a friend from college produced an award winning film

    :  a colleague who started at the same time is now a Vice President

    :  a fellow grad school student published a book/got recruited by a top firm/ran a marathon

    In fact, from a grounded, authentic place, we can enjoy their victories and accomplishments with them and cheer them on to their next success. Because we are no longer comparing ourselves to them.

    When we stop being concerned with who’s ahead of us, we can bring our focus on ourselves, which is exactly where we need it to be.

    What are my strengths?

    What do I value?

    How am I doing today?

    What do I need right now to be even better?

    Only when we get clear on the answers to these questions, can we be the best leaders we can be.

    And we can be free.

    :  Free from comparison, judgement and pretending to be something other than what we really are.

    :  Free to lead with our own strengths, values and ideals.

    :  Free to be the leaders we have developed ourselves into.

    So don’t worry about who’s ahead of you.

    Stay focused on where you are right now and lead from that perfect place.

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    Leadership Lesson 9

    Author’s note: This is the ninth in a series of articles about the leadership lessons learned while hiking Usery Mountain with my 17-year-old son.  Read them all here.


    When you’re not expecting to be on the sheer edge of a cliff, it is even more terrifying than when you are anticipating it.

    Most of the hike up and around Usery Mountain were of low to moderate challenge.  (If you’ve been reading the whole series, you’ll recall that we had an additional challenge of time pressure: my son’s flight was leaving a few short hours after we began the hike.)

    So when I suddenly found myself with just inches between me and, well, gravity, I was unnerved.

    Of course, I knew I wasn’t going to fall to my death.  We’ve already covered that.

    As I inched along with trepidation and great care, I took a quick glance down. You know, just to see how far it would be if I did fall.

    Big mistake.

    It was much, much, MUCH farther than I had anticipated.

    There wasn’t a switchback 20 feet below. There wasn’t anything below. At least that registered when I looked down. It was like staring into the abyss.

    When you’re doing something that requires great risk, courage and stamina, I propose that it’s best NOT to look down.  At least not at the riskiest, most grueling, character-building moment.  Sure, later it is fine. In fact, then it is highly rewarding to see how far you’ve come.  But at that tender moment when the mountain is steep and when so much is on the line, don’t look down.

    The same is true in leadership. When we are leading through high stakes, high risk situations – whether leading from the top or from the side – it is best to resist looking down.

    When we look down and see the magnitude of the risk we are taking, most of us will get a little scared. Some of us will get a lot scared.

    And whether it takes a little fear or a lot of fear to knock you off your game, you might just act on that fear and pull back a little:

    :  Not execute the plan as big as you had initially intended.

    :  Not run as hard against aggressive deadlines.

    :  Not delegate as much to the high potential staff member.

    If excitement gives way to fear and fear runs the show, you lose control.

    You lose control of strategy. You lose control of tactics. You lose control of control.

    So in those moments of high risk, those moments when it really matters, don’t look down. Instead, keep putting one careful foot in front of the other and take the next step and the next step.

    There will be plenty of time to look down later.

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    Systems Thinking

    Author’s note: This is the eighth in a series of articles about the leadership lessons learned while hiking Usery Mountain with my 17-year-old son.  Read them all here.


    Along the course of my hike, I came upon the rock formation in this picture. The way the pieces all fit together was striking.  It is so clear that the individual pieces are all part of the same whole.

    I paused to examine this rock formation and wondered what wild and wicked weather had done this to the rock, presumably once a single, intact piece.

    But more interesting than the force of nature that had caused the fractures was the pattern the individual pieces created and the clarity that they belonged together.

    Individually these rocks would not nearly be as striking, as meaningful, as wonderful as they are together.

    They belonged together.

    While it is clear from this rock formation that all the pieces fit together – no, all the pieces belong together intrinsically, it not always so clear to see how all the pieces of our workplace puzzles fit together.

    When you as a leader can – and do — spot the naturally occurring patterns in your teams and in your projects, you can capitalize on the effortlessness of nature.

    :  The team that runs itself like a well-oiled machine.

    :  The project partners that fit together like a hand and glove.

    :  The products and market segments that belong together.

    On the other hand, when we force things together that do not belong together organically, the road can be rough, vexed by friction and ill-fitting people, places and things.

    You’ve probably experienced this.

    It’s miserable.

    And it is entirely preventable.

    To prevent it requires paying attention, paying very careful attention.

    It requires appreciating the simplicity and elegance of things that work well together.

    It requires pattern recognition, environmental awareness and systems thinking.

    When you can identify how sometimes seemingly disparate pieces can come together to create a complimentary whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, you can see new opportunities. You can practically predict the future. And when you can see new opportunities and predict the future you are well equipped to execute more strategically.

    Slow down.

    Notice the details.

    Look for things that organically and naturally fit together.

    Follow nature.

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    Leadership Lesson 7

    Author’s note: This is the seventh in a series of articles about the leadership lessons learned while hiking Usery Mountain with my 17-year-old son.  Read them all here.


    While on the seven-mile hike around Usery Mountain, there were stretches when I could see no one.

    No one on the path ahead of me.

    No one on the path behind or below me.

    With not even the whisper of a breeze, it was quiet. Very quiet.

    I appreciated the silence and the solitude. Mostly.

