Workforce Solutions
November 16, 2023

Challenges Faced By Young Gen Z Leaders Early In Their Careers

Cogent Infotech
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November 16, 2023

Generation Z is boldly stepping into the spotlight, poised to take the reins and redefine the future of workplace leadership. Born roughly between the mid-1990s and early 2010s, Generation Z is a cohort that has grown up in the era of smartphones, social media, and the internet. As Gen-Z embarks on their professional journeys, these young leaders chart an exciting course into uncharted waters.

With the baby boomer generation moving into retirement and the millennials taking on increasingly prominent roles, Tech-savvy and shaped by a rapidly changing world, Gen-Z stands out as an incredibly diverse generation. From the earliest years of their lives, they've been intertwined with technology, navigating digital landscapes with ease.

According to a report by EY, 54% of Gen Z believe that their education has equipped them to prosper in 2030. Gen Z's upbringing in a world saturated with technology has provided them unparalleled digital nativeness, making them quick learners and early adopters of new tools and platforms.

In a research note released by McKinsey & Company, based on the year 2022, it was revealed that nearly one-third of the freshly appointed CEOs in the S&P 500 were under 50. This figure is more than double the rate observed in 2018. The average age of a CEO remains under 54, and a notable trend indicates that younger individuals are becoming increasingly motivated to ascend to leadership positions. For instance, data from a 2021 survey conducted by EY, which included approximately 1,509 Gen Z respondents, demonstrated that 45% expressed a high likelihood of venturing into entrepreneurship—ranging from very likely to extremely likely.

In a context where young Gen Z leaders are taking the helm, it's essential to recognize and address the obstacles they may encounter along the way.

Key Challenges Faced by Young Gen Z Leaders Early in Their Careers

Young Gen Z leaders may find it challenging to transition from an individual contributor role to a leadership position. Carrying the entire team toward a common goal differs substantially from achieving personal targets. In such a scenario, it is critical that young Gen Z properly understand the expected challenges.

Rapid Technological Advancements

According to a study by the International Federation of Accountants, 80% of surveyed Gen Z individuals expressed that they are comfortable with technology and displayed confidence in their ability to adapt to emerging technologies. It has led to achieving tangible benefits in almost all major industries. For instance, the report added that 79% of respondents firmly believed that technology empowers finance professionals to shift their focus from mundane, routine tasks like number crunching to more value-driven and impactful work.

The presence of technology in Gen Z's lives has groomed them to be tech-savvy leaders. They are well-acquainted with smartphones, social media, and the internet. Nevertheless, staying updated with technological developments is an ongoing battle. Young Gen Z leaders must continually update their knowledge to remain competitive.

Changing Workplace Dynamics

The workplace is transforming, with traditional hierarchies giving way to more agile and collaborative structures. Gen Z leaders may find it challenging to adapt to these evolving dynamics, especially when encountering resistance from older colleagues accustomed to conventional modes of operation.

In the 2021 Deloitte Global Resilience Report, the majority of participants prioritized flexibility and adaptability as one of the top three essential workforce attributes. This preference was notably higher than those who emphasized expertise and competence in their designated roles or alignment of values with the organization.

Young leaders must be willing to embrace change and collaborate across generations to thrive in this environment. Developing strong interpersonal skills, practicing empathy, and actively seeking colleague feedback can bridge generational gaps and foster a more inclusive work culture. 

Effective Communication

Clear and effective communication is the cornerstone of leadership. Gen Z leaders, much like their predecessors, must master the art of conveying their ideas and vision to teams, clients, and stakeholders. However, the digital age has introduced its own set of challenges to communication, with virtual meetings and written communication often taking precedence over face-to-face interactions. 

According to a LinkedIn Learning report, CEOs spend 20% more time than other employees focusing on soft skills. It is primarily because of the importance of soft skills and what effective communication can achieve for an organization. To enhance their communication skills, young leaders should invest in personal development. Participation in public speaking courses and seeking feedback from peers and mentors are all steps in the right direction. Additionally, recognizing the importance of active listening and adapting their communication style to suit different audiences can significantly contribute to their effectiveness as leaders.

