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Amidst all its uncertainties, 2021 was the year that filled me with hope.
From wildfires and extreme floods to pandemic waves and political unrest, there was no shortage of tragedy, but the world also adapted to challenges like never before. We rallied behind movements to diversify boards and create inclusive work cultures. We took hard — but necessary — measures to handle a mutating virus. We demanded governments and corporations do better in the fight against climate change.
At the root of these shifting paradigms was Gen Z — a vocal generation that cares deeply about creating a better world, because frankly, they have no other choice.
As the CEO of a mission-driven company, one thing has become clear as we head into 2022: It’s time for leaders at all levels to adopt a Gen Z mindset. Here’s why.
Effective leadership demands accountability
Spanning the ages of 10 and 25, Gen Z came of age in an era with unprecedented access to information — and disinformation. Unlike other generations, they grew up with a critical lens for nonsense. In fact, studies show Baby Boomers share four times more fake news than their Gen Z counterparts. Simply put, they demand accountability and do not appreciate being spun or lied to.
For too long, corporate culture has enabled a lack of accountability. Problems are identified, solutions proposed, then passed down to the next leader. Our younger generation is showing they won’t stand for this type of inaction. Think of COP26, where the world’s most powerful decision-makers hashed out climate deals behind closed doors. Outside, groups of young activists rallied in the streets in protest of broken promises. The juxtaposition of generations was striking to me as I watched news coverage from the two-week event. What were those activists calling for? Real, measurable actions with accountability for those who don’t follow through.
Over the past year, all of the Gen Z hires we’ve onboarded have a few things in common: They’re tired of companies greenwashing, and they appreciate proof and quantification of results. Leaders would be wise to borrow this way of thinking. Not only is it the right thing to do, but accountable leaders are more likely to earn trust, promote ownership and instill confidence in their teams.
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Gen Z knows how your customers and employees think
A big part of the collective reckoning we had in 2021 was due in part to Gen Z coming of age. Consider for a moment their place in the world — they make up 40% of global consumers with about $140 billion in buying power. And, as the children of baby boomers and older millennials, their way of thinking is already influencing your employees, despite the fact they are just entering the job market.
The generation will account for 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 less than any other group before them. That’s not to say they’ll cave for lowball offers, but many will take a job with an acute sense of purpose over a boring 9-5.
They’re also shaking up the world of investing. For too long, corporations wanted to reap the rewards from their shareholders without needing to hear their opinions. That is changing with this generation. A whopping 76% of Gen Z respondents to a 2020 poll said they agreed corporate leaders should use their influence to push for systemic changes. This generation is willing to exert its influence when it comes to investing or purchasing and they expect companies to do what’s right. Ignore this simple fact and you risk alienating a group with growing power.
For leaders looking to acquire new talent after a turbulent year of resignations, you’d be wise to think like Gen Z — consider what your mission is and why it matters on a societal level.
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We perform better when we have skin in the game
Unlike generations before them, Gen Z cannot pass the baton when it comes to life-altering issues like climate change. They know it will be a defining issue in their lifetime.
Having skin in the game, one can argue they are in the best position to make decisions about our climate future. The same principle applies to leadership. If you aren’t directly impacted by the consequences of your decision-making, you need to consult someone who is.
One of the greatest joys I get as the CEO of a publicly-traded company is hearing from our investors — particularly young investors who aren’t just financially invested, but they care about the impact our technology has on the planet as well.
It’s no surprise ethical and sustainable investments have skyrocketed in recent years. The soar of ESG funds is often attributed to millennial investors coming of age, but we’re now seeing the torch passed to Gen Z, of which 21% “often or exclusively” turn to investments that consider ESG factors. More broadly, Gen Z consumers consider similar factors — placing a huge emphasis on values like sustainability and ethics when making a purchase.
It’s time for business leaders to realize they, too, have skin in the game. When it comes to tackling societal problems like climate change or systemic inequalities, the most powerful people in society have the biggest responsibility. While anyone can make incremental changes, leaders in positions of power exert the greatest influence and can speed up the process.
Above all, Gen Z has become a powerful influence for positive change, despite having every reason to be discouraged. The challenges we now face require united fronts, and it starts with believing you can make a difference regardless of your position in work or life. That’s the energy I want to take into 2022 and beyond.
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