Here’s what today’s leaders can learn from Gen-Z: Empathy with an E

Gen Z is entitled. Lazy. Self-obsessed. I’m sure you’ve heard it before. Many baby boomers and people in leadership positions have said it. But is it true? It’s no secret that the world is changing faster than ever before. Each generation brings its unique set of challenges and opportunities, and we are seeing the rise of Gen Z – those born between 1997 and 2012.

Why is the Gen Z thought process so different?

When I was a teenager, social media didn’t exist. Neither did the internet or cell phones. I’d call landlines and go to a library. However, Gen Z has been born into a world of social media and instant gratification, and they have exposure to far more than any previous generation.

Imagine having all the knowledge in human history available in a second in a device that fits in your pocket. Even 20 years ago, that was unheard of. Gen Z often is labelled as entitled. So it’s no wonder sometimes you may ask yourself if they are a different species altogether.

In truth, I feel sorry for this generation, as they have faced more challenges than any other. They have had to learn how to navigate an online world where it is easy to be judged and where bullies can hide behind their screens. At the same time, they are growing up in a world of decreasing job security, where it is harder than ever to find a stable career. Undoubtedly it can lead to feelings of insecurity and anxiety, which social media can amplify.

So, this begs the question: how do we lead this generation? First, we need to understand them. Generation Z – the generation after Millennials, is now entering the workforce and bringing a new set of values with them. According to Pew Research Center, Gen Z has an attention span of 8 seconds, and 45% choose socially responsible and eco-friendly brands.

76% also is concerned with the impact humanity has on the environment. Also, 55% use their smartphone for over 5 hours daily, with 26% using it for over 10 hours.

What can we learn from Gen Z?

Gen Z also strongly values diversity and is the most inclusive generation yet, with just over 52% of white heritage. Thanks to social media, they are the most exposed to different cultures and lifestyles. As leaders, it is something that we can learn from them. We can become more understanding and accepting of others, regardless of their background.

One of the most important values that Gen Zers hold dear is empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. It’s a quality that has often been lacking in leaders, but it’s something that Gen Zers have in spades. Unfortunately, it has caused a new set of challenges for those leading and trying to guide this digital generation.

Since launching my company LeadershipHQ over fifteen years ago, we have worked with 100’s of companies and 1000’s of leaders and leading and engaging the Generation Z is today one of their greatest challenges. The old school leadership approach is no longer practical, and it’s time to adjust to current trends. As leaders, we must remember that Generation Z is trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in the world.

And for the most part, they’re doing it in front of an audience of millions. It is critical for the success of our firms and leaders today to hire, engage and lead this generation effectively. But I believe that as different as they may seem, there is a lot that we can learn from them as leaders when it comes to empathy. For one, empathy is the key to building trust.

When leaders show empathy, they’re showing that they understand what their employees are going through and that they care about their experiences. What can we do to empathise with Generation Z? First, we must understand that this generation has faced unique challenges that we may not understand. So, try to be understanding and patient with them.

Also, don’t judge them based on their online persona. Remember that social media is just one part of their lives, and they are different in person. Try to help Gen Z to develop a strong sense of identity. It is essential for those who feel anxious about where they belong in the world. Help them find their purpose in life, so they can feel like they belong somewhere.

Finally, we must remember that Gen Z is just like any other generation – they are just trying to figure out life as best they can. So, let’s try to learn from them and show empathy.

Sonia McDonald is the CEO and founder of LeadershipHQ, award winning author and entrepreneur. She has works published by The Australian, BBC World News, Smart Company, HRD Magazine.