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Gen Y Leaders: 16 Chances to Shine. Just Stop the Selfies

27/06/2014 14:23 BST | Updated 27/08/2014 10:59 BST

90% of emerging global leaders from Generation Y, born after 1982 and before 2004, will stay with the same employer for less than five years, and a third of them plan to leave within two years, according to a survey presented by Adam Kingl at London Business School's Global Leadership Summit www.london.edu/gls. No sooner have these twenty-somethings signed up to start one job than their minds are turning to the next, each one having to meet their number one requirement from an employer, 'work-life balance'. Does employee engagement now demand employee entitlement? Why invest in comprehensive induction programmes and suites of elaborate benefits, and why spend CAPEX on tech gadgetry to keep these upstarts happy, when our meagre return will amount to little more than a fond farewell two years down the track?

To answer that, we have to kiss goodbye to the career, at least the career that we have coveted, with its steady path carefully plotted up the corporate ladder. Kingl observed that the number of employers we have seems to double with each generation. Whereas our grandparents had 1-2, and our parents had 3-4, Gen X will have 7-8, and Gen Y likely to have up to 16. Those with children born after 2005 might want to think how best to prepare their loved ones for a life with 32 different employers. A head for heights would seem to be the new must-have on your C.V. Happily, Gen Y do not even see the corporate ladder and, when we try to justify our journeys up the one we climbed, they look mystified. What they do see are opportunities to express their talents and many chances to progress. So we have a choice: either accept the transitory nature of these opportunity hunters, unleashing their discretionary effort in our organisations, or grow old in the comfort of our sheep-skinned structures and many-layered hierarchies.

At the heart of any great relationship lies mutuality of interest and reciprocity. So employers and Gen Y need to co-create a new kind of contract. At Saatchi & Saatchi, our talent chiefs use four principles to drive people's progress: Responsibility - as much of it as possible, as early as possible; Recognition - for a job truly well done, not a vacuous over-used thank-you for grinding through the gears; Development - in both character and skills; and Joy which typically comes through the realisation that one's personal purpose can be enhanced by pursuing some element of one's organisational purpose. Work and life are not distant cousins, catching up from time to time. As Dame Mary Marsh, Founding Director of the Clore Social Leadership Programme, said at the Global Leadership Summit,

just drop 'work' from 'work-life' balance and you have the answer, 'life-balance'.

To help Gen Y leaders achieve life-balance, employers need urgently to add a fifth pillar to their talent agendas, Flexibility, and to bring fluidity to their deployment of talent to task. They also need to explode the myth that all leadership development has one objective, to prepare its recipient for a life 'at the top'. Chasing the same leadership ball was a game played in babyboomers' boardrooms. Gen Y will become more complete leaders, open to playing multiple leadership roles, not just the conventional leaders of teams, functions, departments or markets - the finally accountable A leaders - but the more consultative, collaborative, coaching C leaders who support, inspire, and make things happen for their As.

The new deal comes with some obligations for Gen Y leaders, too. In the London Business School survey, when asked what kind of CEO they would emulate, 43% of the Gen Y emerging leaders answered that they would, 'make my organisation and world a fundamentally better place'. Only 1% would 'focus on the financial worth of the business.' This cohort has its priorities right, although it will need to demonstrate a conviction that sustainability has an economic component to it. If they cannot make a buck or two, Gen Y's peer group of investors will soon find other uses for their capital.

Perhaps the greater challenge for Gen Y leaders will be to reveal their generosity when the perception prevails that they are drifters, both selfish and shiftless. In fact, theirs is a generation that puts social currency ahead of financial currency, driven by a greater sense of social justice than its predecessors. But for those leading today, the risks of over exposure to the sun are greater than ever. To avoid getting burned, they must either spend time in the shade as a C leader, or apply Hubris Factor 50 several times a day. To counter the idea that they are the entitled, over-indulged generation, neurotically and narcissistically manicuring their image, I have one other suggestion.

Stop the selfies.

Richard Hytner is Adjunct Professor of Marketing, London Business School, and Deputy Chairman, Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide. His book, Consiglieri: Leading From The Shadows, was published on 4th June 2014 by Profile Books. www.consiglieribook.com