How Boomers Can Effectively Lead Gen Z

Reading Time: 10 minutes 
Reading Time with Exercises: 45 minutes


If you’re a Baby Boomer feeling frustrated and confused working with Gen Z employees, this article is for you. 

I’m a licensed therapist who LOVES working with Gen Z clients–and my Gen Z clients talk about the amazing results I help them achieve as a therapist. 

I’m also not as young as I look—I’m in my early forties and old enough to have literally birthed a Zoomer. 

Here are three things you can do to effectively lead and manage your Gen Z employees.


1. Examine the messages you received about young people.

These not only come from how your specific generation was raised, but also come from your own parents, your own parenting if you have kids, and your own grandparenting if you have grandkids.

If you’re wondering, “Mari, what the heck do you mean? What is this psychobabble bullshit?”

Consider the difference between these two executives and their beliefs about youth: 

EXECUTIVE A:

“I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside.”
Whitney Houston, “Greatest Love of All” 

“The duty of youth is to challenge corruption.” – Kurt Cobain 

“The youth is the hope of our future.” – Jose Rizal 
EXECUTIVE B:

“The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them.” 
From a sermon preached by Peter the Hermit in A.D. 1274

“The children now love luxury; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are tyrants, not servants of the households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize over their teachers.” – Gijsbert van Hall, Mayor of Amsterdam, following a street demonstration in 1966 

“Children should be seen and not heard.” – English proverb 

Leadership Exercise (10 minutes)

Which leader is most likely:

  1. To be seen as a trusted mentor?
  2. To be seen as “outdated” and “out of touch”?
  3. To be open to the feedback of younger workers?
  4. To see the feedback of younger workers as unnecessary complaints instead of constructive criticism?

Don’t judge yourself as you go through this. The point is this exercise is not to blame, but to help you become aware of the unconscious messages that may be influencing your leadership style.  

If you grew up hearing negative messages about youth, this was not your fault. However, it is your responsibility to challenge these messages if they no longer serve you.  


2. Reframe—or soften—the negative messages you received.

The point of this article is not to tell you, “Just think positive and all of your issues with Gen Z will go away!” 

I do not engage in “love and light talk” to get your money so I can become the pet of some spoiled celebrity’s Instagram.  As a licensed therapist, I am ethically bound to give you quality information that’s going to help you.

If you grew up with negative messages about youth, you probably don’t love managing your Gen Z employees.  However, you can find ways to soften–or reframe– those negative messages to start building a different perspective about them.

Here are some examples of how to do this. (These are composites based on real client situations and are not direct quotes from clients.)

Reframing a Negative Message:

Client A: I hate myself.

Therapist: It sounds like in this particular situation, you’re really hard on yourself.

Client B: These little brats. Fuck teaching. I hate being a glorified babysitter.

Therapist: I hear you.  It sounds like there are some things that need to change about how this school deals with difficult and demanding parents.  

Client C: I think there might be something wrong with me because I have no idea what to say in this situation.

Therapist: So, this is a scenario you’ve never faced before. 

Softening a Negative Message:

Client A: I hate myself.

Therapist: Would you say you really don’t like yourself when you get into these situations?

Client A: Yeah, that’s accurate.

Client B: I can’t do anything right.

Therapist: Would it be accurate to say that this particular skill is a growing edge for you, and management didn’t support you to succeed in this situation?

Client B: Totally, they just put this project on us and expected us to figure it out.

Client C: The world is shit and my life is shit.

Therapist: So, things seem pretty bleak right now and you don’t see a way out.

Client C: That’s right.

Leadership Questions (10 minutes):

Based on the examples above, how can you reframe or soften negative messages you received about Gen Z?  How will these new messages help you connect with your Gen Z employees? 


3. Choose the elder you wish to be.

Like it or not, you are an elder–and you now have the opportunity to choose the elder you wish to be based on your values.  

You are beginning to face your own mortality and now have a chance to deepen the impact you wish to make on young people.  In order for this to be a true, lasting, and sustainable impact, it must be based on your most important values. 

If you value mentorship, you can dedicate the rest of your life to effectively mentoring young workers in your field. 

If you value kindness, you can consciously bring kindness to all of your interactions with Gen Z workers even if you are feeling frustrated and angry with what they do. 

If you value family, you can implement policies that allow Gen Z workers to feel safe and secure when starting, or taking care of, their own families.  

If you’re not sure what your deepest values are, consider these questions:

  1. Which values are you willing to go to jail for? Why?
  2. Which values are you willing to die for? Why? 
  3. Imagine your Gen Z employees are at your funeral.  They tell your surviving loved ones, “He/she/they were a person who valued _____”  What’s in the blank? 

Leadership Questions (15 minutes):

  1. Answer one of the above questions. 
  2. How can your values help you become the elder you wish to be?


Stuck on these questions?

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Disclaimer:This blog does not replace in-depth, individualized help from a health professional or provide any diagnosis or treatment. By reading, you understand this statement and commit to seeking psychotherapy or medication support if needed. You also understand that Mari Verano, LLC will not be able to intervene in a crisis or court situation. Please seek your own legal and/or crisis resources.

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