EMPLOYEE expectations have changed. Leaders can no longer ignore these new expectations nor refuse to adapt their leadership style and methods to deal with them.

In a research report published in Singapore on Gen Y At Work, Their Views And How They Are Viewed, Gen Y-ers (those born between 1980 and 1995) believe it is most important for their leaders to be caring, inspiring and competent.

The overall pattern of results suggests there is a gulf between the Gen Y workforce’s expectations, and their managers’ beliefs about how to lead them.

The results suggest that Gen Y employees prefer relationship-oriented leaders, while their managers believe in a relatively more task-oriented approach to leading them.

What makes a great leader

In several cases the Centre for Executive Education (CEE) came across in consulting engagements, well-intentioned promises of leadership development, coaching or mentoring were made by the leader when he was appointed, only to fall by the wayside because more pressing business matters crowded out the hours in his work day.

Like a captain of a sports team or a general of an army, leaders need to innovate, inspire, excite or provide a clear vision to others. They hold and believe in that vision and, just as importantly, have the self-belief and conviction to communicate it to others.

Furthermore, leaders do not have definitive characteristics. Some inspire and organise, whereas others are strategic or tactical, spot opportunities or protect against disaster.

Leadership is a journey of discovery. It is the expression of a person at his best whose aim is to transform something for the better and to develop this potential in others. It is not a solitary pursuit but one that harnesses the energy of those around the leader.

A manager can implement processes, monitor performance, set business goals and objectives and generally take care of the day-to-day needs of his staff. However, achieving authentic leadership takes more than textbook management skills.

With the relevant executive development support, those with leadership potential can be developed into outstanding leaders.

A great leader can boost an organisation’s growth and performance in much the same way a poor leader can run one into the ground. But what makes a leader effective or ineffective is a more difficult concept to pin down.

According to Jim Kouzes, author of the bestseller The Leadership Challenge, the qualities that make an effective leader have two distinct perspectives: what followers look for and what research from the past few decades has shown.

Writes Kouzes: “There are four things consistently that we have found that people most look for in a leader. Number one, people want a leader who’s honest, trustworthy and has integrity. Second, (they want someone) forward-looking, who has a vision of the future, foresight and thinks about the long term. Third, people want a leader who is competent, has expertise, knows what he’s doing, and fourth, is inspiring, dynamic, energetic, optimistic and positive about the future.”

Judging from the survey on what Gen Y-ers expect from their leaders, these qualities are still very much in demand.

Leadership styles

Many surveys have shown that Gen Y employees want more flexible work schedules. With mobile technology and cloud solutions widely available, the resistance to alternative work schedules by Gen X or Baby Boomer managers may become a barrier to progress at the workplace.

Managers need to understand why Gen Y workers look at flexible work arrangements as a given. With globalisation a force driving corporate strategy, allowing employees to choose to work nights and weekends over day shifts makes sense.

Working from a cafe today and “hoteling” (using a workstation reserved in advance) at the office tomorrow is smart business. Companies that want to reduce their real-estate footprint with smaller premises (where no one owns a desk) can save thousands of dollars in leasing, maintenance and energy costs.

Managers who are used to a normal workday of 9am to 6pm, and are only comfortable when people are working at their desks, need to rethink how, where and when work gets done. Gen Y gets this. Perhaps managers of other generations must do, too.

Some people have one style of leadership, which is fine if they can find a situation that only requires that style of leadership. Flexible leadership, however, involves being able to adapt your leadership style according to the generational make-up of the team and the situation. For example, taking charge when a team is forming but playing the role of coach when a team is managing itself well.

Overall, CEE research suggests that Gen Y is an ambitious, impatient yet promising generation — one employers can tap for fresh ideas and perspectives about traditional operations.

Although successfully connecting with Gen Y may be challenging at times, the outcome can take employers from good to great, and help them prepare effectively for an uncertain and rapidly changing

Competing with the best

For Singapore’s budding leaders to compete with the world’s best, managers need to embrace the latest techniques of executive development to enhance their abilities to better manage Gen Y and then Gen Z workers. The price of not doing so will mean having plenty of managers, but very few leaders.

Article by Adam Bawany, business development manager of the Centre for Executive Education (CEE Global), which offers executive coaching and leadership development programmes. He is a recent graduate of Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Business and Accountancy, and a member of Gen Y. For more information, e-mail adam.bawany@cee-global.com or visit www.cee-global.com