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Amidst all the uncertainties, 2021 was the year that filled me with hope.
From wildfires and severe floods to waves of epidemics and political upheaval, there has been no shortage of tragedy, but the world has also adapted to challenges like never before. We have rallied behind the movements to diversify the boards and create inclusive work cultures. We have taken difficult – but necessary – measures to deal with the mutated virus. We have called on governments and companies to do a better job in the fight against climate change.
At the root of these changing paradigms has been Generation Z – a vocal generation deeply concerned with creating a better world, because frankly, they have no other choice.
As the CEO of a mission-driven company, one thing is becoming clear as we approach 2022: It’s time for leaders at all levels to embrace a Generation Z mindset. Here’s why.
Effective leadership requires accountability
Gen Z has lifespans ranging from 10 to 25 years, and has grown up in an age with unprecedented access to information — and misinformation. Unlike other generations, they grew up with a critical lens of nonsense. In fact, studies show that baby boomers share four times more fake news than their Generation Z counterparts. Simply put, they demand accountability and cannot afford to be spun or lied to.
For a long time, the company’s culture allowed for a lack of accountability. Problems are identified, solutions proposed, and then passed on to the next leader. Our young generation is showing that they will not stand up to this kind of inaction. Think COP26, where the world’s most powerful decision-makers struck climate deals behind closed doors. Outside, groups of young activists thronged the streets to protest the breached promise. The juxtaposition of generations was amazing to me as I watched the news coverage from the two-week event. What were these activists calling for? Real and measurable actions with accountability to those who do not follow through.
Over the past year, all the Gen Z employees we’ve joined have had a few things in common: They’re tired of companies washing the environment, and they value proof and value results. It would be wise for leaders to borrow this way of thinking. Not only is this the right thing to do, but responsible leaders are more likely to gain trust, foster ownership, and instill confidence in their teams.
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Generation Z knows how your customers and employees think
Much of the collective reckoning we got in 2021 was partly due to Generation Z coming of age. Consider their place in the world for a moment – they make up 40% of global consumers with about $140 billion in purchasing power. As baby boomers and older millennials, their way of thinking actually affects your employees, despite the fact that they are just entering the job market.
Generation will make up a quarter of the workforce by 2025, and we’re already seeing them go where they can make an impact. Consider this: Gen Z values salary lower than any other group before it. That doesn’t mean they’ll accept low offers, but many of them will land a job with a sharp sense of purpose on a boring 9-5.
They are also changing the world of investing. For a long time, companies wanted to reap rewards from their shareholders without having to hear their opinions. This is changing with this generation. 76% of Generation Z respondents in the 2020 survey said they agreed that corporate leaders should use their influence to push for systemic changes. This generation is ready to exercise their influence when it comes to investing or buying and they expect companies to do the right thing. Ignore this simple fact and you will risk alienating a group with increasing power.
For leaders looking to acquire new talent after a turbulent year of resignations, it would be wise to think like Generation Z – think about your mission and why it is so important at a societal level.
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We perform better when we have skin in the game
Unlike the generations before them, Generation Z cannot shift responsibility when it comes to life-changing issues such as climate change. They know it will be a crucial issue in their lives.
With skin in the game, one could argue that they are in the best position to make decisions about our climate future. The same principle applies to leadership. If you are not directly affected by the consequences of your decision making, you need to consult someone.
One of the greatest pleasures I get as CEO of a publicly traded company is hearing the opinions of our investors – especially young investors who are not only financially invested, but also care about the impact of our technology on the planet.
Not surprisingly, ethical and sustainable investments have skyrocketed in recent years. The surge in ESG funds is often attributed to millennial investors coming of age, but we are now seeing the torch pass on to Generation Z, of which 21% are turning “mostly or exclusively” to investments that factor in ESG factors. More broadly, Generation Z consumers are considering similar factors – with a heavy emphasis on values such as sustainability and ethics when making a purchase.
It’s time for business leaders to realize that they, too, have traits in the game. When it comes to tackling societal problems such as climate change or systemic inequality, the most powerful people in society bear the greatest responsibility. While anyone can make incremental changes, leaders in positions of authority wield the greatest influence and can speed up the process.
Above all, Generation Z has had a powerful impact on positive change, even though there are every reason to be frustrated. The challenges we face now require united fronts, and it begins with the belief that you can make a difference regardless of your position in work or life. This is the energy I want to harness in 2022 and beyond.
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