Identification of Blind Spots

No leader, regardless of their generation, is aware of all blind spots. However, young Gen Z leaders may encounter challenges related to self-awareness and recognizing areas where they need improvement. Leaders from Generation Z are stepping into roles of authority at a relatively young age, which can lead to a lack of experience in comparison to their older peers. This inexperience may result in a limited understanding of the complexities and nuances of leadership, making it difficult to identify areas where improvement is needed.

According to a recent survey conducted in 2023 by Gallup, just 21% of employees in the United States strongly affirmed their trust in their organization's leadership. In an environment where trust in leadership is not guaranteed, the consequences of unaddressed blind spots can be profound. Misjudgments, miscommunications, and lapses in decision-making can undermine team morale and overall organizational effectiveness.

Young Gen Z leaders must recognize the significance of identifying and addressing their blind spots as an integral part of their leadership journey. In doing so, they can pave the way for personal and professional growth, fostering an environment of trust and confidence among their colleagues and team members.

Stress Management

Balancing work, personal life, and self-care can be particularly challenging for young Gen Z leaders embarking on their careers. Stress management is vital for maintaining their well-being and effectiveness in leadership roles.

According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, 3 out of 5 employees reported the adverse impact of work-related stress. It includes a diminished sense of engagement, enthusiasm, or vitality (26%) and reduced levels of commitment and productivity in their work (19%). Leadership positions often come with increased responsibilities and pressure, making stress management a critical skill.

This becomes even more pertinent for young Gen Z leaders, many transitioning from individual contributor roles to leadership positions. The abrupt shift in responsibilities can be overwhelming, making effective stress management a vital competency to navigate leadership challenges successfully. In the face of these pressures, Gen Z leaders must lead their teams and prioritize their well-being to ensure sustained success and impact.

Lack of Experience

Lack of experience is undoubtedly one of the most pervasive hurdles young leaders encounter, a challenge that transcends generational boundaries. In the case of Gen Z leaders, this obstacle can be particularly pronounced as they venture into leadership roles, often with limited prior exposure to the intricacies of organizational decision-making.

These emerging leaders may frequently encounter scenarios where they are entrusted with making critical decisions that significantly impact their teams, projects, or even entire departments. The absence of the seasoned judgment that comes with years of on-the-job experience can be palpable, leading to uncertainty and apprehension.

Moreover, the fast-paced nature of the modern work environment seldom affords young Gen Z leaders the luxury of extended learning curves. They must swiftly adapt to the responsibilities of their roles, learning through a combination of trial and error, guidance from mentors, and rigorous self-study.

Managing Generational Differences

A study conducted by Deloitte found that 6% of respondents strongly agree that their leaders are equipped to handle a multi-generational workforce. It reflects the increasing diversity in the workplace, including differences in generational perspectives.

In contemporary workplaces characterized by diverse age groups, Gen Z leaders often navigate the delicate terrain of intergenerational dynamics. They may encounter resistance or skepticism from senior colleagues who doubt their capabilities due to their relatively young age. This skepticism is rooted in differences in generational perspectives, work styles, and communication preferences.

Bridging the generation gap and earning the respect of seasoned professionals can be a formidable task for young Gen Z leaders. They must strike a delicate balance between embracing innovation and acknowledging the wisdom that comes with experience. Effectively managing generational differences requires cultivating a strong sense of empathy, active listening, and open-mindedness.

What Can Be Done to Handle These Challenges?

Young Gen Z leaders are expected to handle these new challenges and find meaningful solutions on the way. Here are some of the possible ways to address these challenges:

Seek Mentorship

Mentorship is a powerful tool for personal and professional growth. For young Gen Z leaders, seeking out experienced mentors who can provide guidance, share wisdom, and offer valuable insights is invaluable. Mentorship is a proven path to success, and statistics support its impact:

According to a LinkedIn study, 94% of workers express their willingness to prolong their tenure with a company that demonstrates a commitment to advancing their professional growth. Conversely, from the perspective of employers, a substantial 83% view the recruitment and retention of talent as critical hurdles in achieving sustained business success.

