How the New Generation is Changing the Way we Think About Impact
In its simplest definition, ethics relate to knowing and doing what is ‘right’. “Moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour or the conducting of an activity”. By being moral, you are doing what is ‘right’. – Oxford Dictionary
Since the early 2000’s leaders have been striving to be regarded as authentic and ethical in their approach; the uptake in practices such as mindfulness has increased severalfold as they attempt to spur the growth in areas of the brain linked with emotional intelligence and regulation.
This, for many is ‘part of the job’ now, but for Generation Zers this appears to be more of a natural state, and to understand this, you need to learn more about them. A characteristic shared by many Gen Zers is the desire to make a positive impact on the world. To that end, Gen Z are passionate about environmental causes. (Forbes)
The emergence of Generation Z, the cohort following the Millennials (also known as Gen Y), signals an important landmark. Never before has there been an entire generation unable to remember a world without the Internet. And interestingly, it is this generation that are emerging as those that care most about family and education and have a big focus on impact (Ipsos MORI).
What is interesting according to CGK, is that these new trend setters are exhibiting attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours that combine their tech-saturated world with elements of generations past.
Some key differences between the last two generations which you may find surprising include:
Gen Z is pragmatic. Millennials are idealistic.
This generation has been shaped by the economic pressure that occurred during their childhood years in the recession, when their parents and communities may have been struggling with employment and finances.
Gen Z focuses on saving money. Millennials are more focused on the experience.
Today’s teens tend to be more highly interested in saving money than millennials were at that age. Conspicuous consumption isn’t attractive to them. They are wary and mindful of their money running out.
Millennials liked authenticity, but Gen Z takes it to a new level.
You probably already know that millennials prefer brands that champion transparency and share their values. But Gen Z is even more obsessed with finding brands that feel authentic. They want to see content that’s actually attainable and not overly polished.
Gen Z prefers in-store shopping. Millennials shop online.
Millennials watched the world go from dial-up to always-on connectivity, and they take advantage of this convenience at every turn. However, Gen Z actually prefers to shop in stores. They like to feel and see products in person to make sure they’re buying something high-quality, and are also keen on unique experiences that happen in stores.
Millennials cosy up to brands. Gen Z wants to be whatever they want to be.
Millennials are willing to pay more for their preferred brands. Gen Z, on the other hand, doesn’t want to be defined by any brand other than their own. They want to celebrate own independence, and they use social media to find communities where they feel they belong.
When it comes to Mindful Leadership, personal accountability is a major factor
Mindfulness in general is a lifestyle that allows you to make more out of what is tangible by incorporating concepts that are often intangible. Perception, positivity, empathy, awareness of yourself and others. These are all things that play a part in mindfulness as well as life, and those who can master their inner world are more likely to prosper in the external one.
“Many employers…have found that introducing mindfulness into their workplace not only lowers employee stress, but improves focus, clarity of thinking, decision making, emotional intelligence, and more,” writes Kimberly Schaufenbuel, program director of executive development at UNC Kenan-Flagler, in a 2014 whitepaper on the benefits of mindfulness at work.
Kim explains that these changes have marked a “moving away from functional practices,” and a higher focus on building project teams that better leverage people’s skills. “This starts to break down the hierarchy to some degree,” she adds. It also makes it realistic for those with the right skill set to lead from any position in an organisation.
It is believed that generational dynamics may be playing a part in this as well as a trend identified by Deloitte regarding the way in which organisational structures and strategy are evolving. As described in its Global Human Capital Trends 2016 report, for which around 7,000 executives were surveyed, the, “new organisation,” (as the authors put it), “is built around highly empowered teams, driven by a new model of management, and led by a breed of younger, more globally diverse leaders.”
Understanding the Concepts Influencing Ethical Leadership
“We can’t talk about leadership without talking about emotions,” says IMD leadership professor, Ben Bryant, whose research has explored the benefits of mindfulness for over a decade. Seeing emotionally driven inhibition as a detriment to ‘smart leadership’, Bryan looks at how leaders can better manage their feelings to make better decisions, which is at the crux of their role. “It helps to really dampen the ‘fight and flight’ aspect of the brain,” adds Kim, which primes you for high-pressure situations and prepares you to respond rather than react.
One of the most common ways to define what’s right is by asking a set of questions before committing to a specific behaviour. According to Patricia Pinnell and Shirley Eagan from West Virginia
University Extension, people use four questions for determining the ethics of an action. These are:
- The child on your shoulder. Is it OK, even if your children are watching?
- The front page story. Would you feel OK if the action/behaviour became the front-page story in your local newspaper?
- The golden rule. Are you comfortable if you were on the receiving end of this decision?
- The rule of universality. Would it be OK if everyone in the world were to behave or act in the same way?
The Modern Context of Ethical Leadership
The rise of ethical leadership can be traced back to the scandals inside the corporate world in recent decades. In a qualitative study published in 2010, Plinio, Young and Lavery concluded the lack of unethical leadership and poor ethical behaviour is among the biggest problems modern organisations face.
Ethical leadership is considered to be a solution for creating a balance between the wellbeing of the subordinates and the wider community, and the organisation’s profitability. The theory understands the importance of trust and good relationships. In essence, modern ethical leadership theory places importance on the idea of service. The theory is relatable to Robert Greenleaf’s concept of servant leadership. Greenleaf wrote in 1977, in his famous book Servant Leadership, “Service to followers is the primary responsibility of leaders and the essence of ethical leadership”.
Considering servant leadership, ethical leadership often takes the form of one of three approaches. The three have historical and philosophical foundations and all three emphasise different aspects in decision-making.
Utilitarianism Theory, which sees the leader maximising the welfare of their subordinates. The focus is on ensuring the subordinates feel good and are happy, before deciding on any action. Concern is on the end goal, not necessarily on how you get there and is closely associated with John Stuart Mill and the ethical cost-benefit analysis.
Libertarianism Theory which shows the role of the leader is to protect the freedom of the individuals. If an action or decision would restrain the subordinate’s freedom, then the leader would not proceed as their concern is on the intent of individuals. The approach aligns to Aristotle’s idea of virtue ethics or eudaimonism.
Ethical Theory by Immanuel Kant focused on doing the right thing. The approach to decision-making is focused on the journey, considering the rules and customs of an organisation and following them. The idea is that by understanding these common, agreed values, a leader can make the right decisions.
In the modern context, ethical leadership theories often emphasise at least one of the above approaches. This generally means ethical leadership is both visible, invisible, and requires the leader to have ethics as an integral part of their everyday framework.
And Gen Z?
Gen Z coming into the workplace now are naturally driven towards mindful or ethical leadership qualities, because of the characteristics of the generation I mentioned above.
When viewed through the context of the five generation workforce that we are seeing in teams now, one can’t help but wonder how the dynamic will shift. Will Gen Z assimilate to those with lots of work and life experience, or will they introduce and convince their colleagues about this new and revolutionary way of working that will improve both their professional and personal relationships.
When mindfulness is at the heart of a team, understanding how their actions are likely to impact their Customers and organisation are at the forefront of their considerations. When viewed through the lens of transformational change, John Kotter’s approach of putting people above process, and tools comes into play when mindfulness with these new Gen Z teams. We know that only a third of change programmes succeed to their required criteria, so maybe by letting this new generation go back to the past is what will help us to define a future where more projects and PMOs succeed.
By Emma-Ruth Arnaz-Pemberton – Director of Consulting Services, Wellingtone PPM
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