Why Gen Y is not capable of leadership

By Scot Herrick | Cube Rules Commentary

Oct 12

You would think after all of this time, we’d stop banging heads with other generations and how they cope with life. Especially when it comes to work. But, that’s not the case. The latest barrage that Gen Y gets to deal with is the assertion that they can’t be leaders.

Why? Because Gen Y can’t deal with ambiguity.

According to “Why we’ll miss ambiguity,” Gen Y can only handle structure:

Younger generations are growing up less able to cope with uncertainty and ambiguity than older ones. This isn’t a knock on Gen Y, it’s a universal truth…

Our increasingly test-based educational system often explicitly eliminates uncertainty from classrooms. Structured, facilitated play activities eliminate ambiguity from children’s interactions. Religious and political voices restrict our choices through legal and moral pressure. Where uncertainty has not yet been eliminated directly, society has created such a vast network of teachers, specialists, therapists and over-involved parents that for many, ambiguity is no longer seen as a problem to be solved by me, it’s feedback that someone else didn’t fully do their job … and a sign that I need outside help. That’s a problem.

The author then goes on to list ten corporation-ending problems should “our unwillingness to handle ambiguity and uncertainty increase further.”

As with all assertions like this…

  1. Ambiguity is not limited to one generation. One of my favorite interview questions is “How do you deal with ambiguity?” The worst answers are from the Boomers — my generation — because they are much more set in how they accomplish their work.
  2. People value clarity in their work, not ambiguous tasks to complete. Managers, thinking their employees read their minds, often provide ambiguous direction for the work they want done – and blame Gen Y for not getting it. This is the biggest reason I suggest people prototype their work and go over it with their managers before getting too far in the weeds. I don’t suggest that for only Gen Y, but everyone.
  3. Extend the argument — when all of Gen X and Baby Boomers are dead, do you think there won’t be any Gen Y leaders? Do you really think then all of corporations will be totally structured and no ambiguity will exist?
  4. Gen Y already provides leadership. There is already great thought leadership coming from Gen Y, especially when it comes to careers. People like Dan Schawbel on Personal Branding, Rebecca Thorman of Modite, Alexandra Levit of Water Cooler Wisdom, or Ryan Healy of Brazen Careerist are cutting edge in thinking through each of their areas on what it takes for a successful career. I think they have a ton of ambiguity in their lives — and lead despite it.

Instead of bashing the generations, how about we have deeply engaging conversations with our manager and team about the work we do, how we do the work, and what success will look like when we’re done? Then we can work better together to achieve the goals for the business — and be much more engaged when we’re doing it.

We might even learn something that will make our lives better from a different generation than our own.

  • Thanks for the shout out Scot!

  • Yes, I completely agree with you that ambiguity is not an age-related issue. I would think Gen Y handles it better than boomers.

    Really, I think it is ridiculous to assign global traits and characteristics across an entire generation, but I guess the media loves to latch on to this stuff.

    • Scot says:

      @ Bradley — even worse, we then make up theoretical problems to solve and suggest solving them instead of just managing. Let’s set up this straw man, build our organization around it — but go bankrupt while we don’t keep our eyes on business problems.

  • >