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The way young professionals want leaders to show up

Two years ago I completed 100 interviews of young professionals and managers of Millenials. Each interview lasted about an hour long and while I had seven questions that I asked, they became very conversational (which resulted in around 400 pages of interview notes to analyze).

Bit by bit I've gone back to review and analyze my findings. I was particularly interested in understanding what young professionals aspire to, and the challenges they're facing at work.

My findings indicated that the number one aspiration among young professionals was to live and work in alignment.

Here's how one young professional put it, "building a life that's fulfilling for me on a personal level which means being able to help other people...having work-life balance...and how to align my values to make a living."

The yearning for work that is fulfilling and meaningful fits what other researchers have found. One of the challenges I uncovered was that young professionals struggled to find employers that share their values. It is hard "to find employers and companies that value the same things that you do and aren't going to tell you that work should suck."

And even if an employer says that their values match your own, they don't always exhibit that in their behavior, which becomes incredibly discouraging. 

"The fact that there were all these values and ideas being communicated by the leaders but didn't mirror their actions. When it comes time to display those specific values or things they said they cared about or perks if you will, those things aren't necessarily displayed or it's a guilt thing, you can do this but you'll be shunned for it - like flex time, which is attractive for younger employees but they'll guilt trip employees for that so is it really a benefit if it's not actually supported."

Young professionals are keenly aware of the discrepancy between what a leader says versus what they do. And while it used to be that the manager's word was all that mattered, that's no longer the case. There's a culture clash happening between the old ways of managing and the ways we now know are more effective for engaging and motivating employees.

"It's learning how to manage in a way that's completely different from the way I grew up thinking about management."

These two pieces are closely intertwined, the need for alignment and the way employers lead their teams. Managers need to do more than just give lip service. They must do the hard work of unlearning bad habits and internalizing what they say they believe in how they show up. 

Young professionals aren't exempt from this challenge though. In fact, it was a young professional who recognized that the way they grew up thinking about management was different from how they are learning to manage now. If young professionals want managers who lead with purpose, live their values, and engage them in contributing to the greater good, they too must work to embody these ideals. After all, living and working in alignment starts as an inside job!

Are you an emerging leader who wants to ensure that your intentions match your impact (unlike some of the managers you've had so far), keep your eyes out for a new program that we are launching this fall.

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