Book Marc

Leading Gen Z, Our Most Purpose-Driven Generation Yet

As a former officer in the Navy’s submarine force, where almost our entire crew comprised Gen Z-aged submariners, and a turnaround CEO for 15 years, I’ve worked closely with Gen Z, the youngest cohort in today’s workforce. The transformations I get the privilege to witness after introducing leadership teams to Fast Attack Leadership are humbling, every time. The human spirit craves three things, and when we meet those needs a person’s potential is unlocked. They grow into such a fulfilled, purposeful version of themself. It’s a beautiful thing to watch and facilitate.

Far too often, young people aren’t given the opportunity to rise to their full potential in the corporate world, for a variety of unfounded reasons. This needs to change. Young people are driven and passionate, and they want to make a difference in the world. They are coachable, and they love to learn.

How do I know? I’ve watched it for decades. Give them a framework, boundaries, and one other ingredient, then empower and free them, and watch them fly.

My experience learning and leading Gen Z has provided valuable insights into their expectations, strengths, and the significant impact they have on organizational dynamics. Understanding and adapting to this generation becomes important on a submarine, where the crew is often entirely composed of Gen Z members. Let’s explore what this new generation seeks from their leaders and why adjusting our leadership styles is crucial.

Understanding Gen Z: What Do They Want?

1. Purpose and Meaning

A sense of purpose drives Gen Z. In a submarine’s confined yet mission-critical environment, every task holds significant Meaning. This mirrors the civilian workplace, where 77% of Gen Z employees, according to Deloitte, seek jobs that provide a sense of purpose. They want to contribute to causes bigger than themselves, making it essential for leaders to communicate the broader impact of their work.

2. Technological Integration

Having grown up in a digital world, Gen Z is exceptionally tech-savvy. Advanced Technology is integral to operations onboard submarines, and this generation adapts swiftly to these tools. Similarly, they expect workplaces to be equipped with the latest Technology. Pew Research Center highlights that 95% of teens have access to a smartphone, underscoring their comfort with digital tools.

3. Flexibility and Work-Life Balance

Flexibility is crucial for Gen Z. While a submarine’s environment is inherently rigid, the military has increasingly recognized the need for mental health and wellness, echoing Gen Z’s preference for work-life balance. In civilian roles, 74% of Gen Z would prefer remote work options, as found by Robert Half.

4. Continuous Learning and Development

Gen Z values ongoing learning and career development. In the Navy, continuous training is part of the job, which aligns with Gen Z’s desire for growth opportunities. LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning Report states that 76% of Gen Z see learning as the key to their career advancement.

5. Inclusive and Diverse Work Environment

Gen Z champions diversity and inclusion. The Navy, striving towards greater Inclusivity, reflects this generational priority. In the civilian sector, McKinsey reports that companies with higher diversity are 35% more likely to outperform their peers financially, a clear incentive for embracing this value.

Why Leaders Must Adapt

1. Retention and Engagement

Adapting leadership styles is crucial for retaining Gen Z talent. High turnover is costly; Gallup found that 21% of millennials and Gen Z changed jobs within a year, a rate significantly higher than other generations. By addressing their needs, leaders can reduce turnover and foster Engagement.

2. Driving Innovation

Gen Z’s fresh perspectives and technological skills can drive Innovation. Encouraging open communication and leveraging their creativity can lead to groundbreaking advancements. Young sailors often develop innovative solutions on a submarine, showcasing the benefits of valuing their input.

3. Building a Future-Ready Workforce

Leaders who embrace flexibility and continuous learning prepare their teams for future challenges. The World Economic Forum notes that 65% of children entering primary school today will work in jobs that don’t yet exist. By fostering adaptability, we can build a resilient workforce.

4. Enhancing Company Reputation

Organizations known for inclusive, flexible, and growth-oriented cultures attract top talent, and a strong reputation helps recruit and retain the best employees. Companies seen as leaders in these areas are more likely to thrive.

5. Fostering Loyalty and Advocacy

When leaders show they understand and respond to Gen Z’s needs, they build loyalty. Loyal employees are more engaged and productive and become advocates for the company. In the Navy, I’ve seen firsthand how meeting the needs of young sailors leads to higher morale and dedication.

Practical Steps for Leaders

1. Communicate the “Why”

Clearly explain the purpose behind tasks and projects. Help your team see how their work contributes to the organization’s goals. Share success stories and impact reports to highlight meaningful achievements.

2. Embrace Technology

Invest in advanced Technology and ensure your team has the tools they need. Encourage collaboration platforms, AI tools, and other digital resources to enhance productivity and Innovation.

3. Offer Flexibility

Implement flexible work policies. Create remote work options and flexible hours, and support your team’s work-life balance needs.

4. Focus on Development

Provide continuous learning opportunities. Offer workshops, online courses, and mentorship programs. Discuss career goals regularly and create personalized development plans.

5. Cultivate Inclusivity

Promote an inclusive culture. Implement diversity training, create employee networking opportunities, and ensure equal opportunities for all team members.

5. Cultivate Inclusivity

Promote an inclusive culture. Implement diversity training, create employee resource groups, and actively work towards a diverse workforce. Ensure your policies reflect your commitment to inclusion.

6. Lead by Example

Model the behaviors and values you wish to see. Show empathy, flexibility, and a willingness to learn and adapt. Your actions set the tone and demonstrate your commitment to your team.

Where to Go From Here

The workforce is evolving, and Gen Z is leading this transformation. My experience in the Navy’s submarine force has shown me the importance of understanding and adapting to this generation. By embracing their needs and expectations, we can create environments where they feel valued and motivated, driving organizational success.

As leaders, it’s our duty to evolve and embrace these changes, building a future-ready workforce capable of navigating the complexities of the modern world.