Encouragingly, mentorship programs are increasingly prevalent in organizations, and Gen Z leaders should actively seek out these opportunities to accelerate their development.

Coping with Uncertainty

Uncertainty is a constant in the modern business world. Young Gen Z leaders must learn to embrace it rather than shy away. By adopting a growth mindset, Gen Z leaders can view challenges as opportunities for learning and growth rather than as insurmountable obstacles.

Similarly, developing resilience involves building mental toughness and emotional strength. According to the American Psychological Association, resilience can be cultivated through various strategies, including maintaining strong social connections, practicing self-care, and seeking professional support when necessary. 

Lifelong Learning

According to a study by the OECD, the unemployment rates tend to be notably elevated among young adults who have attained lower levels of education in several OECD and partner countries. As a result, continuous learning is the key to success. When it comes to leadership, it is the secret behind success. Gen Z leaders must actively seek out opportunities for professional development. Pursuing advanced degrees or certifications in their chosen field can give Gen Z leaders a competitive edge.

The rise of online education platforms has made acquiring new skills and knowledge easier than ever. Gen Z leaders can explore platforms to access a wide range of courses. At the same time, learning doesn't always have to be formal. Gen Z leaders can read books, research articles, and industry reports to stay informed about the latest trends and developments in their field. Attending industry conferences and workshops also provides opportunities for networking, skill development, and exposure to cutting-edge ideas and technologies.

Networking is Key

Building a strong professional network can give young leaders valuable resources, opportunities, and support. Gen Z leaders should actively engage in networking events, join industry associations, and connect with peers and mentors who can offer guidance and assistance.

According to a survey, 85% of all jobs are filled through networking, and close to 70% of jobs are never published on public platforms. Moreover, networking is not just about job hunting. It is also a key trait of professional development. Networking is an investment in one's future, and young leaders should prioritize it as a crucial aspect of their career development. 

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is recognizing, understanding, managing, and using emotions effectively in oneself and others. Developing EI is critical for effective leadership. Recognizing one's own emotions and understanding how they impact behavior is the foundation of emotional intelligence. Young leaders can engage in self-reflection and introspection to develop self-awareness.

The leaders can focus on developing empathy that involves understanding and acknowledging the emotions of others. It can be cultivated by actively listening to others, considering their perspectives, and practicing empathy in daily interactions.

Managing and regulating one's emotions is crucial for maintaining composure and making rational decisions, especially in stressful and tense situations. Techniques such as mindfulness meditation and deep breathing can help young leaders manage their emotions effectively.

Balancing Technology and Human Interaction

While Gen Z leaders are well-versed in leveraging technology for productivity, they should also recognize the importance of face-to-face interactions and building genuine relationships. Striking a balance between technology and human interaction is essential for leadership.

Regularly unplugging digital devices and social media can help Gen Z leaders maintain a healthy balance. According to a Hootsuite report, Gen Z spends close to 4.5 hours every day on social media platforms alone.

Whenever possible, young leaders should prioritize in-person meetings and interactions, as they can foster deeper connections and clearer communication. Also, practicing active listening during virtual meetings or written exchanges can help bridge the gap caused by digital communication. Active listening involves giving full attention to the speaker, asking clarifying questions, and showing empathy.

Summing up

The young Gen Z leaders are stepping into leadership roles during a period of significant change and opportunity. Their education, digital nativeness, and enthusiasm for progress make them well-suited for leadership in the 21st century. However, they are not immune to a unique set of challenges.

To overcome these challenges, Gen Z leaders should actively try and opt to develop leadership traits with guidance and frameworks to achieve continued success. By addressing these challenges, young Gen Z leaders can thrive in the evolving world of work and make a profound and lasting impact in the workplace and society. They are well-poised to lead the way forward in an era of change and innovation.

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