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New Leaders Needed: Change Is Our Only Hope

Generations X and Y have a tainted view of authority. From President Richard Nixon to Enron, we have observed the fall of many of America's leaders. Will it ever stop? Here's just a sampling of what's happened in the past two months:

Generations X and Y have a tainted view of authority. From President Richard Nixon to Enron, we have observed the fall of many of America's leaders. Will it ever stop? Here's just a sampling of what's happened in the past two months:

Fraud! Deceit! Abuses of power! The cycle continues. Thanks to 24-hour access to news via CNN and the Web, we are more aware than ever of the shortcomings of our nation's leaders.Nevertheless, Generations X and Y are hopeful. Generation X came of age in the 1970s, which introduced 30 years of massive layoffs in corporate America. Our generation has long hoped the dishonesty would subside and our trust would be restored with ethical, admirable leaders at the helm of our nation's businesses and government.In contrast, Generation Y has come of age during a technology boom and were raised by parents that were especially protective of them and involved in their young lives. Ys learned collaboration and innovation from the start. They are an optimistic generation. Even during this challenging economic time, surveys indicate that four out of five Ys are hopeful about the future.But hope in and of itself is not a strategy. Xers and Ys need actionable concepts. We need and want real change to occur.I recently read a blog post that put the responsibility on HR departments and rallied on behalf of putting new leaders into positions of power. The blog, authored by Jason Seiden, stated:

"Top business leaders, by and large, cannot lead the way to a better tomorrow. They are too entrenched in the system and have too much at stake to be credible agents of change. Yes, enlightened leaders are out there and will be critical to success, but HR can be critical EVERYWHERE, irrespective of the CEO's enlightenment."

I'd take this a step further to say our businesses and government not only need new leaders, but younger leaders. Leaders who desperately want change and haven't spent years doing things the way they've always been done. How to do this? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Track your top performers. Remember – your top performers aren't always your executives. In fact, your company should identify its youngest top performers and focus on their insight and well-being. For example, call or meet with them, ask how they are doing and what resources they could use. Take notes on what they say, then compile those notes into concrete suggestions and act upon them.
  2. Evaluate the hiring process. Create a document that outlines your last HR hire including the competencies used, how you evaluated resumes, and your on-boarding process. Have the new hire weigh in with what worked and what didn't. Open yourself up for dialogue and feedback in an effort to continuously improve the hiring process and bring in the best candidates.
  3. Harness the power of the Web. Associate with younger generations by getting involved in free online job boards like LinkedIn and Facebook. Create a profile page devoted to your business to build a network of prospective, new, and experienced employees. This network will be valuable to you when you are ready to interview and hire and will also work to keep your company top-of-mind.
  4. Embrace social networking. Blogs devoted to recruiting and selection, or creating a blog on your company website will engage young workers. These generations want to see your company's personality and hear its voice so they have something to believe in and trust.
  5. Train. Younger generations want to be challenged and acquire new skills. Focus on the future and give them the tools they need to succeed. Trainings should be interactive and engage experienced leaders as presenters, or invite the younger leaders to present content themselves. A lack of professional development opportunities and a lack of positive relationships are the two main reasons X and Y leave an employer.
  6. Provide what X and Y want. As soon as the economic crisis subsides, retirements will continue and Generations X and Y will comprise the majority of the workforce by 2011. Do you know what these generations want from an employer? Here are just a few of the 'must-haves' for a company competing to keep young talent: tuition reimbursement for continuing education; access to quality professional and leadership development; opportunities to take on additional responsibilities in leadership roles; opportunities to connect and network with peers; mentoring programs; access to CEOS and executives; flextime and telecommuting options; and childcare and eldercare benefits.

Young leaders can think out of the box and respond to or introduce change. And change is exactly what our economy, businesses, and government need right now. Actually, change is our only hope.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

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