Elle De Freitas, the founder, and CEO of Austin-based social-media marketing company, Wonderkind, is a true embodiment of a rising trend – young millennials and Gen Z professionals stepping into leadership roles at an early age. At 31, she helms a company with a 50-strong workforce and a leadership team no older than 26. Despite challenges and self-doubt, De Freitas exemplifies the confidence and drive characteristic of a new generation of leaders who are ready to redefine leadership.
According to a June 2023 research note from McKinsey & Company, almost a third of newly appointed S&P 500 CEOs in the past year were younger than 50. This demonstrates a significant increase in younger people moving into top positions. A 2021 EY survey revealed that about 45% of approximately 1,500 Gen Zers expressed their interest in starting a business.
Challenges of Youthful Leadership
Despite this upsurge in young leaders, some experts believe that youthfulness can sometimes hinder effective leadership. Management experts argue that younger leaders might lack the breadth of experience necessary to navigate a variety of economic cycles or to build the institutional knowledge required to run a company. Additionally, they might not yet have developed the emotional intelligence or the soft skills necessary for managing a workforce.
“Leaders inevitably have blind spots, and younger people have more of them due to their lack of workforce experience,” says Caroline Webb, a leadership coach and senior adviser at McKinsey. Similarly, Sir Cary Cooper, a professor at Alliance Manchester Business School, UK, notes that overconfidence, a trait often seen in younger leaders, can impede their progress.
The Power of a New Generation
Despite these challenges, the youthful exuberance and innovative perspectives of Gen Z could also provide some unique advantages. Their openness to fresh ideas can lead to creative problem-solving, an essential quality for leaders in today’s fast-changing world. A separate report from the non-profit Annie E Casey Foundation shows that Gen Zers are predominantly progressive, inclusive, and tech-savvy, with an intuitive grasp of technology that can provide an edge in today’s digital era.
Key Characteristics of Gen Z Leaders
- Purpose-Driven Leadership: Many Gen Z leaders have a strong sense of purpose and strive for meaningful work aligned with their values. They often inspire their teams with a sense of shared goals and collective purpose.
- Digital Natives and Tech Fluency: Gen Z, having grown up in the digital age, possess an inherent familiarity with technology. Their tech fluency allows them to adapt swiftly to new tools and platforms, bringing innovation into organizations.
- Authenticity and Inclusivity: Gen Z leaders often prioritize an inclusive and collaborative work environment. They value open dialogue and recognize the strength of diverse perspectives.
- Continuous Learning and Development: Gen Z individuals regularly seek out opportunities for personal growth. They view upskilling as a key factor in their career advancement and often encourage a culture of learning within their teams.
The Future of Work
As Gen Z continues to shape the future of work, organizations worldwide are experiencing a shift in common working styles. With Gen Z projected to make up 27% of the workforce by 2025, this shift is likely to continue.
The entry of Gen Z into leadership positions offers a fresh perspective and unique skills, especially during a time characterized by rapid change and complexity. The real and open way they lead, along with their deep understanding of technology and a goal-oriented mentality, could possibly make work teams more creative and effective in times ahead.
But, it’s also very important to remember the difficulties they might face due to their less experience and the possibility of them being too self-confident. As the working realm changes, the capacity of these youthful leaders to acquire knowledge, adjust, and develop is going to be significantly influential in deciding how great they will be in leadership roles.