THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- New millennium: How to lead Gen Y in it

Generation Y has a lot of great traits, but top-down leadership is not one of them.

This is not a surprise because Gen Y is the great teamwork generation. They did book reports in teams, they went to the prom in teams, and they are notorious for quitting jobs in teams.

Of course, I'm a bad team player. I am part of Gen X– the most disenfranchised, neglected generation in history. But as a CEO, I work pretty hard to be better at being part of a team. Not only to appease my gen-y cohorts, but also because I think it's effective leadership in today's workplace.

Here are five leadership traits for the new millennium:

1. Make yourself an info source

The key trait in a leader is the bravery to put forth an opinion and maybe be wrong. Jeffrey Kluger, writing in Time magazine, reports research that we value leaders not because they are smarter or right more often, but merely because they speak up. We want to be led by people who take a shot at the answer– right or wrong. So if you want to be perceived as a leader, speak up. Often.

2. Expect your ideas to resonate due to merit

Gary Hamel of the Wall Street Journal frequently writes about the impact of Web 2.0 on the workplace. For instance, all ideas are on equal footing, which means your rank doesn't matter as much as what you put forward.

"When you post a video to YouTube," He writes, "no one asks you if you went to film school. When you write a blog, no one cares whether you have a journalism degree. Position, title, and academic degrees— none of the usual status differentiators carry much weight online."

3. Get good at following

Barbara Kellerman's book Followership: How Followers are Creating Change and Changing Leaders argues that in order to learn how to be a good leader, you need to also understand the art of good following. Her research shows that the best followers have historically paid more attention to their peers than those holding rank above them. So it makes sense that leaders in the new millennium will look to their peers to elevate them rather than doing it by climbing up some external ranking system.

4. Get good at selling from the inside out

Top-down sort of leadership disappeared when the corporate ladder disappeared. This means that leadership is all about sales: selling a vision, and a common goal, and making meaningful connections.

Today leaders sell by being part of the team. A great example of this is cheerleaders. Cheerleaders are infamous for being amazing salespeople and part of that is that they know how to work as part of a team instead of barking orders and insisting on being the leader.

5. Be authentic

Authenticity is the new way of selling– rather than using force or BS. And the leaders of the new millennium are judged by their ability to convey their true selves.

Tony Hsieh, the CEO for Zappos, is renowned for maintaining a popular Twitter feed that rings as authentic and fun. Mark Zuckerberg gets into the most trouble when his interviews seem stiff to the point of inauthentic. Like him, you may need a public speaking class.


Of course, you may discover that you are not really a leader. But the best thing about deciding to become a leader is that you learn what your strengths are and what your weaknesses are. And in the new millennium, the distinction between leader and follower is so fluid that the distinction between your strengths and weaknesses is probably more important, anyway.


Penelope Trunk has started several companies and worked for many more.