How to Be a Leader in a Gen Z World

Most Gen Zs are likely not CEOs at this point, and therefore there is quite a gap between a company’s CEO and this misunderstood generation.

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Consequently, leading a group of young people without the due empathy and skills required to lead them is counter-productive to a leader’s success.

Here CEO of Avanade, Adam Warby, explores Gen Z’s views of the modern leader, and the skills gap as they journey from the bottom to the boardroom, touching on some of the ways you can bridge the gap between generations and successfully lead GenZ into their own future leadership roles.

When I think of Gen Z, those born from about the mid-1990s to mid-2000s who are now poised to enter the workforce, the image of technologically savvy, confident, multi-taskers comes to mind. This generation has grown up with instant access to more information than ever before in human history and they tend to take full advantage of it. Their reality is shaped by their online, always connected, global perspective, and their ability to absorb and influence the world around them is the only way of life they have ever known.

As we think about how best to prepare to lead these inspiring young people, two words keep coming to mind: new perspectives. I believe they will stretch us as much as we will influence them. I believe their approach to the world and to their careers will impact our company cultures and our markets in ways we can’t yet imagine.

I recently participated in Odgers Berndtson’s CEOx1day initiative, created to give young graduates a taste of a CEO’s workday. I was shadowed for a day by Imogen Orchard, a graduate of Exeter University. Through the course of a busy day that included media interviews, a keynote presentation and the opportunity to welcome 250 clients and employees from around the world to our annual innovation summit, I learned a little more about her expectations as she readies herself to enter the working world. I asked her what Gen Z is looking for in a leader. Her answer was clear: passion, flexibility, a growth mindset and commitment to integrity and diversity.


“If you aren’t passionate or don’t convey your passion for the work that you do, then it’s hard for the team to get excited about what they are doing,” she said.  Today leaders are tapping into fresh, authentic ways to express their zeal for what their organizations are accomplishing in the world. As an example, at Avanade we look for ways to show the human impact of the technology transformation that we are driving – how is it changing the way that doctors create treatment plans? Or making it easier for customers to interact with an organization? Or improving the safety of employees in dangerous roles?


Gen Zers take for granted a world in which boundaries between home, school and work are fluid, and this can have dramatic consequences for more traditional organizations and workplaces. “I’m looking for an environment that allows me to get out of the office, see and learn new thing,” Imogen explained. “That’s what will keep me productive and help boost my creativity.”

Imogen is right, of course. A modern workplace is no longer a nice to have, it’s a must have. According to Gartner, “by 2020, the greatest source of competitive advantage for 30% of organizations will come from a workforce’s ability to creatively deploy digital technologies. That type of workplace experience requires a broad approach across technology, operations, culture and employee experience.

These new ways of working together emphasize a commitment to career-long learning and a growth mindset, an attribute Imogen placed above all others in importance. Members of the Gen Z generation are curious; they instinctively search out new information and go where their interests lead them, either formally or informally. Creating opportunities to work in diverse teams, explore and experience new environments or locales through a global rotation, take advantage of ongoing training and qualifications are all ways we as leaders can nurture life-long learning.

Commitment to integrity and diversity

Their access to information and global perspective makes Gen Z members true citizens of the world. They have seen the results of greed and inequality. Perhaps that’s why integrity ranks high as an important leadership attribute. Imogen expressed a need to be able to trust her leader: “Without integrity, I don’t think anyone could be a great leader,” she told me.

Similarly, they value a commitment to all forms of diversity. At Avanade, we have specific programs to support inclusivity and diversity, such as our employee resource group network, with active groups for veterans, LGBT+ employees, women and black employees, our Allies at Avanade group and my own CEO Inclusion & Diversity Awards program.

While I often engage with the newest generation of our workforce, I particularly enjoyed participating in the CEOx1Day programme. Imogen’s energy and passion for entering the workforce have reinforced my ideas about leadership and the importance of embracing new ideas. It has definitely left me more inspired and enthusiastic about what I think Gen Z will contribute to our companies – and to the world – in the years ahead.

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