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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Executive Education

How Gen Z wants to lead and be led

Like most hospitality and business schools, at Hotel Institute Montreux we teach management and leadership to our students. As academic studies show, management is both a science and an art: we can learn management techniques, but it is our personality and experiences that influence how we manage teams.

Introducing students to Daniel Goleman’s theory on different leadership styles is a good way to demonstrate this to students, and an approach I have embraced. After a series of classroom exercises including emotional intelligence, introversion, and extraversion self-assessments, students then face the difficult task of self-reflection.

Interestingly, the results of these leadership style assessments amongst Generation Z students – broadly defined as people born between 1997 and 2012 – are fairly homogeneous and demonstrate a desire to lead and to be led that differs from other generations. Democratic (26%) and affiliate (25%) leadership styles were by far the most favored, with almost all rejecting the commanding leadership style (5%), and a mixed take up of the visionary (14%), coaching (15%) and pace-setting (15%) styles.

According to Goleman, leadership styles can be briefly defined in the following way:

  • Democratic: Reaching consensus before taking decisions.
  • Coaching: Goal-oriented. Giving advice and monitoring results
  • Visionary: Focusing on the big picture and final goal
  • Affiliative: Prioritizing people’s emotions and wellbeing
  • Pace setting: Changing the pace and the standards
  • Commanding: Micromanagement. No room for emotions or individual input.

Understanding the Appeal

In looking at these results, it is important to understand why students are so overwhelmingly drawn to these two styles. Firstly, the status of managers is much less glorified amongst Gen Z. Some students say they are not sure they want to manage teams when they enter the workforce, not because they are afraid of responsibilities, but because their experience with authoritarian supervisors has not inspired them. They want to be heard and respected regardless of age and experience, an approach they also intend to take with colleagues.

Secondly, Gen Z places high value on the importance of taking people’s emotions and wellbeing into account. Unlike millennials for whom the work-life balance is crucial, this new generation is not afraid of hard work, but they are aware that their work environment has a crucial impact on their mental and emotional health.

The below quotes from Gen Z students highlight their commitment to everyone being treated as equals in the workplace, and show the emphasis they place on emotional health:

  • “I will inspire rather than manage or control.” – Keren, from Indonesia
  • “Everybody has the right to be trusted.” – Laura, from Colombia
  • “Mental health is one of the most important principles of success.” – Mahan, from Iran
  • “I prefer to maintain good relationships rather than always be right.” – Alina, from Kazakhstan

“People need attention.” –  Shalisa, from Thailand

Embracing progress

So, are students too naïve about the realities of the workplace and are their beliefs simply related to their youth and lack of experience? I don’t think so.

Currently, Generation Z represents 25 per cent of employees worldwide and this number will continue to increase as more baby boomers retire. By 2030, they will represent 40 per cent of the global workforce. There are a variety of reasons why Generation Z does not plan to fit the mold and follow the norms created by previous generations. Global warming, the COVID-19 crisis, and the bankruptcy of multinationals and even countries are not great legacies. Rather, owing to these legacies created by baby boomers and millennials, it would be more appropriate to say that Gen Z is disillusioned, rather than naïve. While they don’t necessarily want to change the world (which explains the lower affiliation towards the visionary and pace-setting styles), what they do want it a new approach to governance and a shift in priorities.

As we welcome this new generation into companies and organizations, it is important to understand them, without judging them, and to take into account and adapt to their viewpoints and their reasoning. This will make it easier to manage Gen Z employees better, and in turn create more efficient companies. It’s also important to remember that Gen Z will not only be the workforce of the future, but the customers of the future too!


Written by Claire Jollain. Have you read?
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Claire Jollain
Claire Jollain is Assistant Dean at Hotel Institute Montreux, a hospitality and business management school in Montreux, Switzerland. Passionate and optimist educational leader, with 7 years of experience within international private hospitality schools, in teaching to Bachelor students, managing and guiding staff with more than 60 different nationalities on campuses, I have a strong interest in developing and implementing innovative teaching methods for Gen Z learners.

Claire Jollain is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow her on LinkedIn.
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