We’ve all heard about the well-known generations X or Y, or about the children of the millennium, the so-called ‘Millennials.’ Young people, let’s say for sake of argument, workers under 35 years of age, supposedly are very different than us baby-boomers. Nevertheless, my experience and observations tell me there’s no truth to this affirmation. Young people seek the very same things that older people seek.

It’s been close to ten years that I’ve been working as a management consultant, coach, trainer, and public speaker. I continually hear talk about how more demanding young people are than we older folks were when we were young. Young people insist upon their holidays. They don’t like working weekends or evenings or graveyard shifts. They’re looking for challenges, responsibilities, and intellectual stimulus. They do want to work, but not at the price of their family or personal lives. They want to work in businesses or other organizations that are socially, politically, and ecologically responsible.

What strikes me the most is that young people have the chance of living everyday what their older siblings struggled to get, that is, balance between the commercial and social goals of their work organizations on the one hand, and their family and personal lives on the other hand. In short, they want the very same things that previous generations wanted, but without the social and political struggles, and without facing the same difficulties and obstacles that older workers faced.

Workers aged 45-65 slowly worked their way up through the ranks. Those who entered the workforce between 1975 and 1985 when unemployment was high had to content themselves with dry bread and water at a time when inflation was rampant and mortgage rates approached 20 percent. Furthermore, in those days, one didn’t question authority in terms of respect and conformity to rules. When I was in elementary school, no one asked me if I wanted to be an altar boy or receive the Catholic sacraments. Adults just assumed that you would follow orders or suffer the consequences. It is therefore a little frustrating for older people to see younger workers face an embarrassment of riches when it comes to choosing employment or imposing their own values, or at least to take them into account in their work and career.

Unemployment in some sectors and regions remains high, especially for people without the professional qualifications needed today. For those with qualifications, however, there are lots of opportunities. There are even some sectors where there is a current or coming shortage of labour. The mayor of Quebec City shouts from the rooftops that there is a serious shortage of candidates for many jobs. Jobs go begging in traditional trades such as plumbing, electricity, and others. Trucking firms advertise on radio, as do professional training establishments.

Under such circumstances, it is hardly surprising that a young worker who never has had job security nor had a family to feed, a mortgage, or a pension fund might be mobile and demanding. If a job does not suit him or her for whatever reason, it’s easy to look elsewhere. Lack of satisfaction with a job can have many sources, among them, working conditions and pay. One thing I often hear from young people is that the work is insufficiently satisfying, that the boss doesn’t know how to plan and lead, that employment conditions do not live up to promises. I’m a father of three young women, who often recount to me the incompetence of managers and supervisors. I hear the same things from my undergrad students in my university teaching.

In summary, work complaints, whether from young, old, or middle-aged, reveal the same malaise and feelings. I observe essentially a lack of leadership, planning, and communication. As a military officer, I learned that the art of commanding, above all, comes from the professional and leadership capacities of the leader. To this effect, the ten principles of military leadership are also applicable to business and organizational management. Read the following principles. They apply equally to young or to not-so-young.

  1. Develop professional competence.
  2. Know how to assess one’s strengths and weaknesses, and seek to improve oneself.
  3. Seek and accept responsibilities.
  4. Provide a good example to others, especially your employees.
  5. Ensure yourself that your employees understand your intentions, and direct them in the execution of your mandate.
  6. Know your employees, and promote their welfare.
  7. Develop the leadership potential of each of your supervisors and employees.
  8. Take the right decisions at the right times.
  9. Build the cohesion and effectiveness of your team, and use each employee to the maximum of his or her capacities.
  10. Keep employees aware of mission, changes of situation, and overall portrait of the organization.

Richard Martin is a Master Strategist and Leadership Catalyst. Richard brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

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