1. It’s Leadership, not the Generation that Matters, Stupid.

    Every generation thinks that the following generation doesn’t value them enough, that their music is too loud and that their skirt is too short. It’s a fact of life for each generation and it’s been happening since the beginning of time.

    Usually, I chalk the “Generation X vs Y” debates up to the above sentiment and move on. However, when arguments like this are given a real sense of credence by a group of people, and real debate begins to happen, I tend to sit up and take notice.

    Recently, Jason Calacanis wrote a diatribe regarding the differences of Generation X and Y, specifically when it came to the job market that we in the U.S. find ourselves in.

    The article starts with some of “his” observations of Gen-Y, that oddly, look very similar to some ideas & content created by Laura Schildkraut of Onboarding Gen-Y.

    Regardless of that fact, I only started taking issue with the article when the bi-polar Jason Calanasis showed up:

    When interviewing young folks starting their careers I always ask: “Is there something else you would rather be doing than working here with us?” They look to me as if to ask “do you want me to answer that?”

    When they give me that look I say, “It’s okay, I won’t take it personally… you can tell me. What would you rather be doing?” This of course is me trying to get a read on folks. There is only one correct answer to this question when you are interviewing for a job: “No, there is nothing I’d rather being doing than helping you build a great company Jason!” {1}

    Most, however, take the bait. Their response is usually that they want to mountain bike across China’s Great Wall, or hike to Machu Picchu. I respect that, I would like to see those things I guess.

    Given the choice, however, I’d rather make history than simply take it in and post it to Instagram with a grainy old-fashion filter.

    Sounds reasonable to me. He is acknowleding that the person has different ultimate life-goals, and comparing them to his own, right?

    No. In literally the next sentence, he has a bipolar fit:

    The Gen-Y losers in this country want to explore and revel in the greatest accomplishments of mankind’s glorious history — they just don’t want to try to participate in making history themselves.

    Wow. After that gem, you really get a sense of the author and what kind of man he is.

    After skipping down to the comments to leave a whopper of a response, I was glad to see that many reasonable people had taken the time to help straighten Jason out. Instead of leaving a comment, I thought I’d write something up here and try to put my own thoughts on the debate out in the open for further discussion with others.

    It’s Natural, Social Evolution

    Jason’s unwieldy attempts to craft his article and assumptions to suit is point, are off target. This isn’t an argument about the willingness of Generation Y to work, to take on the drive and ego of the Generation X that he reveres so much. It’s about evolution.

    So clearly is this outlined in Jason’s own article that it’s surprising that he doesn’t notice it himself. Each of the three generations that he focused on are a small sample of the generation to generation evolution that has seen us evolve to an era where entrepreneurism is so ripe, so accepted.

    The problem with this perspective is that it assumes that generational changes in the status quo are “deterioration” of our overall value and not just a shift in the perception of what value is.

    To illustrate this point even further, I’ll point back to a quote directly from Jason (A Gen-Xer):

    What would you rather be doing?” This of course is me trying to get a read on folks. There is only one correct answer to this question when you are interviewing for a job: “No, there is nothing I’d rather being doing than helping you build a great company Jason!” {1}

    In a nutshell, this illustrates why Jason doesn’t understand the Gen-Y.

    A Gen-Y may not want to show up to work and put in 60-70 hours for a bipolar boss who’s only interested in their own success.

    Gen-Yers want to be a part of something, they want to see their hand in building something, and their ultimate, life’s goal is not to pad your pocket with more money. Sorry.

    Some people’s ultimate life goal may very well be to see “Machu Picchu”, and while they’re willing to work hard, they’re not willing to work themselves to death on your content farm, just to ensure that you’ve attained your goals. That isn’t success to them.

    It’s a Two Way Street Now

    There are two dots that Jason uses in his article that are –conveniently– left unconnected: Profit per employee statistics and employment retention. Jason discusses both in his article, but doesn’t see any connection between the two.

    This chart from Safework Inc. (via BusinessInsider), shows that in the past decade the profit per employee has increased by — wait for it — 50%. What this chart tells us is that companies would rather hoard cash and increase their bottom lines by not hiring folks.