    But then I got a little lonely.

    It seemed to me that it would feel good to share in the triumphs of overcoming the challenging stretches and to share in the awe and the wonderment of the amazing views. To be in community with someone who was experiencing the same thing I was at the same time I was.

    It was missing.

    I was lonely.

    It reminded me how leadership can be very lonely sometimes. In your organization you might feel a certain peer-less-ness with no one at your level in the organization doing exactly what you are doing.

    No one with whom to share the victories.

    No one with whom to share the setbacks.

    No one to seek advice from or give advice to.

    That’s why leaders at all levels of the organization, not just senior leaders, need to find a peer group.

    Their peeps.

    People who get you and you get them.

    Earlier in my career I felt that sense of peerlessness as Director of User Experience in a large organization. I essentially ran an agency within a corporation.  We did great work and were highly respected.  But I was lonely.

    There were certain topics (struggles, frustrations with bureaucracy, etc.) that I deliberately chose not to share with my staff for reasons of professionalism. And I certainly wasn’t about to share those struggles with our clients, even though we all worked for the same company.  I didn’t have a peer who was doing what I was doing in the organization.

    And there were days when professional loneliness moved in and set up camp.

    Those were the days when it was so important to reach out to my peers outside of the organization. People I could learn from, commiserate with and rejoice with. People I could laugh with over the significance that was sometimes places on such insignificant matters.

    It felt good to be with them and when I reached out, I always wished I’d done so sooner.

    It is lonely at the top.

    Enjoy the silence and the solitude for a bit.

    And then reach out to others.

    It’s okay to be alone once in a while, but don’t go it alone.

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    Author’s note: This is the sixth in a series of articles about the leadership lessons learned while hiking Usery Mountain with my 17-year-old son.


    Approximately two-thirds of the way up to the summit, the path flattened and the seven-mile hike was easy for a stretch. Easier than it had been in a long time.

    My mind, alternating between awe-struck by the beauty of the mountain and distracted by the need to get my son to the airport in just a few short hours, almost missed it.

    It was my body that pointed it out.

    A lighter step.

    A deeper breath.

    A chance to look up.

    My pulse slowed, my breathing got easier, and I began to look out to the stunning views of a neighboring mountain range.

    The shift in my body triggered a shift in my mind.

    And then I realized: I almost forgot to enjoy the easy part.

    That’s what it’s like for leaders, too. We run the risk of failing to enjoy the easy parts when we are in the midst of challenging and difficult work.

    It’s easy to miss the easy parts. We get so caught up and consumed with the trials, tribulations and trauma (and drama!) of our journey that we fail to appreciate and enjoy the stress-free, easy parts.

    The easy parts are when our work feels more like play than work.  We can relax a bit and sink into the terrain more, appreciating the moment and the fluidity with which things are unfolding.

    It’s in those moments that the sweetness of leadership is felt.

    Oh sure, satisfaction is also felt in the victory of a hard fought battle for market share or the race to launch a new product or service. But that’s different. Those aren’t the easy parts.

    The easy parts are when the slope of the path underfoot evens out and the going is good.

    The easy parts are sweet because we get a chance to look up. And in that moment when we pull our head up, we invariably see things we hadn’t seen before: the opportunity to thank a colleague for their help, a chance encounter with someone in our network, or merely the possibility of catching our breath before the next leg of the journey.

    As you push forward, leading your team or yourself to the next milestone, don’t forget to enjoy the easy parts.

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    Leadership Lesson 5

    Author’s note: This is the fifth in a series of articles about the leadership lessons learned while hiking Usery Mountain with my 17-year-old son.

    There comes a time on a hike in the desert when you stumble, perhaps literally, on an unexpected oasis.  When I came across this lush, green patch of grass on the north side of the mountain, I was taken aback. While the grays, beiges and browns are beautiful in their own right, the colors were drab compared to the vibrant hues that sprung unexpectedly from this protected patch.

    If you’ve been following these posts, you’ll recall that my son and I were on a tight timeline: he had a flight to catch in a couple of hours.

    So part of me wanted to rush right past this oasis.

    But the wiser side of me said “Rest a little, enjoy this sanctuary if only for a moment.”

    And so I did.

    And so should you.

    In the midst of harried deadlines and busyness it is easy to cruise right past an obvious place for a rest. When the most powerful currency is time, the rational mind becomes frugal with moments of pleasure. And if we as leaders cannot stop for a few moments and soak in the pleasure, the fruits of our labor, then we must ask ourselves what it is all for.

    This is exactly why we lead.

    For these moments.

    It might be when your team reaches a hard fought milestone.

    It might be when you see a market opportunity and jump on it before the competition.

    Or it might be with someone on your staff: a sales team member who blows away her sales target for the quarter, a new customer service manager who handles a difficult conversation with an angry customer with aplomb, or your assistant who anticipates your needs and adeptly handles situations before they rise to your attention.

    Rest a moment in those moments. Drink them in and let them nourish you.

    This patch of vitality, the lush, green vibrant grass in the middle of the desert, is what it is all about.

    And when we rush by, without stopping for a moment or three to take it in, we dishonor the hard work we’ve done and the efforts and the accomplishments of those around us.

    So take a moment.

    Or three.




    You’ve earned. It.

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