    No arguments here. Corporations have learned how to make people work harder, and continue to make more and more money from each person in their employ.

    Jason’s conclusion is that these numbers prove that there are people who simply don’t want jobs.


    The truth of those numbers are that people are being asked to take on extra work, or face cut-backs, and corporations are making record profits off of it.

    In addition, Jason seems to miss the correlation between this and the fact that Gen-Y types tend to hold more jobs than their predecessors.

    The other 75% of millennials/Gen-Y are really interested in developing their friendships deeply and experiencing as much cool stuff as possible! They are willing to go to work to pay their bills, but they don’t want their careers to get in the way of their friendships and experiences. They are looking to stay at a job as long as it’s interesting to them and as long as they are getting a ton of praise. They are willing to work at a job for a year. Or less. They have no problem with a resume that has five jobs in two years. In fact, I’ve seen 25-year-olds with resumes with more jobs than I’ve had — and I’ve been in the work force three times longer!

    I’ll ignore the froo-froo crap about feelings, friendship, and other obvious baiting in this sentence, and focus on the fact that Jason seems shocked that many Gen-Y applicants he’s seen have worked many more different jobs than he has, despite the amount of time he’s spent in the job force.

    The fact is, a Gen-Y views a career as a two way street. Seeing the graph above — and knowing it first hand — what employee is going to feel loyalty to a company that is trying to wring blood out of rocks, to help their already record high profits, instead of hiring additional employees?

    Not too many.

    No longer do employees feel the need to put up with the take-take mentality of a job and feel free to leave for greener pastures.

    The Generation vs Generation Debate is Bullshit

    I can’t say it in a simpler way.

    Most of the time, I see post like Jason’s after a boss has a run-in with a young person and decides that their young behavior represents an entire generation. It’s a knee jerk reaction. It’s also a sign that you, as a leader, don’t want to put in the time nurturing people and instead want only to reap the rewards.

    If you see immaturity, lack of direction, and a need for guidance in a person, you don’t run to your bully pulpit and damn their entire generation. You guide and help mold that person, reward their strengths and grow them into the person you want them to be.

    That’s what real leaders do.

    I learned that from a Gen-Xer, my Dad; who learned it from his Dad, a Baby Boomer.

    4 thoughts on “It’s Leadership, not the Generation that Matters, Stupid.”

    1. Peter Chee says:

      Sam, nice post. I can’t agree with you more about putting the time into nurturing people. I certainly think it’s a two way street in making sure that people grow in your company… it has to be mutually beneficial and even in a recession you can’t just say an employee is lucky to just have a job… because that’s just BS.

      1. Sam Howat says:

        Thanks Peter.

        I think Jason’s original post had small nuggets that I’d agree with, however it lacked focus, and while it started out as a discussion regarding jobs, it ended up being an attack on an entire generation. My company hires 90% Gen-Y talent, and has built it’s success WITH them. As a Gen-Y, it might just be easier for me to relate, but I can tell from personal experience, we’ve got more involvement and passion from them than any traditional employee that wants to just work 9-5 and leave.

        I truly believe that good leadership, is a large part of getting the results you want from the people on your team, and some people simply can’t recognize that fact.

        I may never be as “successful” in the terms that Jason feels is success, but I do sleep well at night, and love getting up in the morning to work with my team. Who can ask for more from life?

    2. Mick Thornton says:

      Sam, good job deconstructing the argument. You sounded like many teacher friends of mine speaking about differences in students.
      I think another point that could be added to your argument is interpersonal communication and it’s shift over the past 10 years. I can now see pictures of Machu Pichu posted by my wife’s cousin and realize my life could include that! Throughout history, human beings have shown the ability to adapt / copy when they can see someone else successfully do something that resonates with that person who can see the example.

    3. Sam Howat says:

      Good to hear from you Mick!

      I am glad you liked the post and your comment regarding interpersonal communications is spot on.

      I of course couldn’t highlight EVERY reason why we see these changes from generation to the next, but you did highlight the reason why these types of generalizations are pointless… The person isn’t the problem, it’s simply an “evolution of perspective” due to changes in our society.

      Stay in touch!

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